Back to the Basics: Improving Communication in Your Family (Part 3 of 4)

Continuing along the lines of basic rules that we have learned along the way, but may have neglected over time, let’s get right into Rule #3: Ask for help.

I have learned that reluctance to ask for help is one of the biggest obstacles people must overcome in order to set up a counseling appointment. So many of us cling to this idea that we should be able to handle everything on our own, and if we can’t, we have failed somehow. We are embarrassed or even ashamed to seek assistance, especially professionally.  This hesitation may be motivated by a fear of making ourselves vulnerable and admitting that we don’t have it all figured out.  Pride is often behind it as well.  Or sometimes we don’t know who to ask, or what to ask, when we are struggling with something.  Maybe we have turned to someone for help in the past and were let down, betrayed, or it didn’t make a difference, and so we hesitate to try again.  Whatever the reason, trying to handle a situation alone when it is simply too big to do so can make a difficult situation much worse.  We are often at greater risk of turning to unhealthy choices, and these isolated incidents may develop into a pattern of unhealthy behavior over time.  Withdrawing emotionally from people, problem avoidance, responding with a myriad of acts (compulsive eating, drinking, shopping, cleaning, smoking, sex, etc.) that can develop into abuse and addictions—these are just a few of the destructive paths we may take to manage feelings that have become too overwhelming to ignore.  Asking for help is not a weakness, but rather a wise decision and, in my opinion, a sign of personal strength.  To override fear, shame, pride, and doubt to make the decision that we know will be best for ourselves and for our families takes courage and honesty.  Once we have made the decision to ask for help, there are three other pieces to this puzzle in order for it to be truly beneficial for us:

1. Seek wise counsel. Sometimes friends do nothing but encourage and support our decisions when we vent to them about a situation, which is a good thing to have because we need that support.  However, we also need our friends to provide true and honest feedback for us, information that we may not want to hear because it has to do with how we acted or what we could/should do differently. As good as it can feel to have a husband-bashing party with your girlfriends, there is a fine line between doing so lightheartedly and being disrespectful, fueling your negative feelings about the relationship rather than helping reduce marital conflict. We must use discernment in who we turn to for advice, because a friend’s opinions about what you should do isn’t always in the best interest of your marriage or your family if the focus is primarily on your individual need.  It is difficult but important to find a friend (or even a counselor) that can provide the perfect balance of support and honesty, and relay their opinion in a way that you will be open to hearing (i.e., without feeling judged or criticized).

2. Have a teachable spirit. There is a good chance that in the process of receiving help, observations are made about us that aren’t too pleasant to hear.  Or we are given suggestions to make personal changes that we aren’t very excited to implement.  It is good for us to approach our helper with a humble heart and a teachable spirit so that we would be willing to look at and change the areas where we can improve personally, for the betterment of our marriage and our family.

3. Don’t wait until the eleventh hour. Marital counseling is often portrayed in the media as being unsuccessful due to statistics that show the divorce rate isn’t all that different between couples that seek counseling and couples that do not.  However, a vast majority of couples entering into marriage counseling do so as a last resort, often after years of harmful patterns have been set into place.  That’s not to say that it is ever too late to get help, but you can imagine how much more challenging it can be to instigate change when problem after problem has piled up in a marriage.  And often by this time, one or both partners may have already checked out of the relationship and don’t have the committed and hopeful attitude required to benefit from counseling long-term.

It is best to seek help at the first sign of trouble, whether that consists of reading self-help books, talking to friends, or finding a counselor.  Counseling itself doesn’t have to be a long and drawn out process, especially if you go in sooner rather than later.  I have worked with many clients who only required a handful of sessions to work through a problem or learn the skills required to handle it constructively on their own.

Jayna Pyke, MA, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

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