Her comment surprised me. It was made nonchalantly to her friend, but definitely caught my ear as I thought about the weight of her words. “This has been the toughest year of our marriage.” It’s one thing to hear someone admit that; it’s an entirely different thing when it is your own wife that says it.

Marriage is a living organism that goes through different seasons. Just like seasons of the year, you can look back over the duration of your marriage and see different seasons where everything was bright, lively and fresh. Others seem to be marked by cold, dreary days, with nothing but dead leaves dotting the landscape.

This year has been marked by change for our family. We adopted two kids, I accepted a new role with a new ministry, we put our house on the market planning to move to Phoenix and then we didn’t, and have spent the last 7 months addressing foundational issues within a new ministry.

So I would agree with my wife’s assessment that this has been the toughest year on our family, but toughest on our marriage?

I wasn’t so sure.

When we finally found a quiet moment in our home, I prodded my wife about her comment to her friend. I pushed back a little, hoping she would see it my way. But…she didn’t. I hadn’t realized that all the ups and downs of the year caused some stress fractures in our marriage. I guess we men have a tendency to want to overlook those.

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If your goal is simply to stay married to the same person, then maybe a comment like this from your spouse wouldn’t do much to you. After all, the year might have been tough, but everything on the surface now looks fine. Our goal has been much higher, though. It has been to love and enjoy each other in an increasingly intimate relationship all the way until the day we take our last breath.

For this reason, I needed to take action.

So for my birthday, I gave my wife a present. I know, it sounded backwards to her as well. The gift I gave her – marriage counseling for both of us. We start sometime this month, and will do sessions until later this fall when we celebrate our 10 year anniversary.

When I told my wife about the gift her eyes got big and she asked me, “Is everything alright?” I laughed and told her that it was, but that I wanted to make sure any cracks in our marriage were being addressed early so that they wouldn’t increase in size.

Then we both admitted that going to marriage counseling seemed a little scary. We wondered what the counselor might ask us, and what type of assignments they would give us. We definitely experienced a bit of nervous excitement.

And now, it has become a joke. When we are putting the kids down I’ll tell her, “That’s it, babe. I’m telling our counselor how you aren’t helping me put the kids to bed.” Or she has threatened, “You better do this or I’ll tell our counselor.” That might make for a funny first session – where we “tattle” on each other to the counselor. Hopefully, they’ll find it amusing.

So why do I tell you this?

I’ve shared this with some men around me and many of them admit that counseling might be a good idea for them and their wives to do together. Some don’t know where to start. Others don’t want to admit they need it. And still for some, they don’t want to face the stigma about being in marriage counseling.

For the past 10 years my wife and I have done pre-marital counseling for 20+ couples. With each one we’ve told them that good pre-marital counseling has some value, but good post-marital counseling is even better. This is because as we’ve gone through pre-marital, both individuals have smiled and nodded to almost everything we say. They picture life of romance together.

Married couples are positive their spouses aren’t perfect, and that their marriage isn’t either.

So maybe I’m trying to crush the stigma, I don’t know. But I want to throw down a challenge to men reading this, that you would examine your marriage, and with the help of your wife, decide wether or not you should do the same thing right now.

I can’t imagine it would hurt.

Do you need to give your spouse the most terrifying gift of marriage counseling?

Next week’s topic: Fostering: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

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