My husband and I met when we were attending freshmen orientation during the summer before college. The first time we locked eyes was during the game of awkward introductions (you know the ones I mean) where we each had to share two truths and one lie.
Through the game, I remember being a little shocked that a pale, redheaded, skinny swimmer with broad shoulders could be half-Colombian. His face stood out to me, along with his neon green shirt that boldly announced he was Irish as well, and I couldn’t get his vibrant personality out of my mind. At the time, I never imagined I would fall head over heels for him and his goofball antics. But sure enough, one round of speed friending between dorms set us on the path toward being nearly inseparable to this day.
My husband and I have been married five years and have been together a total of nine. We have two wonderful sons (ages 3 and 4) as well as a house full of pets. Despite our deep and enduring love for one another, it has not always been easy.
Sometimes, you need more than a few date nights to get back to that butterfly stage where you can’t keep your hands off your significant other.
There were more days than I can count when I questioned if we should have gotten together so young. If things should be so hard if we were meant to be together. There were moments after having my children that I couldn’t stand being touched and wanted nothing to do with him. Being together in a monogamous relationship for years and years can be endlessly beautiful, but you need to be willing to put in the work to make it stay that way. And sometimes, you need more than a few date nights to get back to that butterfly stage where you can’t keep your hands off your significant other. Sometimes you need an objective third party; we started couples counseling to help us get through a tough time but soon realized even before we were struggling, our relationship was lacking proper communication. Here are four ways marriage counseling has helped make my marriage stronger.
1. We learned how to communicate properly
By the time we started couples counseling, we were almost a decade into our relationship, with two kids under 2. It was a struggle to make time for a meal, let alone time for a heart-to-heart about our needs and desires (physical and mental). We were the walking dead trying to make it to the next day between diaper changes and night shifts at work.
It wasn’t until we hit rock bottom and nearly considered separating that we sat down and made some changes. We were happy yes, but didn’t have deep conversations until one of us was holding on by a thread or upset.
In therapy, we learned to check in with one another daily to see how we could support each other and to lay out at least 30 minutes weekly to have longer discussions. Our therapist taught us that that time was essential to see what we needed to work on, but to also show and communicate appreciation to our spouse for all that was going well.
2. We relearned the value of sex
Sex has always been a tough topic for me to discuss (and I honestly, am surprised that I’m sharing this with you all). But reevaluating the impact of sex in a marriage and the importance it has was one of the most beneficial parts of counseling.
Coming from a very Catholic family, sex was a subject that we never discussed other than not to do it until marriage. But the impact of it being so taboo left me feeling shame about it, even after marriage.
After all, sex releases oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), so it seems natural that it would only make your relationship better the more you have it.
Counseling helped teach me that sex was a beautiful part of relationships and should be cherished. It sounds corny, but it really helped open my eyes to the beauty and connection it brings. Especially after my husband and I used our new communication skills to talk about our desires without shame and embarrassment.
I learned enjoying the intimate act of sex can strengthen a loving, healthy, and consensual relationship. After all, sex releases oxytocin (the feel-good hormone), so it seems natural that it would only make your relationship better the more you have it.
3. We learned the importance of being our own people
Being a mom and dad had taken over our lives. From the moment our eyes popped open in the morning until the second we passed out on the couch during Netflix (and not-chilling), we were in parent-mode. We put the needs of our children first, without a second thought for what we needed or wanted.
It had gotten to the point where I did not feel like a woman anymore, only a mom and housewife. Focusing on what I needed to do to care for everyone else but myself, that I forgot that I was a woman too. With needs, desires, and goals. That I had a body that was made for more than feeding and cuddling my children.
We also learned the importance of balancing responsibilities and trusting my husband with more parenting responsibilities to give me time to embrace myself as a woman. This allowed us time to relax, grow, and appreciate who we were and to feel desirable again. Losing the labels a few times a week allowed us to increase our self-esteem and find ourselves, without putting pressure on the other to make us feel good. Having separate identities was one of the most important things that helped strengthen our relationship.
4. We learned that love wasn’t enough
Our marriage counselor looked us in the eyes and said she had seen hundreds of couples, and the most important thing we needed to know that love wasn’t always enough. If we weren’t willing to put in the work, love wasn’t enough to make a healthy lasting marriage.
When she first said this to us, I’m not going to lie, my heart sank. I second-guessed if we had it in us to make our relationship work. But after a few sessions, she sat me down alone and told me that she could see that I wanted to make this work, but what really stood out to her was that my husband was putting in so much effort too. By both of us being vulnerable and working on our own flaws, it has helped us be the happiest we’ve ever been. Our relationship is now stronger (and steamier) than it was even in the honeymoon stage.