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Coming in Second

Written by Mary Baker, LPC

One of my recent couples, I will call them Jim and Diana, came to me with a very familiar struggle.  Diana had a difficult time accepting that Jim would work late.  When he did come home, he quickly turned on the computer or the TV.  Even though she would often suggest they have a date night or watch a show together, Jim would find reasons to isolate himself.  Diana’s resentment would build until she became irritable.  She noted how much she did for Jim (and the kids) and how underappreciated she felt.  Jim was frustrated.  In his mind he was doing all he could to provide for the family and simply wanted to relax when he was home.

No one likes to “come in second” to a spouse’s career, the kids, or extracurricular activities.  In the busy and competitive environment of Northern Virginia, marriage counselors see this struggle play out time and again with overworked and overstressed couples.  One person feels overlooked and begins to feels neglected.  The other becomes frustrated and resentful and begins to withdraw.  What can couples do when this dynamic takes root and threatens to harm their marriage?

When I work with a dynamic like this I’m often paying attention to your priorities and how you balance two key elements: the needs of your marriage and your own needs.  (If children are present, then your children’s welfare becomes the 3rd key element that needs balancing).  Let’s look at how this played out with Jim and Diana.

As Jim and Diana opened up about what they were experiencing I began to take note of how much energy and focus Diana was investing in taking care of her husband.  For Diana it was a gradual process and I’m not sure she even realized it was happening.  We take less and less care of ourselves as we take more and more care of someone else.   This left her feeling vulnerable and less confident.  She looked to Jim to validate her.  The less vocal and assertive he became, the more anxious Diana was about how he felt about the marriage and about her.  Diana didn’t have regular contact with healthy friends, outlets for herself where she could learn, play and/or connect.  This lack of healthy feedback, encouragement and connection left Diana feeling depleted and disempowered, especially as Jim began to pull away.  I used the analogy of how important good nutrition is for healthy bodies.  Healthy environments and friendships outside the marriage help nurture and feed us.

Jim began to work through his attempts to self-protect by emotionally turning away from Diana’s bids for affection.  He realized he felt overwhelmed by the pressure to meet all of her needs and eventually shut down and became resentful himself.  He wasn’t taking care of himself either.  When we withdraw and isolate, either through tv or the internet or some other vice, we’re not taking care of our marriage or ourselves.

Marriage counseling helped Diana see how out of balance she had become.  Jim started to share more of his feelings, frustrations and needs.  Ironically, Diana began to feel more connected to him as he shared these frustrations.  They started to find each other again.  They began to implement practical solutions that balanced the needs of both their marriage and themselves.

So if you are beginning to feel like you are coming in second or you are beginning to feel some resentment building inside you, it might be wise to look at how balanced the needs of your marriage and your own needs currently are.  Since we can take responsibility for our self-care more easily, that is often a good place to start.  By owning our needs and taking the initiative to make sure they are met, we feel more confident and grounded.  We are no longer focused outside of ourselves and thus feel less vulnerable, because whenever we wait, wish, nag or cajole, we are handing others our power.  Rather, we are more focused within, owning our needs, setting boundaries and then letting our partner freely choose to honor our needs, as well as their own.  This is the healthiest way to cultivate freedom in the marriage which in turn allows love to grow and prosper.

Hopeful Spouse Counseling

Karen called me last week with a familiar refrain: “Glen, we’re sinking…our marriage is falling apart.  BUT, my husband doesn’t want to come in for counseling.  Can you help us?”

Absolutely!  We often get calls from the “hopeful spouse.” Sometimes it’s the husband, other times it’s the wife.  They are committed to doing whatever it takes to help save their marriage even if their partner is reluctant or unwilling to join in the therapy component.

The hopeful news is that often when one partner starts making changes and really puts a lot of focused effort into helping the marriage, the other spouse becomes motivated to join in the process.  It doesn’t always work that way, but regardless, getting the help you need, even if it’s by yourself, can really help improve the quality of your life and potentially the quality of your marriage.

Feel free to give one of our marriage specialists a call to ask about this service.

Ask a Question          Schedule An Appointment          Our Counselors

Ninja Marriage Counseling!

How do you choose a counselor for your relationship?

You want to know a secret? Actually, it’s pretty much an open secret these days: most therapists don’t enjoy couples counseling. (See the recent New York Times article regarding this revelation below). This may not seem like a shock or a big deal, but the truth of the matter is it is significant, especially if you are searching for a couples or marriage counselor to help your relationship.

