I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it very difficult to ask for help. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me, but somewhere along the way, I started to believe that to ask for help was to admit failure, and failure was never a good thing.
I’d like to say that it was my parents’ fault, or the fact that I was the youngest in a family where the siblings really focused intently on one another’s mess-ups. And yes, maybe that’s part of it, but
a lot of it is just my personality.
High Performance; Low Reality
Some of it is cultural as well. We live in a culture that values “high-performers” and low error rates. I was at a pharmacy just yesterday and saw a note posted at the checkout counter. It read something likes this:
Did you know anything lower than a 5 is a zero?
We strive to give the best service possible
If you receive an invitation to rate our service, please remember to give us all 5’s
Now, I don’t know whether any of that is actually true to this pharmacy chain’s performance culture. Maybe the manager of this particular location was just trying to inflate his numbers. But if it is true, then it’s a gobsmackingly silly policy.
Since when did performance turn into a false choice between amazing perfection and abject failure? Yet, this is how many of us think in our personal and family lives as well. We hold ourselves to unbelievably high standards, and beat ourselves up when we fail to meet them.
Failure Should be an Option
Out culture tends to treat failure as a personal shortcoming rather than a natural part of learning and growth. And the sense of personal shortcoming is particularly pronounced when it comes to getting help with your marriage or your family. It seems like navigating your relationships shouldn’t be something that requires professional help, unless there really is something wrong with you. But the truth is building a marriage and a family is a lot like putting together a puzzle without the benefit of the box cover to look at – and with some of the puzzle pieces missing.
Let’s face it, none of us has it entirely together when we decide to get married or begin having children. And we don’t go into our family-building project (to switch metaphors) with all of the supplies and tools we will ultimately need. Over time we hopefully develop more and better tools, but sometimes the only way to get what we need is to ask a specialist to help out. That’s what I do in therapy.
My job is not to be the expert on your marriage or family. Only you can have that role. But what I do bring to the table is knowledge about how marriages and families generally work best, and my job is to help you figure out what you believe needs to change so that you can succeed in your own family project.
Far too many couples suffer through years of painful conflict, confusing arguments, and lonely nights in the same bed (or on the couch!). They don’t see how a therapist could ever help them unravel the tangled knots in their relationship. Sometimes they’re afraid the therapist won’t be able to help, and then what? But there’s no good reason to keep going around in circles.
Signs of Life
Admitting you need help is not a sign of failure. It’s a sign of life. It means there’s still energy in the relationship – something that’s trying to work. Asking for help is really about saying, “We’ve gotten this far successfully, but we don’t know what’s next. Help us figure out the next steps.”
Asking for help is not about failure. It’s about finding the path to success. If you and your partner have been struggling in your relationship, but you’ve been reluctant to reach out for help, I get it – it’s not fun to ask. But, don’t wait to get the help you need. Do it while you still can.