Marriage therapy isn’t just for couples in dire straits. In fact, therapists say that going early on ― and continuing to go ― can help spouses stay happy and in love.
What healthy habits do couples who attend therapy practice? Below, eight tips from married folks who swear by marriage therapy.
1. Recognize when you’re telling a “story.”
“The first time we went to therapy as an engaged couple, I perched on the couch and eagerly told my side of events in one fell swoop. Then I sat back and waited for the therapist to respond, which basically just meant I wanted her to side with me. Sometimes we tell ourselves stories that may or may not be accurate because we want things to be or sound a certain way. We want to be viewed as the main character (aka the most important one). The thing is, in a healthy relationship, both people are equally important and both sides of a story matter. These days, I try really hard to notice when I’m building a narrative and make sure it aligns with what’s real. I recognize that my husband’s ‘story’ may be as legitimate as my own.” ― Julia Dellitt, a writer, editor and yoga teacher
2. Listen more than you talk.
“I am a talker. Therapy has taught me and my husband to listen more than talk. Active listening helps us to feel heard and understood. This is a practice we use everyday. We strive to listen, be attentive and validate feelings. After we both settle down we are able to work on the root issues and make a plan. It builds more trust.” ―Mikki Bey Crawford, writer at Dope Elope
3. Create couple time, even if it means waking up earlier.
“Through [going to therapy with my wife], I’ve learned that date nights and scheduled time together creates structure and improves emotional engagement. More importantly, it builds a sense of togetherness. One of my favorites? Wake up ten minutes early in the morning to connect ― cuddle with each other. Whether it leads to sex or not, the morning sets an atmosphere for a loving day.” ― Moshe Ratson, a marriage and family therapist in New York City
4. Don’t assume you know everything about your partner.
“My husband and I have been together five years now and sometimes it’s tempting to assume I know everything there is to know about him ― which isn’t true ― especially when it comes to conflict. I remember going to therapy once and thinking, ‘Oh, this is what he’s going to say and I bet he wants to handle it this way.’ Then the conversation started and I realized I was way off, because he is his own person with his own thoughts and feelings. Remember to be open minded and give your partner space to be a nuanced individual, for better or worse.” ― Julia Dellitt
5. Give up the right to be right.
“I feel I am usually right, although I sometimes let my husband think he is. While the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of us, we have learned not to allow the need to assert our ‘rightness’ get in the way of loving each other. Who cares who is right?” ―Mikki Bey Crawford
6. Call a timeout if things are getting too intense.
“This is a ground rule to avoid escalation. If for whatever reason a discussion or disagreement escalates to a high degree and you feel overwhelmed, you have the right to ask for a ‘timeout.’ Feel free to say, ‘this isn’t a good time, I feel overwhelmed and need a break.’ But be sure to reschedule time to talk about the subject within 24-48 hours.” ― Moshe Ratson
7. You can be honest now or honest later but eventually, you have to tell the truth if you want to move on.
“I’m a people-pleaser at heart, so in relationships I frequently feel the need to hide information. Why? I want everyone to like me. I quickly learned in therapy there’s no other path forward but an honest one. You’re actually wasting time and money if you show up to a counseling session without being willing to share your truth. There’s no need to be bluntly honest 24/7, but when you’re having an issue with the person you love, it’s better to deal with it sooner or later. Addressing the problem immediately in a compassionate way, rather than procrastinating a conversation, is the fastest way to start getting back on track.”― Julia Dellitt
8. When all else fails, give each other hug or a kiss.
“Therapy has emphasized the importance of physical touch our marriage. It is healing. When all else fails kiss. It works like a charm.” ― Mikki Bey Crawford