Friday, October 7, 2011

10 myths about marriage counseling

the secret’s out: no marriage is perfect. that said, if every marriage has its problems, why do we put off getting help when we need it? truth is, many couples don’t recognize the value of good marriage counseling. so we’ll cut right to the chase and take a look at [what we think are] ten of the most common misconceptions about marriage counseling:

myth # 1 - “counseling is too expensive. we can’t afford it.” it is true that private therapy can be pricey, but there are alternatives to private therapy. many churches offer some level of counseling that is either free, or provided at a minimal cost. in addition, there are a growing number of counselors who offer group and/or private sessions on a sliding scale (including “married for keeps”). consider the alternative: a divorce is very expensive. your first hour with a divorce attorney would cost about the same as several sessions with a marriage counselor.

myth # 2 - “it won’t do any good.” a good counselor is trained to help identify what is happening in your marriage, and to assist you to take the right steps toward resolving your issues. basically, it boils down to only one thing – are you willing to do what you need to do? regardless of what issues you and your spouse are facing, if you are both willing to get help, then a counselor will be able to help you.

myth # 3 – “it will be two against one, a counselor will take sides.” rarely, and we mean rarely, is a marriage struggling because of the fault of only one of the partners. usually, both spouses have contributed in some degree to the decline in the relationship. a counselor will help you to focus on your part, and help you to face up and deal with whatever that is. in the same way, that counselor will provide the same service for your mate.

myth # 4 – “a counselor will solve all my problems.” there’s an old cliché that works here. “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” the thought is that you can provide someone the help they need, even the sustenance they require, but there is no way you can force them to partake of it, unless they want to. in order to get the help you and your spouse need, you must be a willing participant. a counselor can help you identify your issues, and equip you with the tools you need to make it, but you will need to apply and practice what you learn. it is up to you to get help, and up to you to walk it out. nothing will happen if you are merely a spectator in the process.

myth # 5 – “we don’t need counseling; we can do this ourselves.” our western culture has taught us that we are independent creatures, completely self reliant and self sufficient. other cultures don’t seem to struggle as much with this roadblock as we do. around the world, it is a common belief that we were created to live in community; that we need each other. somewhere it says “there is wisdom in many counselors”, the thought being that we all need guidance from time to time. would you seek out the advice of an investment broker before you invest? do you get the aid of a real estate broker when you sell your home? what if your child is having trouble at school? would you talk to your child’s teacher or administrator? seems to us that your marriage is at least as important, if not more so.

it is also much more difficult for us to recognize our own blindspots. we all have them. the wisdom in looking to an unbiased third party is that they are not blind to our issues. they can more readily identify unhealthy practices and give us a different perspective on what is happening in our marriage relationship.

myth # 6 – “a counselor just listens, they don’t talk. i can get the same results if i talk to my friends.” some folks have the mental picture of the patient lying on the sofa, and the counselor writing on a pad while commenting “mm hmm” now and again. not so. a skilled counselor will ask you key questions, invite your input, discuss issues with you and present proposed solutions. a counselor will equip you with the tools you need to improve your marriage and assist you both as you gain skill in using those tools.

myth # 7 – “counseling will last forever.” the goal of a responsible counselor is always to bring a couple to health in their relationship so that they can finish the course. it’s true that the number of sessions may vary depending on your needs. when you need a marriage tune-up and some help overcoming your obstacles, you can probably expect to meet with a counselor for a pre-determined length of time, and then be released. your counselor can discuss this with you at the beginning. don’t be afraid to ask those questions.

myth # 8 – “our marriage isn’t that bad. we don’t need that kind of help” – see myth # 5. when is the best time to take your car in for servicing: before or after the engine light comes on? think about it. one characteristic of a healthy marriage is that the couple will occasionally visit a counselor for tune-ups. counseling isn’t just for those in crisis. we encourage couples to take advantage of every marriage conference and seminar they can, whether or not they are in trouble. we do. it keeps us on track. reminds us of what it takes to stay healthy. we consider it an investment. it has been said “the more you invest in your marriage, the more valuable it becomes”.

myth # 9 – “i don’t need the help, my partner does.” we tell couples “if your mate has a problem, then you have a problem”. as we mentioned in myth # 3, it is very rare that both spouses have not contributed in some manner to the problems in the marriage. but, for the sake of argument, if your partner were sick, would you refuse to take him or her to the doctor? in the same way, if it would be helpful to your spouse that you attend counseling together, then in the interest of a healthy relationship, wouldn’t it seem reasonable to do that? frankly, in our experience, this is mostly a male issue. very few women refuse to attend counseling when their husbands request it. so men, perhaps it’s time to demonstrate your love in a practical way and just say yes.

myth # 10 – “if we get counseling, everyone will know that we’re seeing a counselor.” an ethical marriage counselor would never disclose the issues of your sessions, let alone that you are even a client. in addition, there are privacy laws that prevent those kinds of disclosures. you can rest assured that the only people who will know you are going to counseling, are the people you tell.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


it has almost become a national pastime. everywhere we go it’s a topic of conversation. even corporate america is downsizing. for many reasons, be it economics or the need to streamline, businesses and individuals are trimming back.

