Your marriage has stopped working. This isn't just about the day-to-day, back-and-forth of living together. It feels like something else altogether.
Whatever the "it" is, it's been going on for months. Try as you might, you've been unable to resolve the issues. One day it seems to be about the children; the next day it's about family finances. The content of the arguments may change, but the pattern of not reaching resolution remains the same.
Or perhaps you've come to a place where you're afraid to bring up anything at all, because it's bound to result in yet another argument. Communication between the two of you has stalled. Trust has broken down. Intimacy has suffered.
Whatever the two of you are doing, it's clearly not working. You need help.
According to Terry Mizrahi, President of the National Association of Social Workers, "You know you need professional help when nothing has worked, when you feel depressed, anxious, or agitated, when you are unable to carry out your obligations."
So you know you need help. But how do you tell him? What if he doesn't think you need counseling? What if the whole idea of asking for help isn't even part of his vocabulary?
Let's talk first about how NOT to tell your spouse that the two of you need counseling. "I'm not happy, and you're the problem," is an approach doomed to fail. Even if you don't use those words.
We all like to believe we're in the right most of the time, as in, "This is about him. It's not about me." Or, "I work so hard. If she could just change, life would be so much better for the whole family!"
It's not usually that simple. We may be tempted to identify just one person as being the "problem," but that's rarely the case. (Except when there's abuse. Then find a safe way to get out.)
Marriages and families tend to be a lot like little ecosystems: They're influenced both by external factors, such as mortgages or in-laws; as well as internal factors, such as the way we communicate with each other. One part of the system pushes and pulls on the other, producing both positive and negative results.
Most of the time, if we work at it, we can successfully navigate the disturbances in our family ecosystem. Except when we can't. Then we may need a jolt from the outside to change the system.
Find a quiet time and place to talk with your spouse about the need for couples counseling. Don't do it at home. And don't do it in front of the children. Pick a neutral location that's both public, yet private, such as a crowded restaurant with a nice little corner table.
Plan what you want to say ahead of time. Choose your words carefully. Take responsibility for your part of the problem.
Your conversation might begin something like this. "I love you. Our marriage is important to me. You are important to me. Something feels like it's not working between us. I'd like us to get our communication back on track. We may need some help to make that happen."
Be prepared for any kind of response from your spouse: Agreement would be ideal. But you might just as easily get denial, boredom, resistance, or even blame. He may think this is about you. You're the one who needs to change.
Be patient. Listen to what he has to say without interruption, anger, or tears. Remain calm and focused. Reflect back to her what her concerns are, so she knows she's been heard.
Then repeat what you just said about wanting to make things work, about needing professional help. Don't be afraid to sound like a broken record.
If he still doesn't agree, ask him to think about it for a few days. Then discuss it again.
This may not be an easy process. But if you can get your spouse to go with you to counseling, and if you're willing to make changes together, it may just save your marriage.