By Bri Franklin, LMHC
Judging by the title of this article, you might imagine a number of unhealthy statements that are uttered during couples therapy. There’s a good chance those statements are unhealthy, problematic, hurtful, and damaging. However, there is one statement that is shared in therapy that signals to me that there is even more work to be done than the clients even realize. “We never fight.” This may or may not have been the statement that causes you to stop in your tracks and gasp at the audacity of it but, from my view as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, who specializes in marriage, couple, and family therapy, it is often the subtleties that can be most telling. If you think that a couple not fighting is a sign of relational health, then you might have unrealistic expectations of interpersonal and romantic relationships. Conflict, in and of itself, is not unhealthy. The way you manage or don’t manage conflict can definitely be unhealthy.
What a couple “not fighting” reveals to me is that one individual is likely repressing their own needs, feelings, and opinions for the sake of maintaining harmony in the relationship. Another possibility is that difficult conversations are not being had or each individual’s emotional needs are being met outside of the relationship, which leads to struggles of betrayal and trust. Where there are people, there will be conflict.
Conflict is uncomfortable; you would be hard pressed to find someone who says “I love confronting others and enjoy getting into arguments with my loved ones!” However, the discomfort and unfamiliarity of conflict should not be used as a shield to shy away from challenges in your relationship. You can only work through what you identify is an issue. How will you know how the person you’re in a relationship with deals with their anger, sadness, confusion, and frustration if you prevent difficult conversations from happening? How someone handles conflict reveals their true character. Anyone can be nice when things are going well. Luke 6:32-33 states “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” Be cautious to speak about how strong your relationship is if you haven’t worked through storms together.
Sometimes, the issues in a relationship are not tied to a specific event or misunderstanding. Sometimes, the vulnerability is found in sharing how you’re feeling about the relationship. Your feelings (even if you disagree with them logically) are often still valid and if you don’t share them with your partner, it might be time to explore why. Often times, I hear people say that they “shouldn’t” feel the way they do or it doesn’t matter how they’re feeling because they know their partner has a lot going on. This is an attempt to invalidate your feelings. By not expressing uncomfortable feelings, the risk for anxious-based symptoms increases as well as long-term relational dissatisfaction.
I often find that there is a pressure to not paint one’s partner in a negative light especially if that partner is struggling in a particular area. As an example, an individual who struggles with a pornography addiction could have a spouse that struggles with his or her own emotional reaction because they feel they need to support their spouse, who has the addiction. You cannot support your spouse if you are unwilling or unable to be emotionally honest with yourself and with them. This is a way of engaging in peacekeeping rather than peacemaking. Matthew 5:9 states “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The difference is that one is an active process of addressing conflict head-on with assertiveness and uncomfortable feelings and the other is a way of maintaining a façade of peace through means of passivity and repressed feelings.
Your role as a spouse is not to blindly support your spouse with unwavering praise, especially not at your own expense. Allow your spouse to take accountability and responsibility for their own actions. You are their spouse, not their parent. With that being said, sacrifice and loving when we don’t feel like it are two essential elements of a healthy marriage. However, it is essential that you don’t confuse enabling with empowering. If you enable your spouse, you create an expectation that your emotional expression (the good, the bad, and everything in between) are not welcome in your own marriage. If you empower your spouse, you allow yourself to express your frustrations, your hurts, your needs, and allow them to respond to you on their own behalf.
Ironically, to put it simply, relationships are complex. Why? Individuals are complex. Having emotional needs is not inherently wrong. How you allow those emotional needs to be met or remain unmet could be wrong. Your partner is not responsible for your emotional wellbeing but, they also shouldn’t actively contribute to your emotional distress. Regardless of where you are in your relational journey, individual and relational healing is achievable! Remember, prayer and counseling are not in competition to address your relational wounds; God can use natural methods to do supernatural works.
BRI FRANKLIN, M.A., LMHC
Bri is proud to be able to integrate a faith perspective with research-based mental health practices. She offers a tailor-made approach to each of her clients. She graduated from a nationally-ranked, top ten graduate counseling program focusing on Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy with a certification in Mental Health Counseling. She is Level 1 Gottman Method Couples Therapy trained. Bri has led counseling groups on topics of grief, anxiety, trauma, creative arts, and healthy relationships at a college counseling center. She is an Associate Certified Coach, certified by the International Coaching Federation and works as an Adult ADHD Executive Functioning Coach in addition to her role as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She has taken seminary courses on biblical and theological foundations. She is also enrolled in a two-year professional development course on psychodynamic psychoanalytic theory. Her primary ministry role focuses on pastoral care and mental health in the church. She offers a non-judgmental, insightful, and engaging approach to her sessions and looks forward to supporting you on your healing journey!
Book a session with Bri today by visiting the Debra Fileta Counselors Network!