for a couple of years we had been feeling the urge to simplify our lives. at times our schedules would get so busy they would crowd each other out. our house filled with all the stuff we had accumulated over the years. as our family grew so did our possessions. with the passing of each of our parents, much of their households were assimilated into ours. when the grandkids started arriving, vickey kept a stash of toys, games, and creature comforts. her intent was that there would be enough to keep every grandchild occupied, and each of their parents comfortable.
for us the equation was “more stuff + more busy-ness = more maintenance + more time and less energy”. the question remained, begging an answer . . . “will you simplify?” although attracted by the idea of downsizing, our dilemma was not knowing how or where to begin.

all of that changed when we were offered an office/home in the historic village of arroyo grande, one that would give married for keeps a more noticeable face in our community. available space in the village is rare, and we knew instinctively that we needed to grab it. the catch? we would need to live in the new office/home for awhile, and that meant decreasing our living space by two-thirds. suddenly “simplify” took on a whole new meaning.

overnight, we had to get ruthless about what we would take with us and what, as gunther began to say, would be “jettisoned”. in classic kriwinski fashion, gunther’s list of “keeps” and vickey’s list were entirely different. it got emotional on many occasions. some of the items had historic and deep sentimental meaning to one or both of us. we had to ask each other and ourselves some hard questions. it meant re-evaluating what we could have available for family visits – a tough bridge for vickey. the recliner we got from gunther’s dad had to go – a tough crossing for gunther. there were hundreds of decisions and a lot of letting go.

when gunther had heart surgery last year, vickey remembered saying “i don’t care where we live or what we do. it’s you and me babe, and i’m just thankful that you’re still here”. it was a chorus that echoed in both of our hearts and minds through the process – bringing us back to the now, forcing us to determine what was important.

in the process of discovering the excess “baggage” that we were carrying in our house, we found a lot of excess “baggage” in our hearts, and our marriage. getting in touch with our attachments to our things, somehow revealed some places where we had taken on some dead weight. we got into the spirit of unloading, and uncovered some issues we needed to talk about, some things that needed resolution, some areas where we had stuffed when we could have discussed. it took us on a journey of deeper discovery of each other. the give and take of the process has allowed us to touch each other’s hearts at even deeper levels and to strive to understand our spouse more completely, rather than to be understood. we found a correlation: the more we off loaded, the deeper our mutual bond. we were rediscovering our reliance and trust in one another.

slogging through our emotional baggage became more of an ordeal than the actual move itself. it was a fatiguing process, and but it was freeing. it forced us to face our own inflexibilities and learn (again) how to be more adaptable, not just to our living situation, but to each other.

operation downsize has prompted us to reclaim simplicity, to live less encumbered, to move more readily to the place of discussing issues when they are fresh. not to allow them to become the litter that fills the closets of our hearts and minds, or to clutter the living room of our relationship so that we can’t see or enjoy each other as fully as we desire.

someone once said “it’s hard to move forward in your life when your past is crowding your present”.

we downsized, and we’re so glad we did. we extend the same invitation to you . . .will you simplify?. jettison the baggage in your home, your heart and in your marriage. clean out those emotional closets. dump the dead weight. if you need outside help, get it. the freedom it will bring you and the life it will infuse into your marriage is worth it. you are worth it, and so is your mate.
(just could not resist adding this image of one of our little guys with baggage of his own)

Monday, June 13, 2011

in sickness and in health . . . handling life’s wild pitches

have you missed us cyberspace? it's been much too long. sometimes life has a way of throwing you a wild pitch, and it can take you awhile to get back your swing.

for those who are not already aware, gunther had open heart surgery last october. the support and care shown to us both has been overwhelming. we are happy to report that gunther came through the surgery healthier than ever, but his recovery, and the effect of that event on many other areas of our lives has been significant. since the end of the year all of our focus has been first, on his health, and then, on keeping up with our counselling commitments. blogging has taken a back seat.

here he is at Christmas, not long after surgery. looks pretty good doesn't he?

our experience, difficult as it has been, has not been as rough as it could have been. gunther lived. he is not suffering. in contrast, many couples are living with the kind of suffering and ongoing heartache that comes from a long term, debilitating illness or injury. even the kind of "illness" that results from an addiction of some kind can test the depth of anyone's commitment.

in the light of the last months, we have given a lot of thought to the preciousness of the gift we have given each other: the gift of commitment. "i will stick with you through thick and thin, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. it's you and me babe . . . until death."

think for a moment and appreciate the magnitude of the commitment your spouse has promised you; a promise to stand with you, no matter how ugly you can be, no matter how ill, no matter how destitute . . . and only the interruption of death can come between you.

have you thanked your mate for that immeasurable gift? take a moment, preferably today, and put language to your appreciation. let your partner know that you recognize the scope of that promise to you, and that you love him (or her) for it.