Every week in our “Holy Ever After” facebook group, we share a marriage challenge. It keeps us all making a concerted effort to better our marriages every week. This Monday, we took it to the next level and challenged ourselves and our group members to this:
The more I look back at our decision to post that challenge, the more I realize a majority of marital impasses might just need prayer, communication, and compromise, there are some things that simply cannot be solved in three simple steps.
What happens when you’ve prayed endlessly, you’ve communicated your grievances respectfully, you’ve offered every compromise you can think of, but you and your spouse still remain at an impasse? At that point, it’s probably time to get a professional involved to help you work through the problem.
When to look for help
The DSM-V (diagnostic tool for psychological professionals) uses “disrupts daily functioning” as a frequent qualifier of having an actual disorder and needing treatment. I’m not suggesting that having marital conflict is a mental health issue, but I like that qualifier. If the impasse is making it difficult to go about your day to day tasks and take care of yourself or anyone in your care, it’s beyond time to get someone involved.
Please don’t let it get to that point though. I asked my husband last night when he thought it was time to reach out to a counselor, and he said that when a person spends most of their time wondering if they made the right choice getting married, even when the couple isn’t currently fighting, they need to talk to a professional.
Even that is on the later end of when to go. My personal qualifier is whenever you have lost your peace about your marriage because of a persistent conflict, it is a good idea to bring in outside counsel. Counseling is so often treated as a defibrillator for marriages that are already mostly dead. It should be used much more like an antibiotic to help fight off an infection before severe damage occurs.
Specifically to the wives, asking for an outside counsel is not against Ephesians 5. We are called to be subject in all that is right. If we have a question as to the morality or good intention of something our spouse is doing, we absolutely should explore that possibility before obeying. However, be prepared for the possibility that he is in the right, and don’t make a habit of molehills into mountains whenever something doesn’t fit your personal preference.
Who to ask for help
Who you ask for help really depends on your situation and the nature of the conflict. My go-to has always been a trusted priest. Most have counseling training, and all of them want your marriage to be a success. If you go to your diocesan website, there is usually a list of local spiritual directors as well.
Some issues are beyond the scope of spiritual direction, and for those, I suggest seeing a Marriage and Family Therapist. These are psychological professionals specifically trained to mediate and repair marital conflict. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has a search engine to help you find one in your area. As with any therapist, make sure that they respect your belief system and won’t encourage anything that goes against your Faith.
My top recommendation is the Pastoral Solutions Institute. They do tele-counseling for individuals and couples, and they are all solidly Catholic counselors. They are affiliated with Dr. Gregory and Lisa Popcak, who you might know from More2Life Radio and their many excellent marriage related books. This is a low-pressure and convenient option for couples looking for a Catholic Counselor.
Why you shouldn’t be worried about asking for help
There are two big reasons people don’t go to counselors. Number 1 is because “therapists are for crazy people”. I cannot begin to tell you how dumb that idea is. Are oil changes for broken cars? Do you only wash your clothes when they are absolutely soiled and filthy? No. You put work into maintaining the things that matter.
I know many people whose marriages have been saved by wonderful counselors, but they aren’t just trained to deal with the big make-or-break issues. They are trained to peacefully mediate and to help both you and your spouse learn conflict resolution and communication skills on your own, so your marriage doesn’t get to the brink.
Praise God, we have never been to the point where we need serious counseling, yet. I’m sure we’ll have our share of conflict if we’re married for all those 80 years I’ve got planned. But occasionally we both need help navigating tricky issues. Sometimes from our parents, sometimes from friends, and sometimes from a spiritual director. My point is, nobody has a successful marriage on their own. We aren’t meant to “take on the whole world just the two of us”. It’s natural, right, and good to have people who can help you through difficult circumstances.
Reason number 2 is, “my spouse won’t go”. If your spouse won’t go with you, then go by yourself. Ask a friend to watch your kids, or see if your spiritual director or counselor could meet you at a local park while your kids play. If your spouse isn’t being cooperative, take initiative on your own.
There’s only so much you alone can do, and you won’t manipulate your spouse into changing, but no matter the situation, there is always something you can do. Sometimes it might be recognizing and repairing your own faults, and sometimes it might be praying a novena for your spouse. But there is always something. Even if you feel like the only person trying to fix the situation, don’t give up.
Reason number 2 occasionally becomes, “my spouse won’t let me go” and if that is really true, you need to seriously consider the possibility of emotional abuse. This is well beyond the scope of my expertise and only you can decide what is best in that situation, but if you are dealing with a spouse who won’t let you enlist help for serious conflict, do not take that lightly.
If you’ve tried the three-step “pray, communicate, compromise” approach with no success, please give counseling some serious thought. Marriages aren’t meant to be miserable.
In marriage, sloth results when we stare in the face an offense against the dignity of our marriage or ourselves and refuse to engage, not because we are being prudent, but because”(sigh) that’s just the way it is (sigh)”. Sloth is the sin of embracing a false martyrdom and with it the sick sense of self-righteousness that comes from treating our so-called defective spouse as our “cross”. (Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak)
God doesn’t want you trapped in misery, and God especially doesn’t want you to give up on your marriage. There are so many wonderful resources out there, please don’t be afraid to use them!