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We’re going to put this out there: Kristen Bell and husband Dax Shepard are a damn cute couple.
They’re not quite your conventional Hollywood love story; she’s short (5’1″), he’s tall (6’2″), she’s a self-described goody goody, he’s a former drug and alcohol user covered in tattoos. But they’ve been together seven years, have two kids and love each other. And they’re also not afraid to talk about the hardships they’ve faced (and continue to face) as a couple.
They’ve spoken about a topic celebrities rarely do. Couples counselling. They don’t just attend when things are going badly – they’ve been doing it since they started dating.
“There were hurdles, things she didn’t trust about me, things I didn’t trust about her. I just kept going back to ‘This person has the thing I want and I have to figure out how we can exist peacefully’ So we started [seeing a therapist together] right away,” Shepard told Good Housekeeping in a joint interview.
It’s an announcement that relationship therapist Isiah McKimmie wishes we saw more of.
“It’s great to hear them being so open about it as it helps break the taboo about couples counselling and the embarrassment that people wrongly associate with it. They’re doing such a great and important thing for their relationship. It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” she says.
"Doing it from the beginning or before things get really bad makes such a difference. It doesn't mean your relationship is a failure, just that you're investing in your relationship."
It's that fear of admitting to failure that McKimmie believes puts people off seeking help.
"I think that relationships are a personal area of our lives that we feel like we should just know what to do. So turning to someone else for help - many people feel like its a sign of failure. But we get help from other people in all areas of our lives - from personal trainers, for our finances, so why should this be any different?"
It's a point Bell was also quick to make. "You do better in the gym with a trainer; you don't figure out how to cook without reading a recipe. Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about," she said.
So why is it that we're so nervous about asking for help in this one particular area?
"I think a lot of people don't seek support because they're scared about what happens if they seek support and it doesn't work out. They think it's easier to stay where they are than risk failure," McKimmie says.
And the usual media portrayal of celebrities who do choose to seek help certainly doesn't help.
"I noticed an actor and her husband on [a recent cover of a celebrity tabloid] that said, 'In Couples' Therapy!' The clear message is, 'Oh, their marriage is ending'," Shepard says.
"There's such a negative connotation. In my previous relationship, we went to couples' therapy at the end, and that's often too late. You can't go after nine years and start figuring out what patterns you're in."
Bell believes it's all about addressing problems head on.
"If something pisses you off, you've got to find the balls to bring it up immediately, and say it in a way that the other person can hear," Bell says.
"If you're still uncomfortable with both those things, you say, 'I need to have a therapy session with you.' There may be something that really hurt your feelings that you're scared to bring up. Go talk about it with a therapist who can mediate. You'll walk out of the room feeling like you're on the same team."
As Bell and Shepard's relationship shows, counselling really does make a difference.
"I've seen people who thought their relationship was completely over only have their relationship completely transformed," McKimmie says.
"Couples who have argued over the same thing for 20 years have learned how to talk to each other about the problem and work together towards a solution."
And yes, arguing can be a GOOD thing.
"I've had couples say they never fight but they're actually not talking about anything - everything just gets swept under the carpet. It results in internal resentment and the fact that they're not arguing actually makes things worse," McKimmie says.
For Bell, this was an important thing she learnt during therapy.
"I used to have a temper. I loved slamming doors — I wanted a dramatic exit," she explained.
"But Dax, having worked through a variety of emotional issues to get sober, said, 'This isn't going to work. This isn't how I'm going to communicate for the rest of my life.' When someone doesn't fight back and goes, 'I don't want to do this', that threat is real. It makes you reevaluate your behavior. The way Dax and I argue now — and we argue a lot; we disagree on almost everything! — is so healthy."
McKimmie agrees. "Counselling can help you learn how to talk about things, so it can be more of a conversation than an unhelpful argument," she says.
While Bell and Shepard's announcement certainly helps to remove any connotations of failure and shame from counselling, there are still a few more taboos McKimmie would like to see cleared up.
"A big one I'd like to see changed is the idea that there doesn't have be something wrong, or left to breaking point to seek help," she says.
"Counselling is not about telling you all the things you're doing wrong either. Every relationship is perfect and imperfect in its own way. A counsellor isn't there to take sides. It's also not weird unlike a lot of depictions in movies - it's actually a normal and comfortable process," she says.
And if your partner refuses to seek help, that doesn't mean you can't.
"While it's best to do it together, if your partner is really not willing, there are still benefits of seeing a marriage counseller by yourself. One person can make a huge difference," she says
"I'd usually try and do at least one session with each person individually anyway."
It's both refreshing and empowering to see a couple acknowledging that a successful relationship isn't something that just happens - it takes time, effort and sometimes a little help.
Don't let shame or embarrassment put you off seeking help - the only failure is doing nothing about it at all.
Have you taken couples counselling? Did it help your relationship?