Eight years ago, a military spouse friend of mine confided that she and her husband were in marriage counseling. I was shocked. Part of my surprise stemmed from the fact that I always viewed them as the couple who had it all figured out. But part of me also wondered, “Why would she admit that?”
Over time, as she revealed more details about her marital struggles, the solutions her therapist offered and her newly optimistic outlook on the future of her marriage, I realized that couples counseling wasn’t some dirty little secret to be ashamed of. I realized that seeking help is not a sign a weakness, but a means of gaining strength. And I realized I wouldn’t mind trying it myself.
It wasn’t until years later that I actually found myself sitting across from a marriage counselor. But unlike my friend, I kept my weekly meetings a secret. I told a handful of my closest friends and family members, but for the most part, I didn’t want anyone to know. When I asked friends to watch the kids during an appointment, I spit out random excuses. We’re going shopping. We’re going out to dinner. We’re flying to the moon. Anything but going to counseling.
A few months into it, I wrote an article for the New York Times about marriage counseling, an article I almost didn’t write because I didn’t want anyone to recognize my name. I didn’t want friends to look at me differently. I didn’t want my husband’s co-workers to look at him differently. Despite my change of heart toward my old friend’s marriage counseling candor, I still felt a pull to keep my own need for counseling a private matter. So I shared the article with a select few people, but otherwise pretended I didn’t write it. I hoped it would help someone out there, but I also hoped no one I knew read it.
Finally, on one particularly rough day, I decided to throw caution to the wind and tell a friend the reason I’d been down in the dumps lately. Why not? We’re close friends. We talk about every other issue related to military life and beyond, why not marital issues?
So I said it. I put it out there. “I’m in marriage counseling.”
And you know what she said? “I am too.”
We laughed. And then we hugged. And then we cried. And then we wondered aloud, “Why haven’t we ever talked about this before? Why didn’t we bring this up sooner? We could have been encouraging each other, helping each other along the way.”
Military spouses, why aren’t we talking about this? Why is there still such a stigma attached to marriage counseling? Why do we feel that seeking help for our marriages is a dirty little secret we don’t even share with our friends?
Since that conversation, I’ve learned that the majority of my friends have had some relationship with marriage counseling, whether they’ve done it in the past, are currently in it or have considered trying it. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. Every single one of these ladies is a strong, independent, intelligent military spouse, who wants nothing but to make her marriage the best it can be.
Why should that be a secret?
Do you feel there’s a stigma attached to marriage counseling? Have you ever gone to marriage counseling? Would you?
Editor’s note: getting marriage counseling while in the military isn’t just easy, it’s free. To do so takes three simple steps: call Military OneSource (follow this link for the number and details), complete the 20 minute screening with the on-phone counselor and make an appointment with the local, in-person counselor to whom they connect you. Know of a counselor in your area and wonder if you can see that person? Just ask. You can also give preferences such as male or female and religious affiliation.