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Category: Marriage and Relationships

Photographer and educator Katelyn James is a very dear friend to Southern Weddings, and one of the sweetest gals we know. When she recently mentioned that she and her husband Michael have been working with a marriage counselor almost since they said “I do,” we were intrigued. It’s a topic that doesn’t get talked about a lot, but one we think deserves more love! We asked her to share a bit more about their experience today. Take it away, Katelyn! – Emily

When Emily asked me to share about our experience with a life coach/marriage counselor, I was excited… but then I had a split second of feeling a little uneasy about sharing this part of our life, because there are so many stigmas surrounding the idea of counseling, coaching, and therapy! Then I realized that that is the very reason why I SHOULD be sharing! Just last night we had friends over for dinner, and the fact that we meet with a life coach every two weeks came up. The first thing out of the wife’s mouth was, “Oh, he would never do that! He’s so against counseling of any kind!” I get it. It seems like only those who have super SERIOUS issues go to counseling or have a coach. Well, Michael and I have found that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Michael and I started meeting with our life coach (who is really more like a marriage counselor) over three years ago. At first, we weren’t convinced that it was a necessity. I mean, isn’t it normal to have marital tension, and use tones with one another, and feel conflicted about the balance of working together? Isn’t it totally understandable that we came from different family dynamics and that affects the way we show up emotionally with one another? Isn’t is normal to have weeks of not feeling like we’re on the same team?

I think those things ARE normal… but they don’t have to be. I actually think that the most damaging thing a couple can do in a relationship is just accept the unhealthy parts of their marriage and never dive deeper into the reason they are happening in the first place.

My dad is a pastor, and he always talks about how so many marriages have unhealthy tendencies that get masked by the “children” phase of life. Kids come, and life becomes all about them. It’s exciting and new and fun, but what happens when they are off to college and it’s back to just you and your spouse at home again? When it’s just the two of you and those struggles that you had before kids? They’re going to be waiting for you, which is why you see so many divorces happening when kids reach the end of high school and begin college. The little things matter, and they add up!

Michael and I knew deep down that we wanted to have a third party speak into our life. We love our parents, our siblings, our best friends… but there is something so powerful about having someone meet with us that isn’t biased towards us in any way. Our life coach lives in California, and we live in Virginia. We don’t meet in person, and we don’t even meet face to face. We commit to a simple one hour phone call every two weeks.

The actual commitment of the calls isn’t hard… it’s doing the HEART SEARCHING that’s hard. It’s being honest with how you’re showing up in your marriage that’s hard! Michael and I have grown so much in the last three years. The conversations that we are having with our life coach are the type of conversations that we would have never experienced without someone helping us dig deeper. No one enjoys digging deeper into the mess of their life, but it’s necessary in order to create a new vision for your marriage!

It’s hard to explain what we’ve gained from meeting with our coach in just one paragraph. To put it simply, it has been life changing. Michael and I have a greater understanding of why we are the way we are. The beautiful thing about our coaching sessions is that we have learned to recognize and see more clearly what is truth, and what we make up to be true about what another.

For example, assuming that Michael is mad, frustrated, or annoyed with me based off of his interactions with me totally discredits what could be going on in his world. A lot of tension and tone stems from outside stress. Choosing to respond to Michael based on what I KNOW to be true about him (that he loves me, cares for me, and wants the best for me) instead of the immediate circumstances has been a game changer.

Life coaching or marriage counseling isn’t just for those that are heading down a path of destruction… it’s for healthy marriages! As a photographer, I’ve spent a lot of money on education to improve my craft. My marriage is so much more important than my business, and so it only makes sense that we would invest in our relationship, as well.

If you’re considering hiring a life coach or marriage counselor, I recommend gently bringing it up to your spouse. This is something that you both need to be willing to do. Don’t be frustrated if it takes a few conversations to get on the same page! Sometimes I look forward to our calls, and other times I dread them… but no matter what, I always end our calls knowing that we’re fighting for our marriage together and there’s nothing else that is more important! We are learning how to love each other in a healthier way and even though we’re far from perfect, we know that God is doing amazing transformation in our relationship!

Thank you so much for sharing your heart, Katelyn! For those interested in learning more about Katelyn’s specific coach, you can visit Julia’s site.

All photos by Jillian Michelle Photography

emily Written with love by Emily
1 Comment
  1. avatar Amber Stapp reply

    I love this! What a powerful article with such an important message for all couples! I’m inspired by this wonderful couple and their commitment to creating the best most God honoring marriage they can. Blessings to them both. And their baby is gorgeous!!!

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Friends, today is my fifth wedding anniversary! You may have caught my ongoing Instagram stories party, where I’ve been sharing some of my favorite photos from different parts of our celebration (if not, you can always see the full feature here and here!). I love celebrating an anniversary because not only does it give me an excuse to pull out my wedding album, watch our wedding film, and go out to dinner with my best friend (yum!), it’s an opportunity to stop and reflect.

An anniversary is the perfect time to cheer yourselves on (something I think is so important!), to remind yourselves of everything you love about the person you married, and to give thanks for all the ways your life is better for having your partner in it.

