Lockdown has been brutal for some marriages.
i think it has been surprisingly good for ours on the other hand.
Val and i are two people with very strong personalities and so to lock us in the same space for what is closing in on a year seems like a recipe for disaster. But for the most part things have been really good. Don’t get me wrong – we irritate each other – we have habits that annoy the other person – we clash on many things.
But there has also been [more recently] the opportunity for more dedication to walks which we usually do together [masked!]. Often in really nice spots since the lockdown eased. Which tend to lead to good and honest and deep conversations.
We have also found ways of doing different things so i have played a lot of online board games while Val has been working on learning isiXhosa. Val has done a lot of work in the garden [we don’t have a lot of space out there but she has worked a lot of magic and we have eaten from it]. A lot of my work with Heartlines and BottomUp has moved to online Zoom spaces. i started a video channel of story-telling for young kids during lockdown. We have both read a lot.
So time together and time apart. A lot of cooking together. Trying a new eating plan [keto – am totally over it now and ready for it to end on Friday! #ShowMeThePizza] .
Do the work
i do think, though, that a lot of the work we needed to strengthen things up happened beforehand, and this is the thing that i want to talk about in this post. Which is about going to see a counsellor.
Marriage counselling is one of those strange things that, in Christian circles at least, seems to happen leading up to the marriage and then the moment you are married it’s as if the collective pushes you out to see with a proverbial: Good luck with that!
i am a big fan of marriage counselling before you get married. Having some outside conversation and engagement to help you assess whether you are likely to be a good match for each other. That makes sense. And if, in that time, you discover that you are not meant for each other, that actually feels like a win.
BUT i really believe that it can be such a helpful thing to seek out AFTER you get married. You know, once you’ve been able to identify the fights and where the head-butting occurs and how some of your values don’t align as clearly as you thought they might.
Learn how to fight well
If the only reason you ever go to counselling is to learn how to fight well, or better, then it is worth it.
Actually bigger than that probably is communication. Learning how to listen well to your partner. Learning how to interpret different things.
But one of the biggest benefits i think we saw in our counsellor [and we have been for quite a lot of sessions] was the means of creating a safe space to say some of the things to each other that just couldn’t seem to happen when it was just Val and me.
There is no marriage guide that answers all your questions and speaks to all your problems. Because each person is so different. And so what works for one person will not work for another. What helps one couple might be disastrous for another. And so having someone who can look in from the outside and offer some suggestions or hand you some tools or suggest some ways of doing talking and fighting and decision-making and money-spending and more can be the biggest gift.
A Great Gift
Counselling costs money. And not everyone has money, or the kind of money they would choose to spend on counselling over petrol or rent or food perhaps. So this can be an incredible gift. We have received this gift, and we have offered it to others.
It doesn’t always work, but we have seen it work, even during lockdown. And the opportunity to help breathe life into a friend or family member’s marriage is such a huge thing.
Also we tend to think of marriage counselling as a last resort, when it can be a beautiful engagement that helps put things in place early enough so that you don’t ever have to think of terms like ‘last resort’. When your marriage is going well, have a session of counselling and work on some of the things that are hard to verbalise when things are not going well.
i really just wanted to write this today to put this on your radar. Maybe as a gift for you and your person. Maybe as an investment you can think about making into someone else. Marriage too often can feel like such a private affair and we only start talking about it the moment the cracks feel so unwieldy and the ship starts to sink. How can we start championing the marriages around us before we get there?
If you’re in Cape Town, then we know someone who has been amazing for us and for some of the people we know. And if you are somewhere else in the country and looking for someone, let me know because through my networks i imagine we will be able to source some amazing people all over.
A sign of great strength
When i was growing up, the idea of asking for help in certain spaces used to be seen as a sign of weakness. How ridiculous is that? Asking for help is one of the biggest signs of strength there is. It comes with an awareness that something is wrong that i may not be able to fix. There is humility in there as well as invitation. Boldness. So much.
And i really want to invite you into that space. Whether you are in a marriage that feels really strong right now or if you are more than aware of cracks that might have been growing under lockdown. Or perhaps you are in a space financially when you can offer to pay the first session or sessions for a friend or family member to go and get help.
Marriage is not easy at the best of times. But if there are ways we can make it easier or pour into the strengthening of other people’s, then that is well worth doing. It takes a village to grow a child and it can really take a community to grow a marriage.