Most therapists are trained almost exclusively in one-on-one counseling. That’s where the majority of their supervision and experience has been. They’re trained to diagnose mental and emotional distress and begin a treatment plan for that individual. Counselors are your classic ‘good guys’ (and ‘gals’); the empathetic and accepting therapists who are especially concerned about creating a safe space for you. The problem is, the more passive “uh-huh, uh-huh, hmmm,” type of individual counseling just isn’t effective with couples – and certainly not helpful for a relationship.

This is why most counselors dread couples counseling. Relationships can be messy: the stakes are high and there can be volatility, secrets, triangles, and uncertainty. The following New York Times article describes couples counseling as “piloting a helicopter in the midst of a hurricane.” We don’t think it’s that bad, but for many counselors, couples therapy can be frightening because it’s a tremendous challenge to actually be of help when two strong individuals are colliding.

That’s why you need a ninja! :) Terry Real says it best in the following article when he talks about the best couple’s counselors: “You have to like action. To manage marital combat, a therapist needs to get in there, mix it up with the client, be a ninja. This is intimidating (for many counselors).”

The bottom line is: couples counseling is very different from individual counseling. When looking around, make sure the counselor you choose to assist your relationship has the majority of her or his experience with couples. Make sure their approach is an active one, one in which they get in there with you and aren’t intimidated. Make sure they won’t cause your relationship more harm than good. Make sure you find yourself a ninja!

Read here: the New York Times article entitled, “Does Couples Therapy Work?

(Well Marriage Center offers both a safe space AND ninja counseling for your relationship.  In fact, we specialize in marriage and couples counseling!  Read about Our Approach and feel free to ask questions!)

Marriage Counseling in Leesburg, VA

Welcome to Well Marriage Center! We understand it can be intimidating to consider couples counseling when your relationship runs into difficulty.  Plenty of questions run through people’s minds: “Will this help?” “How long does it last?” “How much money will this cost us?” “What if the counselor doesn’t think we can be helped?”

Click here to begin at our homepage: Well Marriage Center

It takes a lot of courage to ask for help.  Our commitment to you is to provide a safe, “marriage-friendly” approach that supports the probability that you can save and improve your relationship.  We want that for you and we believe you can make it happen!  For over 25 years we’ve sat with couples just like you, couples who have run into minor bumps or significant potholes, couples who wondered if their relationship could even be saved.  The great news is this: countless couples have echoed almost the identical statement, “several months ago I never would have imagined our relationship could be this good again.”

Well Marriage Center specializes in couples and marriage counseling in Northern VA. We utilize a combination of therapeutic and wellness (strengths-based) models, we study the latest research, we engage with the leaders in our field, and we work exclusively with relationships or relationship dynamics.  Trust your relationship to a couple’s specialist!

Quick Links:
Our Counselors          Our Approach          Our Locations

Ask A Question          Schedule An Appointment

We provide couples / marriage counseling to the Northern VA community, with office locations in Fairfax Virginia (VA), McLean Virginia (VA) & Leesburg Virginia (VA)

Marriage Counseling in Fairfax, VA

Welcome to Well Marriage Center!  We understand it can be intimidating to consider couples counseling when your relationship runs into difficulty.  Plenty of questions run through people’s minds: “Will this help?” “How long does it last?” “How much money will this cost us?” “What if the counselor doesn’t think we can be helped?”

Click here to begin at our homepage: Well Marriage Center

It takes a lot of courage to ask for help.  Our commitment to you is to provide a safe, “marriage-friendly” approach that supports the probability that you can save and improve your relationship.  We want that for you and we believe you can make it happen!  For over 25 years we’ve sat with couples just like you, couples who have run into minor bumps or significant potholes, couples who wondered if their relationship could even be saved.  The great news is this: countless couples have echoed almost the identical statement, “several months ago I never would have imagined our relationship could be this good again.”

Well Marriage Center specializes in couples and marriage counseling in Northern VA. We utilize a combination of therapeutic and wellness (strengths-based) models, we study the latest research, we engage with the leaders in our field, and we work exclusively with relationships or relationship dynamics.  Trust your relationship to a couple’s specialist!

Quick Links:
Our Counselors          Our Approach          Our Locations

Ask A Question          Schedule An Appointment

We provide couples / marriage counseling to the Northern VA community, with offices in Fairfax Virginia (VA) & Leesburg Virginia (VA).