If you go to any kind of counseling, you know there’s a brief hitch in a conversation whenever it comes up. Even if you just casually drop that you had a counseling appointment the other day, the person you’re talking to will most likely flicker for just a moment, trying to decide whether or not they should be concerned about you.
There are all kinds of reasons people go to counseling. Sometimes, those reasons might be serious: clinical depression, anxiety, or thoughts of self-harm. But as our society grows more comfortable with the concept of mental health, the reasons we go to counseling are landing on a broader spectrum. Maybe you’re not having regular panic attacks, but you are feeling an unhealthy amount of stress you want some professional help navigating. You might not be dealing with crippling substance abuse, but you have noticed a problematic reliance on your smartphone. Or maybe you don’t have any real issue you’re aware of at all. You’re just looking for a checkup.
Although our society is getting better at understanding that someone with a counseling appointment, marriage counseling remains a rarer bird and thus, fraught with assumptions. For example, people who go to marriage counseling must be throwing a hail mary to save the relationship. Perhaps they’re trying to overcome infidelity or some other skeleton in the closet.
These things are possible. But it’s also possible that a couple in marriage counseling is just looking to talk to a professional about their day-to-day marital lives, and get an expert’s opinion on how they can better manage their relationship. It makes sense, actually. We know we’re not all experts on cars, so we regularly take our cars to experts to get advice about how to take care of them. We know we’re not all experts on our bodies, so we meet with doctors who can tell us things we couldn’t figure out ourselves. So why don’t we do a better job of meeting with marriage experts who can give us sound advice on the most valuable thing in our lives: our marriage?
Here are five reasons every couple should be going to marriage counseling, whether or not they feel like they’re in a marriage crisis.
1. An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
With our physical health, we’re pretty well aware of that fact that it’s easier to get ahead of a problem than to try to fix it after the fact. That’s why people eat healthy, exercise and get regular checkups. Our relational health is the same way. If an outside party can help point out some potential problem spots in your relationship when they’re still small, you can work on them before they blow up into something bigger and more difficult to handle.
2. It’s Easier to Work on Your Marriage In a Low-Stress Situation
You feel like your marriage is in a good spot right now? That’s actually a great time to go to marriage counseling. It means you’ve got some extra margin of trust and energy to invest in not just putting out fires, but actively trying to improve the marriage you have. A marriage counselor can provide you with resources and materials to help you with not just marital disasters, but simple upkeep.
3. You’ll Have a Solid Foundation For When Crisis Does Come
No marriage is immune from difficult times, whether they come from within or without. When big marital problems do arise, you’ll be better prepared to handle it with wisdom if you’ve taken the time to explore each other’s ways of handling conflict. A good marriage counselor can identify your motives and triggers ahead of time, and provide you with the resources to know how to navigate a relational argument intelligently.
4. You’ll Be Able to Look to the Future
A lot of times in marriage, you get so focused on the day-to-day maintenance of relational peace that you can forget to start thinking about tomorrow. What do you want your marriage to look like in 10, 25 and 50 years, and what can you be doing now to get there? Do you want to continue your education? Travel? Write a book? These are things worth knowing about and planning on now, and a good marriage counselor can help you determine what tools you need to get to that point.
Here’s an easy onramp to counseling: taking this simple, quick relationship assessment with your partner to get a feel for where you two are at. It’s not the same as getting real counseling, but it’s a good step in the right direction.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.