We Need to Break the Stigma of Marriage Counseling

The year 2016 was a disaster for our family. My husband Dan lost his job and our family had to start over– which actually included the two of us, our two small children, and our cat, essentially couch surfing for three months until we got back on our feet. As you might expect, all of us adopted our own coping mechanisms, both healthy and unhealthy, as a result of the upheaval we were all experiencing.

Once Dan started his new career and we moved into our own house, the dust began to settle, and we could clearly see that what we had just endured was actually really traumatic. We decided that we should see a counselor about it. So we booked an appointment, secured a babysitter, and made it happen.

“Before we begin,” the bespectacled, middle-aged therapist said to us cautiously, “I just have to ask one personal question.”

We exchanged worried glances. “Okay,” we said in unison.

“This isn’t a Hail Mary, is it?”

Dan and I looked at each other again. Sensing our confusion, the therapist elaborated.

“Most couples only come to marriage counseling when, unfortunately, it’s too late. They consider it a last resort when really, they should have started coming months, if not years before, in order to stay married.”

We both started laughing. “Oh no, not at all!” I replied. “We’ve just been dealt a really crappy hand from life this year and felt we needed some insight from a professional.”

“Oh good,” she sighed. “That makes this a lot easier for all of us. Now, let’s get started.”

A few weeks later, a friend called to check up on me and see how things were going.

“Things are going okay,” I said honestly. “Dan and I have been seeing a counselor and that’s been really great—“

She cut me off. “Oh Lindsay, if you need to pack the kids up and come over here and stay with us, just let me know.”

“Wait, what?”

“I mean, you’re in counseling. If you need to leave Dan I will help you.”

I was incredulous.

“No! We’re in counseling because we want our marriage to work! Not because it’s NOT working!”

“Mmm,” she replied, clearly unconvinced.

I’ve got to tell you – this stigma surrounding marriage counseling? It’s tired and unhelpful. It’s time to break it.

With the help of our therapist, we were able to healthfully navigate our shaky situation and come out of it stronger than ever. Not only did counseling help us in that trying time, but it’s also now a viable option for us whenever things get off-kilter. If we think we need to consult a counselor — a mindful, helpful, objective third party — we jump for it, without hesitation.

A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and she’s been seeing cancer specialists and oncologists. Can you imagine if I scoffed at her and told her to just give up and not see a doctor?

Another friend of mine recently declined to meet for lunch with me one day because she had a well checkup with her gynecologist. It would have been really foolish of me to tell her to blow off her appointment because, “You don’t have any problems, so why see a doctor?”

If either of these two scenarios sounds outlandish, that’s exactly what it feels like when someone judges you for being in any sort of therapy– but marriage counseling in particular. Some couples, like Dan and me, undergo therapy when they’ve experienced trauma (not unlike my friend who is currently battling breast cancer). Some couples, like my pastor and his wife, go to marriage counseling regularly just to make sure everything is okay (just like those of us who see a doctor for regular well visits).

Today, I am friends with more than one couple who are in desperate need of marriage counseling, but haven’t pursued it because of the negative stigma. They are ashamed, and as such, their marriages are suffering, and they have little to no help. If they do finally get the courage to go to counseling I’m afraid it might, unfortunately, be a Hail Mary.

I’m here today to proudly proclaim my participation in, and advocacy for, marriage counseling. It is healthy, beneficial, and it’s a good sign that you care about your marriage and want to make it stronger. Seeking marriage counseling isn’t unhealthy, alarming, or a sign that someone’s marriage is in the toilet. The next time you hear that someone is seeing a marriage counselor (or, heck, a counselor in general) the correct response is not a side-eye, a judgmental comment, or (heaven forbid) a plea for them to ditch their spouse and crash on your couch. The correct response is a high five.