By Jill Woolworth, LMFT

I work in an emergency room– an ER for relationships. Couples come in emotionally bleeding and deeply injured, but their pain isn’t visible on the outside. Their spouse can’t see it either. They see and feel their own pain as larger than life and their partner as the enemy who caused it.

Imagine two people brought in on stretchers to the ER after an accident. There would be lots of attention–doctors, nurses, tests done, equipment hooked up, pain meds administered, and surgery as needed.

One of the biggest challenges of relationship counseling is helping spouses see each other’s pain.

Sometimes I will ask a couple to imagine they have just survived a car accident. Their car is their relationship. I ask them what they would think or say if they woke up in beds alongside one another in the I.C.U. It changes the alchemy of the counseling room. People speak more softly in the I.C.U. This creates space to deconstruct “the accident.”

Sometimes couples just need a tow truck. They’ve slid into a rut and have been spinning for a few weeks, months, or years. They’re stuck. I’m a AAA tow truck in those instances rather than a medic. Sometimes it’s just a marital tune-up and I’m a mechanic.

It’s said that the cost of giving a wedding is similar to “buying an expensive car and driving it off a cliff”. I think a wedding without ongoing marriage support and counseling is like giving that car to two 16 year olds and sending them off for a lifetime drive. Maybe they’ve read a few books or had some lessons (pre-marital counseling), but who has shown them the road?

Maybe we might want to look under the hood more often and not expect the most rewarding, challenging, and expensive relationship on earth to drive itself for sixty or seventy years without some loving attention paid to it, and seeking the support of others to help us find our way through the potholes and expected challenges life brings.

© Jocelyn (Jill) S. Woolworth 2015