Like a new year, an anniversary is also a time to consider ways you might be able to improve. John and I are far from perfect, but we have done a few things right in our first five years of marriage. Today I wanted to share five, in the hopes that they might be an encouragement to you!

1. We draw strength from something outside of ourselves. One of the most beautiful things about marriage is that it’s a place where your ugly can show, and you’ll be loved, unconditionally, despite it. That being said, I know I’d be a much more selfish, unforgiving, ungracious, record-keeping wife without a Father who is continually calling me to die to myself and love others as I’ve been loved. We would not have the marriage we do without our faith.

2. We’re willing to change. When I think of the couples I know who have gotten divorced, it’s very rarely because of something dramatic and awful. Usually, the answer is something along the lines of “we drifted apart” or “he’s not the same person I married.” This seems kind of strange to me, because wouldn’t you expect someone to change over time?! Stanley Hauerwas, quoted in Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage, says it well: “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing that it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered into it.”

When change comes, John and I have committed to growing towards each other. Towards each other, not away from each other, and not side by side. We expect each other to change (as high school sweethearts, it was inevitable!), and when we do we (imperfectly) seek to understand it and grow along with it.

3. We trust in our relationship without reservation. This is a hallmark of our particular marriage. We’ve never given each other a reason to doubt it, and so we’ve never been tempted to do so. We don’t treat our love for each other like it’s conditional, or could be threatened to be taken away, or withheld as a bargaining chip. Even if we are angry or frustrated, at bedrock, we both know without a doubt that we are acting from a place of unshakeable love.

4. We don’t ask the other to fulfill needs they can’t. This one can be so hard, friends! While my and John’s lives are deeply, inextricably entwined, we try to take responsibility for our own happiness first instead of looking to the other to fulfill every emotional need. Practically speaking, for us, that means building an inner confidence, maintaining equilibrium through each other’s bad days (you have to put on your own oxygen mask first!), and again, going to God to be reminded of our true worth.

5. We enjoy each other. You know that saying, find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life? I like to switch it up a bit: marry your best friend, and you’ll never work a day in your marriage. That, of course, is not entirely true — even the best marriages have harder days and easier days — but if you truly LIKE your partner, and love spending time with him or her more than anyone else, everything else seems to fall into place. One of our favorite ways to be reminded of how much we like each other is going on evening walks together – we are totally on T.J.’s bandwagon!

Whether you’re celebrating your first or fiftieth anniversary, know I’m cheering you on, friends! And if you’d like to share, I’d love to hear something you’ve done right in your marriage in the comments :)

emily Written with love by Emily
2 Comments
  1. avatar Mike reply

    Love these wedding photographs! The bride looks so happy.

  2. avatar Jessie W reply

    Love #1 <3

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Did you know that less than one fifth of current marriages are preceded by any type of formal marriage preparation??? While we love gorgeous gowns and pretty wedding day details, we’re also big believers in preparing for your marriage and all the life that happens after those beautiful ‘I dos.’ Over the last few weeks, it’s been our joy to share a few different premarital resources, covering topics from money to love and respect, because we know that joining two lives means coming together on a lot of different issues.

As someone who’s a sucker for a good personality test and an advocate for the importance of communication (hello, I was a communications major in college!), Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts might just be my favorite premarital prep resource we’ve shared to date.

Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts is more than just a book – it’s a self-guided course that includes questions at the end of every chapter. The companion workbooks (hers + his) are full of exercises to help you apply what you learn along the way and individually-taken tests (I told you I love a good personality quiz!). Everything points to important conversation topics and is designed to facilitate good discussion – perfect for a cozy date night? :)

A few important topics the book addresses:
– Uncovering the most important misbeliefs of marriage.
– Learning how to communicate with instant understanding.
– Discovering the secret to reducing and resolving conflict.
– Understanding the three essential ingredients to lasting love.

Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts also includes seven crucial questions you should ask before – or even after! – you marry.

Given my background in communication studies and personal life mission as a love (and marriage) cheerleader, I think advice with real-life, practical application is worth its weight in gold.

The good news? You don’t have to just take my word for it. After asking if anyone else had read this book on social media, the replies started pouring in! Everyone from a couple who has been married 20 years to engaged gals who started the book just weeks ago shared their experiences and love of the book:

“I got engaged and my work friends got me more marriage books than you can imagine. This is my favorite, beyond a shadow of a doubt. There’s a section in the first chapter on the unconscious roles each spouse brings into a marriage, and it was an eye-opener. It changed me from the very first chapter! I think SYMBIS is an incredible resource for all brides and brides-to-be.”

“My husband and I read SYMBIS during our engagement and it was such a valuable resource in preparing us for marriage. It’s still useful four months in!”

“We are currently re-reading SYMBIS. We’re on week 5, and it’s truly the highlight of both mine and my fiance’s week.”

Want to learn more? You can grab a copy of this New York Times Bestseller wherever books are sold in physical, audio, and e-book form. Buy it here from Amazon!

This post is sponsored by Harper Collins. Thank you for your support of the brands who make Southern Weddings possible!

kristin Written with love by Kristin
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