Have you ever had a brilliant idea come to you in a flash, making you want to tell everyone, only to realize it’s actually a lot harder than you thought it would be and now you kind of want to back out? Enter: agreeing to go to couples therapy and write about it.
Let me start off with a giant disclaimer: This is not an advice column. I’m 24. My partner is 26. We’ve been together for a little over two years and have lived together for six months. This is my longest and most serious relationship. I’m self-aware enough to know that most of that disqualifies me from giving anyone any advice about relationships.
That being said, I’m about to tell you why I’m a huge proponent of couples therapy.
By all estimations, Sean and I are doing great. We communicate very well. We don’t really fight, and for the most part, we know what to do when arguments and sour moods arise.
Plus, we have tons of fun together. We cook, we go out, we travel, we share a lot of the same interests, and we support each other in our hobbies and careers. I may be biased (I am), but we’re my favorite couple by far.
At this point in our relationship, we’re talking about the big stuff: In a couple years from now, where will we live? Should we buy property in Charlotte or will that make it more difficult to lay down roots somewhere else? Do we want to think about marriage soon or later on down the line? These aren’t light conversations, but they are exciting ones.
Despite the seriousness of our talks, we decided to go to couples therapy kind of on a whim. During a party with one of the editors at CharlotteFive (hey Alicia!), we were talking about ways to challenge ourselves, and the idea of going to a couples therapy session sprung to life. We were excited about the opportunity to learn and grow, and our other couple friends at the party liked the idea as well. So, an article was born.
But now, we had to do it.
I’m fortunate I knew about therapy from a young age and never really viewed it with a stigma. A few of my family members have used it at difficult moments in their lives, and I’ve attended sessions alone before.
Going to therapy has a lot of negative connotations for some people, however. Especially couples therapy. Thanks to movies and sitcoms, seeing a therapist seems like something you do only as a last-ditch effort before divorce. Therapy as maintenance isn’t really discussed in popular culture, but it should be.
So, in the spirit of learning, growing and using my life as a writing experiment, we attended two sessions over the course of a month.
During the first one, our therapist got us excited about the session by having us recount how we met (drunk at Common Market) and what attracted us to each other in the first place (I seemed bubbly and fun, he was very handsome and had a puppy with him). We discussed our plans for the future and reaffirmed how much we love each other.
Things got harder during the second session. We covered insecurity, intimacy, uncertainty — the types of issues at the root of a lot of arguments big and small that I think most couples have.
One of the best and worst things about a serious relationship is the blanket it provides you to protect you from your deepest insecurities. It’s really hard to peel back the top layer of a fight about something inconsequential and say something closer to the heart of the problem, like “I feel unloved” or “I don’t feel good about myself right now.”
If you don’t check on these feelings, though, they don’t just go away. They fester and grow and start to color your view of the world. For two people who usually pride ourselves on our communication skills, we discovered that we still have a lot to learn.
For one, in any argument or difficult conversation, I tend to go cold and silent — a huge and very unsubtle departure from my usual demeanor. Our session helped me remember that in those moments, it’s not fair for me to think he knows what’s going on in my head. Not something I didn’t know, per se, but a really good reminder just when I needed it.
As one of my favorite love and sex writers Esther Perel said, in a relationship, there’s actually three people. There’s you, there’s me, and there’s us. All three need to be taken care of for the partnership to work.
There’s a rule I learned about relationships from an advice show for the modern era (“My Brother, My Brother and Me,” for the uninitiated) that helps me when I need it. It goes like this: Both partners need to treat the whole relationship like it’s a 60/40 relationship. You do 60 percent of the work, and let the other person do 40 percent.
“Because if you treat it 60/40, both of you, you are always trying to take that next step. You’re always trying to get that one thing to let them relax a little bit. If you take it 60/40 and both of you really commit to it, you’re going to have a great marriage,” according to Justin McElroy of MBMBAM.
We’re still learning, but going to couples therapy gave us the tools we need to open up when we’re frustrated or just feeling weird. For now, we’re sticking to quarterly sessions, but we’ll adjust as needed. We’re in this relationship for the long haul, and I love that therapy is something we’ll be able to fall back on if we ever need to down the road.
Have you been to couples therapy with your partner? Let us know in the comments how it worked out for you.
Photo: Emma Speckman