I’m in Marriage Counseling (But Shhh, Don’t Tell Anyone)


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.

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at Military.com, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • Guest

    I think it is unfortunate that our society in general saves professional marriage counseling until a relationship is broken and perhaps beyond repair. We were fortunate to be advised by the pastors marrying us that we should actually go to a professional counselor for pre-marital counseling. Those months of talking through approaches to life issues was helpful in understanding each other and heading off a few issues before they could start. They also set the stage and resource for a tune-up almost a decade later when we needed an objective voice to help us talk through new challenges in our lives. We do strongly recommend this approach to new couples we know who are planning to marry; unfortunately few (none?) have taken the advice.

  • Susan Freemyer

    My husband and I have had several tune ups. It has saved our marriage and made it stronger. When speaking to Sailors and Families (I’m an Ombudsman), I ask them if they get their vehicles tuned up and get maintenance checks? I often see looks that express “Duh?” I will them ask them, why not treat the one you love better than your car and get a marriage tune up too! Sometimes we treat the “things” in our life better than our relationships. I too was shy about saying anything to anyone about my tune ups. When I did finally admit it to a room full of people I was glad because maybe I helped another couples to save what is precious to them too.

    • Good for you for sharing your story to encourage others! I use that “maintenance” example all the time! :) Gotta take care of your care if you expect it to run well! :)

  • guest

    Exactly. But it is clear that there is still significant stigma attached. Look at the heated debate about marriage workshops which are a good start for partners who are often apart for extended periods of time and as a result often do not have the luxury of weekly or monthly counseling-which is our situation.

  • Holly

    Thank you for bringing up this topic for discussion. So many families struggle, especially now, after being at war for 11 years! I agree whole-heartedly that not only do we need a tune-up, we also need to not be ashamed to ask for help in our marriages. It takes a lot of courage to go to counseling, but once there, life can truly be better for every one involved.

  • Rquick

    I believe in de-stigmatizing things so I tell everyone my husband I went to counseling. How we knew we needed to go, who to call, what it was like etc. I think starting a dialogue is the first step in normalization. Alot of people were shocked we were so open about our initial struggle and how much counseling helped but I’m glad we didn’t keep things a secret. Its nothing to be ashamed of.

  • We have found that marriage retreats as well as marriage counseling have been very helpful things to keep our family together through multiple moves and deployments.

    And Yes. There IS still a stigma – from giving soldiers a hard time about attending appointments, to questioning their integrity about time management when it takes time to pick up kids from daycare and get the stay at home mom back to her “place of work” – more understanding and education is needed.

    The service member may not be the only one wounded during a deployment – and by helping the spouse and/or children heal, the entire family will be much healthier – which means the service member’s ability to do their job will improve exponentially.

    • Tevera
  • Mary

    When I hear a young man is going to join the service I try to cousel him to NOT get married within the first 4 years of his hitch. Why? I was a military wife during the first Iranian crisis (1979-1984) and saw first hand how these young men who become homesick and lonely, marry and put another young soul into a situation that is so difficult to handle, military life. These marriages would fail miserably. Yes there was counseling & ombudsmen, but that stigma of seeking help was so strong. I agree with Elizabeth Cabibi that the military wife credo can be crippling.
    I am glad to hear the bond of silience is being broken. But I still feel the glorification of military life (via TV shows and news stories) does not help. We all want the perfect family unit, the success story, but let’s get real people. The damage caused by silience will destroy more lives than your own.

  • Heather

    Unlike what the counselor said, it was actually my husband who didn’t want to admit to his chain of command that we needed help. The men are often times under the impression that they are viewed as weak for not being able to be the perfect leader. We didn’t do the premarital counseling, but went right after getting married and the counselor made things worse. She let it be an all out vent session. And my husband was so afraid that he looked bad that he even got downright immature and made things up to get back at me. Our current counselor is awesome. He gives us both a chance to talk, then we are quiet while he shares tools for us. The first counselor just sat there getting paid to think we’re idiots and said nothing. I almost wish I still had her information so I could tell her how I feel about her flunked job to teach us anything at all, but having this new counselor makes me feel like its worth it to let it go and be glad we found him and that we are growing together.