Therapy and counseling have become less stigmatized. People talk about going to therapy, they swap stories and advice, and generally, people are more accepting of mental health issues – which is exactly the way that it should be.
My husband and I go to couples counseling, and I’ve been open about it with my friends and family, because there’s nothing to be embarrassed about – in fact, I’m proud that we’re treating our marriage as something important enough to focus on together at least once a month.
Which is why I am all about this post where men are sharing their favorite lessons from therapy.
11. Sometimes leaving can be the answer.
“My therapist helped me get out of an abusive, unhealthy relationship. I knew I needed to leave, but I was plagued by second-guesses. My self-esteem had been rocked to the point where I thought I couldn’t survive on my own, or would never find anyone else. I went into therapy hoping to learn ways to fix the relationship, but my therapist helped me realize that it would never be healthy or fulfilling. The benefit of a therapist, in that case, was an objective, outside perspective that I could trust had my best interests in mind. It took a while, and it was messy, but I was able to break free and move on thanks to the confidence therapy helped give me.” — Patrick, 29, Ohio
10. Watch your body language.
“Whatever ‘resting bitch face’ is for men, I have it. My face is just naturally sour-looking and frowny. And I’ve learned that I tend to cross my arms a lot when I get into discussions with people, which comes across as very defensive. My therapist actually video taped us over the course of a few sessions to show me that my body language wasn’t at all what I thought, and explained how certain things I do can completely contradict my intentions in a bad way. My face is still pretty ugly, but at least I’m a little more aware of it now.” — Daniel, 40, South Carolina
9. You’re mad at the action or situation, not the person.
“This one really illuminated the struggles my wife and I were having when it came to arguing. When you argue, our therapist said, it’s the dynamic of the interaction that becomes frustrating. He helped us realize that our arguments seemed to follow patterns, and that breaking those patterns — or at least becoming aware of them — would help our discussions become more constructive, and cut down on our resentment for the other person. For example, for whatever reason, most of our disagreements happen in the kitchen. I guess it’s just sort of a default location where we both always end up. Once we became aware of that, we could say, ‘Okay, let’s go sit on the couch and talk about this.’ It felt more like coming up with a plan, than having an argument.” — David, 35, California
8. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help.
“Admitting you need help takes more strength than facing it alone. I think, as guys, that’s the biggest hurdle to getting proper help. We want to be tough. Figure shit out on our own. I had a friend put it to me this way: ‘Do you want to be ‘strong’ and miserable? Or do you want to ask for help, and be happy?’ That was like the knockout punch to my bravado. And my therapist has echoed the same thing, over and over. Reminding yourself that going to therapy, for whatever reason, takes incredible strength is a great way to realize just how much it’s benefiting you.” – Jerry, 38, Arizona
7. Arguing is healthy.
“Obviously, you don’t want to be in a constant state of fighting with your spouse. But, arguing or disagreeing over something shows that you both still care, and are passionate about coming to a resolution. Our therapist cautioned us against always brushing everything to the side, because it just breeds apathy and resentment. We used to think we were doomed because of how much we argued. And, maybe we did argue more than the average couple. But now we’ve learned to argue as a way to solve a problem, as opposed to winning the argument.” — Eli, 33, Kentucky
6. I even ask my friends this, now!
“In couples therapy, my wife and I learned to ask each other that question whenever we’re charged up about something. Because, most times, it’s one or the other. For me, since I’m a problem solver, I usually seek advice. How do I fix this? But my wife is the opposite – she usually just wants to vent. So, asking that simple question has saved us a lot of frustration because of misreading the other person’s needs.” – Michael, 36, Washington, D.C.
5. Growing isn’t easy, but it’s necessary for survival.
“Any good relationship is constantly growing. You’re constantly learning new things about each other, making mistakes, and evolving. Growth hurts. It’s like a constant state of puberty. And it can be really ugly, at times. But, my therapist told me to use those pains as opportunities to be vulnerable and, ultimately, come back together stronger than before. My wife and I have only been married for a year, so I’m constantly wondering, ‘Is this normal?’ So hearing my therapist confirm that growth is a messy, constant process was extremely comforting.” — Charles, 36, New Jersey
4. There’s nothing weird about anxiety.
“Hearing that anxiety is a survival mechanism made me feel less self-conscious about it. Basically, my therapist explained that early humans had to be anxious about things in order to survive. Like, they had to be anxious that saber-toothed tigers were going to eat them. It’s a natural instinct. We don’t have saber-toothed tigers now, but we still have the instinct for anxiety. So, we make up our own ‘saber-toothed tigers’ to be afraid of. I’m sure he said it smarter, but the gist is that a lot of the stuff we’re scared of or worried about isn’t really that big of a deal. Definitely not as scary as a saber-toothed tiger.” – Rich, 35, California
3. If scheduling sex is the only way to get it done, don’t feel bad about it.
“I think my wife and I both knew this one going in to therapy, but hearing our therapist explain why it’s necessary gave us some comfort. When we were younger and first dating, sex was easy and often. But then we got busy with marriage, kids, and a new, mutual life that was different than the two individual lives we’d had before. We were worried that scheduling sex meant we were no longer attracted to each other. But she explained that it’s quite the opposite. Scheduling an appointment doesn’t mean you’re less into to someone, it means that you’ve reserved your time and yourself specifically for that person. Once we saw it like that, I think we both felt a little more comfortable about adding ‘sex’ to our calendars.” — Sam, 40, Florida
2. You will definitely go to bed angry, and that’s okay.
“I think our parents’ generation impressed upon us the notion that you should never go to bed angry. In therapy, my wife and I learned that living by a rule like that puts a lot of pressure on a couple to wrap things up before they’ve been properly discussed or addressed. Plus, the longer you stay awake trying to resolve something, the more likely you’re going to get exhausted and frustrated, and just make things worse. Our therapist encouraged us to be civil about it, and just sort of agree to table arguments or disagreements until the morning, when we’re fresh and in a better state of mind. It’s been a game changer, for sure.” — Russell, 37, Maryland
1. You’re on the same team. This is paramount.
“In a marriage, you always have to remember that you’re on the same team. It’s not you versus the other person — it’s you and the other person versus the problem. You don’t need to fight against each other, you need to fight for each other. To grow and thrive as a couple. Once our therapist taught us some techniques for dealing with problems in that way, our relationship changed dramatically for the better, and we were able to let go of a lot of unnecessary resentment.” — Lee, 41, Tennessee
These are all gems (some of which I’ve heard but some that I haven’t) and I’m so glad I’ve heard or re-heard them today.
Have you been to couples counseling? Other kinds of therapy?
What lessons did you learn that’s stuck with you the most?
Let’s share in the comments!