5 Things I Learned in Marriage Counseling

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After my daughter had been in the hospital for the first time and then the second time, I decided that it was time for my husband and me to go to marriage counseling.

We weren’t on the brink of divorce and our marriage wasn’t “in trouble.” It’s just that we were having a hard time dealing with the all the stress that had happened in a few month’s time.

My son has special needs, then my daughter was born and it was one thing after another. I finally realized that we needed a little help or we were going to go insane dealing with all this by ourselves.

We haven’t been back in a few weeks due to going out of state to get help with my daughter’s health issues, but we hope to get back into it soon as it has been such a huge help and encouragement to both of us.

We have learned so much in so little time in marriage counseling, so I thought I would share a few concepts that have really helped us and that maybe in sharing them, they will help you too!

Marriage Counseling

What I Learned in Marriage Counseling:

1. It’s Not About the Nail
Just watch the video. It will all make sense after you watch the video:

Did you watch it? Yup. It’s not about the nail…

2. Guys Need to Know When You Want Them to Fix it vs. When You Need to Vent
Yes, guys like to try to fix our problems, but what I have learned is we’ve got to help them out. Sometimes there are times I really want my husband to fix the problem, other times I just really need someone to vent to. Sometimes I need a little of both.

Now, instead of instead of letting my husband guess at what I am wanting or making him figure it out for himself, I tell him ahead of time, “I need to vent” or “I need you to fix this.”

Sometimes if I get ahead of myself he will ask me: “Is this something I need to fix or are you needing to vent?” I love this method because it helps us communicate and helps us understand each other better.

3. One word: Expectations
It’s amazing how one little word can change everything. Our counselor introduced the idea of telling each other our expectations as a way to communicate.

My husband and I are the type of people to assume. I assume he wants to watch tv because neither of us moves to go to bed. He assumes the same since I don’t move either, but in our heads, both of us really wanted to go to bed early.

Another example is this: My husband comes home from a long day at work, and all he wants is a few minutes to himself. A break. A nap. Something to help him unwind.

My husband comes home from a long day at work, and for me, I see FREEDOM. Five minutes to myself, a shower, a snack, another adult to talk to… whatever.

The problem is we both expect different things. Both of us can’t get a break at the same time. We have kids to watch. Both of us are tired, both of us need a break, so we work on expectations.

Some days, my husband will need a nap, other days I am going to really need a break. We have to work together, but we need to let each other know our expectations before he comes home.

Does he have a really bad headache? His expectations would be that when he comes home he needs a nap. And because he tells me his expectations I am understanding and willing.

Did I have a really bad or draining day? Then I text him an hour or two before he comes home, “Honey, I just really need a break today.” Expectations. He knows that when he gets home it’s his turn to take the kids.

This has worked in so many areas of our lives and family. We will actually come up to each other occasionally and say, “Okay expectations…” and then give a list of some expectations we had for the day.

When we began to understand each other’s expectations, we work together better and so many little things come together easier.

4. We are Different. And That’s Okay
My husband can be very OCD about things. He has a certain way he puts the groceries on the conveyor belt, a certain way the dishwasher must be loaded, and a place he always puts his keys.

Me? It doesn’t matter what order I put the groceries on, I just get them on the belt. The dishes will get clean no matter how I put them in, and keys? Yeah sometimes they are in my purse and sometimes they are wherever I left them last.

We are different and sometimes those differences cause tension between us. But we are learning that differences aren’t bad. Just because I don’t do things the way my husband does, doesn’t mean it’s wrong and vice-versa.

We have had to learn to let the differences go. We are two different people and that’s a good thing!

5. Men’s Minds Work in boxes, Woman Think Like Spaghetti
I don’t think I will ever forget it. We are sitting in marriage counseling talking, and my husband gets up and draws on the whiteboard next to us. He draws a bunch of boxes. Then on the other side, he draws a bunch of squiggly lines that are all in a mess – he called them spaghetti.

7 Reasons Why Every Couple Should go to Marriage Counseling

Then he explained how his mind worked within the bunches of boxes. First, he would work at a problem within the first box. Then once that was solved, he would move on to the next box and the next box until he finally solves the entire problem.

He said the way my mind worked was like spaghetti. I had all these thoughts going on and I was trying to think about them and fix them all at the same time. Each strand of “spaghetti”  was just a piece of the problem.

The point of this was to show how differently our minds work and how we attacked a problem when one came up.

It’s definitely helped me stop and think sometimes and remember that his mind works differently than mine and while that’s not a bad thing, I need to give him time and patience to work within his “boxes” and not overwhelm him.

Men and women are so different and it’s amazing how we can come together in marriage and learn all these things about each other and learn how to work together as a team. I know that marriage counseling has changed our marriage, and I am glad I didn’t give up on trying to go.

What about YOU? Have you been to marriage counseling? What are some things you have learned about your marriage?

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  1. I so agree with number 5! I am both a wife and a therapist and I have always told the couples whom I counsel that men and women think differently and instead of bucking against that reality, we need to try and understand our spouse and accept him or her for who he or she is. My husband is definitely a “box” thinker and I have learned to accept it and work with it. He has learned to accept my big plate of spaghetti! lol Great post!

