Archie and Edith. Homer and Marge. Cam and Mitch. Lucy and Ricky. Jim and Pam. Florida and James. Roseanne and Dan. These on-screen couples make marriage look worth the effort, and without a doubt, it takes work to stay together in a marriage. That may be why they became icons: their marriages were not perfect. These couples have their tifts like everyone, but they often worked through their challenges while learning to love each other through difficult times. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? That is what most people want for their marriage, but in real life, marital conflicts rarely resolve in a 30-minute sitcom. In the midst of hard times, many people are going to marriage therapy to work on their relationship.
“Nobody can predict the future. You just have to give your all to the relationship you’re in and do your best to take care of your partner, communicate and give them every last drop of love you have. I think one of the most important things in a relationship is caring for your significant other through good times and bad.”
Without a doubt, every marriage has good times and bad. That is why most people include these promises in their marriage vows—for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer. Difficulties are a guarantee. While there is no way to bypass marital conflict, there is a way to make it more bearable: ask for help. Skilled marriage therapists can often pinpoint the relational issues that are plaguing the marriage and equip each partner with the skills to course-correct.
The marriage counselors and therapists at Thriveworks Counseling in Cary have helped many people work through the conflict and recover love within their marriage. There are never guarantees, but many marriages become stronger through marriage counseling.
Marriage Counseling and 4 Common Relationship Problems
The famous psychologist Dr. John Gottman has studied marriages for decades, and he has identified four problems that can plague marriages. He has dubbed them “The Four Horsemen” because if these behaviors continue without intervention, they can end a marriage. They are especially toxic, but they can also be recognized and corrected. The Four Horsemen are stonewalling, defensiveness, criticism, and contempt. This is a picture of what they may look like within a marriage:
- Stonewalling — When partners turn away from each other in conflict instead of toward each other, this may be stonewalling. It is characterized by withdrawal, minimization, and denial. Problems are swept under the rug instead of resolved. Needs are ignored instead of honored.
- Defensiveness — When critique is met with excuses, then defensiveness has taken a foothold. Healthy marriages involve two spouses two accept responsibility for their own feelings, thoughts, actions, and choices. Defensiveness deflects responsibility toward other people or toward circumstances.
- Criticism — Within a healthy marriage, respectful critiques and complaints should be normal. No one is perfect. Everyone can improve. Criticism, however, attacks the person instead of the problem, and it is not a healthy response. For example, after one spouse forgets to run an errand, the other may offer a critique, “I am frustrated because I needed those groceries for tonight’s dinner.” Or the other spouse may offer criticism, “You always forget. Why are you so irresponsible?” Criticism tears down the other people. Critique addresses one’s own feelings and the issue.
- Contempt — When spouses see each other as less than, it is a sign of contempt. Practically, contempt looks like eye-rolls, mocking, sarcasm, and put-downs. Contempt is based in shame. Dr. Gottman contends that contempt is the most harmful of the four horsemen.
Think about your marriage for a moment. Have contempt, criticism, defensiveness, or stonewalling become a part of how you relate to your spouse? If so, it may be time to learn healthy ways to connect with a marriage therapist.
Why Go to Marriage Counseling?
The first step toward a healthier relationship may be recognizing these four horsemen, and the second step may be learning new habits. When spouses are willing, these toxic patterns can be replaced with healthy connection. How? Marriage therapists have a number of exercises that can help spouses, but a few may include…
- Self-Care — When spouses stonewall, they may genuinely need a break. Whereas stonewalling removes themselves from a conflict, never to return, self-care allows people to remove themselves from a conflict in order to rest and then return, ready to solve the problem.
- Accepting Personal Responsibility — Strong marriages consist of strong spouses who are each willing to accept responsibility for their own actions, feelings, attitudes, and choices.
- Use “I” Statements — Instead of focusing upon a spouse’s flaws, each spouse can learn to advocate for their own feelings and point of view through using “I” statements like, “I need… I felt… I prefer…” Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with avoiding “you” statements.
- Building Appreciation — Each spouse is unique, and the other spouse can learn to see them for who they are, not for what they lack.
According to Cindy Goulding, a Licensed Behavioral Counselor at Thiveworks in Cary, marriage counseling is a collaborative approach between you and your partner and your therapist. “Marriage counseling addresses important qualities in a healthy relationship, including getting emotional needs met, actions matching words, trust, open and honest communication. We discuss healthy ways to communicate and express feelings in a safe setting and learn ways to feel vulnerable with each other to improve intimacy and trust in the marriage. Setting healthy boundaries and having realistic expectations of each other is also processed in the counseling sessions.”
Scheduling Marriage Counseling at Thriveworks Counseling in Cary, NC
If your marriage is hitting some rocky roads, know that help is available. We offer marriage counseling. Our staff is ready to offer support and guidance. When you contact Thriveworks Counseling in Cary, you may have your first appointment the following day. We offer weekend and evening sessions. We also work with many insurance companies.
Let’s work together for a better marriage. Call us to make an appointment for marriage counseling.