Think of personal counseling as an emotional/psychological tuneup. That chance to open up with someone else can provide the answers we need to improve a relationship.

When the going gets too tough and a committed couple wants to maintain or even improve their relationship, one of their first thoughts is that the solution will be found in couples counseling. Usually this happens after a major fuss, or when something makes them feel as if it’s the relationship’s last straw.

Actually, it’s too bad it usually has to come to that. Counseling is such a good idea even when things aren’t desperate.

The desire to fix a relationship or even to make it better is, however, a common motivator. There are so many messages out there about what a good to great relationship should look like, many of them fantasies, that questioning the perfection of a relationship is widespread. And no relationship matches the images.

But “relationship problems” are seldom rooted in the relationship itself. One of the fascinating things about being with someone is that the closer a relationship becomes, the more being in one brings up issues we either never knew were there or we’d prefer to deny.

The great news is that that’s inherent in getting closer and actually a sign that the relationship is growing more real and less likely to be one with both partners living in a fantasy. Imagine, then, if we could see “relationship problems” as positive markers of two people’s growth together not apart.

We could also see them as opportunities for personal growth whether the outcome is staying together or not. But, and this is important to repeat, problems are inevitable if a relationship is progressing in a healthy manner.

Admitting there are problems until it’s so late in the game can be difficult, however, because it can feel as if some personal failure is involved. Yet, if we’ve been in a relationship that does involve closeness, that very closeness will bring up what we thought was never there.

A relationship can come to feel as if one is walking on a mine field. At any moment something can blow up that we didn’t know was buried where we just stepped.

And that might be something buried in the life of either partner. Both bring their pasts and the baggage they carry with them, and no matter how we might have screened our partner, we are unlikely to catch the deepest hurts and fears.

So, a relationship becomes an opportunity to get in touch with ourselves. We can do that no matter what our partner does.

Before, then, we turn to couples counseling, it’s wiser to go first to personal counseling. This is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, our own fears and worries, and our own ways of expressing ourselves to others.

Think of personal counseling as an emotional/psychological tuneup. That chance to open up with someone else can provide the answers we need to improve a relationship.

It’s too bad that many still consider going to counseling a sign of failure rather than a chance to explore a vast territory that’s within. Most of the world could benefit from examining their lives rather than just being stuck in the unexamined patterns that are played out in relationships with others.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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