  2. I think marriage counseling is invaluable! I struggle most with 2 because sometimes I don’t know if I need to vent or problem-solve and sometimes it changes in the middle – I think I need one when really I needed the other! For 5, law school taught me how to think in a linear fashion like men do, so I can use both kinds of thinking, which is pretty cool. 😉 The drawback there is that I can sometimes see the end result before he does, having evaluated both the boxes and the spaghetti, and I get impatient waiting for him to climb out of one box and into the next one!

  3. Great post! I definitely need to work on #4. I’m a little OCD like your husband and if I let them, the littlest things can drive me bonkers.

  4. I love this well-written, encouraging, helpful post. I LOVE the nail video…hilarious! Also, your words on expectations are spot on. After nearly 23 years of marriage, I can say I wish I would have read them much earlier. Also, I’ve always loved the spaghetti and box analogy. In fact, I wrote a post called “Trying to fit Spaghetti into a Tackle Box” which is not really about marriage, but about prayer. I’m so glad you shared this post with us. Great work!

  5. I went to marriage counseling for over 3 years. One of the most important things I learned was that it was ok to agree to disagree. Another problem my husband and I had was that we always had the same argument that seemed to resurface and never got resolved. One of us would just get angry and walk out. We learned through counseling to table the argument to be discussed for another time (had to agree on day & time before leaving argument). This way which ever partner in the relationship that usually liked to have things “worked out” could know that it would be addressed and know that things would not be left “unsettled” for an indefinite period of time. It also gave both of us time to get our thoughts in order and also let the anger settle where it could be discussed rationally. Last and not least, we both learned that you never lie because if you don’t have trust, you have nothing. Unfortunately, today we are divorced. Some things you can’t rebuild. Trust is earned. Once broken, sometimes the cracks are just to big for survival.

  6. I WISH I could learn from marriage counceling but my husband always cancels our appointments. Im so over it. Why try when theres no one there to try FOR.

    1. Anna, I would encourage you to consider going to a marriage counselor by yourself if your husband isn’t willing. My parents were extremely close to getting divorced about 2 years ago. My dad refused to go to counseling (he always said he didn’t need it). My mom however, went for a couple of months, and it was very valuable for her and her sanity through the struggles she and my dad were going through. I also encourage you to seek out a Biblical Counselor. One that will point you to the hope, peace, and strength in God’s Word.

      Seeing you go to counseling and hopefully GROW closer in your relationship with the Lord through counseling may or may not encourage your husband to participate. Regardless, you will be able to say that you are fighting for your marriage, and I believe that God will honor your efforts. Philippians 4:6-7 is coming to mind right now…Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

      I hope this information encourages you. Praying for you and your husband. May God’s will be done! God Bless

  7. You know the part that really spoke to me was the last bit. My husband and I came to that conclusion while we were still dating. We’ve always been pretty good at conversing with one another. Actually he’s the only one it seems to understand me at all. Anyways as I was saying. We struck up the conversation early on about his mind was built as if it were a waffle with its little compartment, and mine like spaghetti. And I was struck about how right he was. I try my hardest to remember this fact when I’ve asked him a question and it takes him forever to give an answer, but alas I as well as everyone else am not perfect and find I do get frustrated with waiting when I want his opinion now, and for him to be instantly responsive. Because his response is valued, and after all I can not continue a conversation alone. I wonder as I read this article how you’ve learned to take a step back and breathe and not overwhelm your husband….
    As for your other advice I thank you very much for sharing.

  8. Amazing post! Being a guy, I can attest to the accuracy of #2. We can sometimes be (ok most of the time) pretty clueless when it comes to us needing to step in “take action” or when we need to just be there to offer an ear/support. I REALLY like #3 EXPECTATIONS. My wife and I have found this to be very true in our marriage. We are definitely working on getting better at telling each other what our expectations are and when they have been let down or fulfilled. I like how proactive you and your husband are with this area. I definitely see how being open and honest before something goes wrong on even “in the heat of the moment” can be more beneficial than waiting for things to get bad before you realize and express that your expectations were let down. That’s not saying that all expectations are good or right, but at least if they are out in the open you BOTH can work on the situation together and hopefully let it not blow up into anything that would negatively affect your relationship.

    Thanks again for the post!

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  10. I have learned so much about your third tip about expectations. I have learned how good communicated expectations can help a relationship mover forward. I have also learned how a badly communicated expectation can develop resentment and anger when those expectations aren’t meant. Thanks for your examples and advice.

  11. I haven’t been in a marriage counseling, not even once. As I’ve read this I am encourage to do so maybe because I still want to know more about married life and need some advice as well.

  12. I am so glad to have come across this article. Your insights have blessed me. Can’t wait to share them with my hubby. 🙂

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  14. Oh my gosh, I love number 5. That is my husband and me to a T! We will be talking about a problem and my thoughts seem so random and “squiggly” to him, and he’s still on box one. It makes perfect sense to me, but often he thinks I’m crazy ;). Thanks for sharing!

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