Twenty-one year old BYU student Caroline Belnap met her future husband in New York City and married him in July of 2014. A little over a year later, Belnap says she sought out a therapist because she felt it would help her personally. She calls her personal therapy experience “comforting” and says that it’s something she looks forward to each week.
“A personal therapist or couples counselor can be such a help because you have the confidence of the person you are talking to and they are not going to judge you,” Belnap says. “For me, it helped me learn how to handle situations in a healthier way rather than doing something I would regret later.”
A member of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, Belnap says that Mormon culture may lead people to think that “marriage is going to be this happy thing with beautiful kids and beautiful home.” Speaking from her experience, Belnap says she recognizes the benefit of using counselors and therapists. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Shayne Anderson, associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, cites several reasons why individuals resist therapy, including:
- Media portrayal
- Influence of family members or others with a negative perception of therapy
- A belief that therapy is only for “crazy” people
- A belief that a couple’s relationship is private and shouldn’t be shared with a stranger
“We tend to be self-reliant so it can feel like we are failing if we seek help,”Anderson says. “People should know, though, that couple therapy works and it works well, particularly for couples who come before their problems are deeply entrenched.”
Therapy can help you learn about yourself and your partner in ways that don’t happen during the normal courtship process. It can help you develop a solid foundation of open and honest communication and can help you have difficult conversations that you might otherwise never have. – Shayne Anderson
Two Becoming One
One misconception about marriage that Anderson says he sees most often is the belief that once you’re married the hard part is over. Anderson says that marriage is hard work and that it involves the merging of often very different family cultures. “Each partner comes to the table with a host of unspoken beliefs about gender roles, sexuality, emotional intimacy, finances, etc. Working through these to come to a set of shared beliefs takes work.”
BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic offers free treatment, also know as “marital checkups.” Generally, a couple meets with a master or doctoral student studying marriage and family therapy who assesses the health of their relationship and offer suggestions for improvement. This resource allows couples to have a trained therapist at no charge.
Anderson offers some questions that couples can incorporate into their dialogue to discuss how they can improve their relationship. He also encourages couples to ask these important questions on a regular basis:
- Are you putting the other first?
- Do you feel happy with the division of household labor?
- Do you both feel that you have an equal voice in the relationship?
Humans have a fundamental need to be emotionally connected with another person. According to Anderson, humans possess the attachment need, a term coined by John Bowlby. Anderson says that individuals can “develop a secure attachment to someone when we can be vulnerable with a partner who is emotionally available to us and responsive to our needs.”
All relationships require communication, and, regardless of one’s relationship stage, counseling works for all individuals. Anderson highly recommends premarital counseling for individuals pursuing a marriage.”A good therapist will help the couple discuss some of the potential pitfalls and help the relationship begin on a solid foundation of communication,” Anderson says.
Jamie Moesser, an alum of BYU, speaks about her experience with marriage therapy: “I think all couples need to see a therapist occasionally, just like they do their doctor or dentist. It greatly benefited my husband and I. I got to re-discover the man I married, and we are growing closer every day. No matter who you are, marriage takes effort.”
Have you benefited from couples’ therapy?