Guest Post By: Ingrid Herrera-Yee, PhD
Married life isn’t easy. It takes work. Every. Single. Day. The outside world, responsibilities, and stressors all have an impact on your life as a couple. This holds true whether you’re in a civilian or a military marriage. But, add to it the stress and strain of moves, deployments, TDY’s and the other trappings of military life and it can be downright unnerving. No wonder relationships take a hit. I mean your arguments aren’t really about the times they can’t find their reflective belt (you’ve only pointed it out every, single, drill weekend). Not a big deal, right? Wrong. These little annoyances can become HUGE when you don’t address them. And they add up. Quickly. This is where communication is key, and when that breaks down, then you’re potential to sink, and sink fast, happens as quickly as Murphy shows up at your home when your spouse is away.
So, you’ve finally worked up the courage to talk to your spouse, and they say refuse to go to therapy. You see, asking for help isn’t easy. Especially when it comes to our service member spouses. It just isn’t in their DNA to ask for help or to talk to a total stranger about what is going on in the intimacy of their own home and marriage. Your initial response to the refusal could likely be one of anger, frustration, helplessness, and powerlessness. You might believe that there is nothing you can do to make things better. I’m here to tell you that there are steps you can take to make things better.
Understand your spouse’s misgivings.
First, and I mean the very first step, is understanding your spouse’s misgivings. Ask your partner if they would be willing to share their concerns. If they are, give them your undivided attention and “mirror” or summarize what they have said. Validate their concerns, even if you might not share them.
Talk about counseling in a positive, collaborative way.
Step two is talking to them about therapy in a positive way. You’re a team. Let them know that you are interested in working on your problems together. Tell them that this is a great way to learn how to deepen your connection and work through the hard stuff.
Therapy isn’t necessarily for everyone. Although therapy can improve your marriage, it’s not the only thing that works. There are some alternatives you can try.
Alternatives to Therapy
Try a couples retreat. Even though it isn’t therapy, a couples retreat can be very therapeutic and powerful. The military often offers retreats and there are opportunities out there to sign up through non-profit organizations for some time away. You are able to leave home, go to a place that is comforting, relaxing, and where the focus is solely on you and your relationship.
Try weekly check-ins. One way to talk out your problems and concerns is having a weekly check-in meeting. Make sure that you pick a time when you have each other’s undivided attention. Wait until the kids are settled in bed, find a quiet space and turn off all screens (TV, iPad, Cell Phones). Take the time to just talk as a couple.
Try carving out time for a date night. Don’t let it go longer than once a month; making your marriage a priority is vital to its health. Take time during those date nights to rediscover what brought you together in the first place. Do little things, like surprise your spouse with a massage or a candlelight dinner. You don’t necessarily need to leave your home for a date night.
Share your appreciation for one another. Something that you can do every night is to share your appreciations. This might be a quality you appreciate about your partner, such as their sense of humor, or a recent experience that you appreciate about them.
Going to therapy Alone
Another alternative is going to therapy alone. If you want to improve your marriage, working on yourself, even without your spouse, can be powerful. As you begin to make changes, your spouse’s behavior may also change. And in some cases, your spouse might be so curious about what happens in therapy that he or she feels compelled to go with you. Even if your spouse never goes to therapy, however, going alone can help you deal with your stress and give you tools to cope.
When to Worry
There’s a big difference between refusing therapy and refusing to work on the marriage. But if your spouse refuses to make any changes, or to talk about issues within your relationship, this is a problem. Refusing to make any changes at all and ignoring a spouse’s legitimate needs is a form of emotional abuse. That might not be all that’s going on, it could be that your spouse is feeling depressed or is suffering from a mental health condition that prevents him or her from seeking or accepting help.
At the end of the day, this is your life and your marriage. Do what you feel is right for you and your family. Military marriages, heck, all marriages deserve that. Don’t give up. There is help and hope.