How Does Marriage Counseling Work?

How does marriage counseling work? How does it help? These are big questions, and the answer depends on many factors outside the therapist’s office. It is a fact that 50 percent of married couples have gone to marriage counseling with their spouse at least once (MNU, 2017).

Like someone lost at sea, many couples know when they want their marriage to end or when to fix it, but they don’t have the tools or the guidance to get there. Marriage counseling is proven to be a successful tool for healing a relationship and saving a marriage from divorce. If you are ready to fight to keep your marriage alive, marriage counseling could be the choice for you. But, to make this happen, you need to explore why people start therapy to understand how it helps, and where to seek help.     

Myths About Marriage Counseling

Myth: Only dysfunctional married couples need counseling.

Fact: While most couples go to a therapist when their relationship is approaching a dead end, there are many benefits to improving your marriage through prevention, and having a safe place to talk things out (Ginsberg, 1997). Having a safe place to open up about your feelings, needs, and wants can solve key issues in your marriage, even if you’re not heading for divorce.

Myth: Seeking help from a therapist is a sign of weakness.

Fact: Seeking help from a therapist is a sign of strength because, while it’s not easy, you need to open up and reveal your sensitivities and thoughts.

Myth: A therapist won’t help me.

Fact: A nonjudgmental therapist and their professional expertise will help you share what is going on and how you feel about your marriage.

Myth: Therapists do not have anything to say.

Fact: While therapists are good listeners, they also have the expertise and knowledge to help you overcome your issues by teaching you communication skills and helping you use the tools that you and your partner need to have a successful and happy marriage. Therapists are highly-trained professionals who will challenge your thinking and help you adopt healthier, realistic cognitive and behavioral patterns in your marriage.

Myth: Therapists always take the side of one of the partners.

Fact: During marriage counseling, therapists address problems, gather information from both partners, and judge only the situation and not the individual partners, seeking the best for both partners by maintaining a neutral stance.

Statistics on Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling has been shown to significantly reduce relationship distress (Locke & Wallace 1959) and improve relationship satisfaction, communication skills, and general well-being (Hahlweg & Klann, 1997; Lundblad & Hansson, 2004; KKlann et al., 2011).

Furthermore, a 2017 study examined the effectiveness of couples therapy in a group of veterans and found it to be effective, with relationships still improved after 18 months, while another study from the same year showed improvements in relationships lasting 24 months after treatment (Nowlan et al., 2017; Wiebe et al., 2017)

Why Married Couples Ask for Help

Many couples falsely believe that they will not benefit from counseling because their issues are “not so bad.” You don’t have to be in crisis or struggling with infidelity in your marriage to ask for help. It is better to deal with problems in your marriage proactively, before they get even harder to overcome.

On the other hand, there are people who decide against counseling because their relationship emotionally ended some time ago. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether marital problems are simple or complicated; if a problem between you and your partner is causing trouble in your life, marriage counseling is a good option.

Here are some common reasons people seek help from a marriage counselor:

– Premarital counseling.

– Communication problems.

– Lack of an emotional or physical connection.

– Intimacy issues.

– Infidelity.

– Complicated family matters.

– Lack of trust.

– Divorce.

These are just some of the reasons couples seek help. As time passes, married couples inevitably deal with problems in their relationship that they didn’t have before. Don’t let a sense of shame or the fact that your relationship doesn’t have serious issues keep you away from the help you deserve to improve your marriage and your mental health.

Ways Marriage Counseling Can Help You

The truth is that only you and your partner can save your marriage. Marriage counseling is a unique, if not the best, tool to assist you in your journey to a better, stronger relationship, but the choice is always essentially yours. Think of your therapist as a guide and the counseling process as a map. They will help you reach your destination, but you have a long way to go. Whether your marriage is saved or not depends on various factors, and is ultimately up to you.

Marriage counseling is frequently used to help couples improve their communication skills, explore differences in their communication styles, and develop new, more successful ways to communicate. This leads to positive changes that can have a great positive effect on your marriage.

Many married couples seek the help of a therapist when they feel that their marriage is in crisis. For example, a couple who used to feel emotionally and physically connected may now they feel that they have lost this connection. This is not unusual, but this concern usually leads to other issues, including infidelity. A good therapist can help a couple look at the big picture and collaborate in ways that will enhance intimacy and marital bonding.

Married couples also seek marriage counseling to overcome instances of infidelity. When one or both partners are unfaithful in the marriage, the results can be disastrous. Even when a partner decides to stay and work their issues, the anger, dissatisfaction, and resentment will undermine the. Marriage counseling provides support during this process so that you can overcome emotional and physical infidelity.

Counseling will help you trust in each other again, especially when you have trust issues in your marriage. It may be hard to lean on your partner and trust them, especially after things that have happened in the past. Your therapist will help you leave behind the things that hurt you and rebuild trust in each other.

Finally, marriage counseling can help you set boundaries within your marriage in order to stop negative behaviors from threatening the relationship. Both partners should feel free to express their needs and wants, together with the limitations regarding to what they will accept from their partner.

What Does the Counseling Process Involve?

Marriage counseling does not require a specific number of visits, but rather is tailored to each couple’s needs. Most marriage counseling can be completed in anywhere from 12 to 20 sessions. Couples usually attend sessions once a week for about an hour.

During the first session, your therapist will review the therapeutic process, confidentiality, and costs. After that, your therapist will take the time to get to know both of you and the nature of your relationship. During this phase, your therapist will gather information regarding your relationship, also called your relationship history, and ask about concerns you may have regarding your relationship. You, your partner, and your therapist, will lay out goals for treatment. In this phase. you should get comfortable and start talking about yourselves. The evaluation of your relationship will include what is stressing your relationship, the nature of your conflicts, strengths and weaknesses, and any dysfunctional behavioral patterns in your relationship.

You and your partner, with the help of your therapist, will set realistic goals,  from learning how to be more empathetic to figuring out new ways to negotiate problems or deciding how to share household and parental responsibilities. Your counselor will use a variety of therapeutic techniques until your goals are met or until you reach a point where either you or the therapist want to terminate treatment.

In the next sessions, also known as the “working phase” of treatment, you can expect to improve your communication and understanding of your partner as your therapist assists you in exploring new ways to interact with each other. During this phase, in addition to in-session practice, expect to take home assigned activities designed to facilitate a faster change and improvement in the skills and behaviors learned in your sessions.

Finally, during the closing phase of treatment, your therapist will review the work you have done in therapy—as individuals, but also as a couple, and work with you to maintain the progress you’ve achieved. Problems arise in everyday life, so during this phase of counseling, you will ensure that after ending therapy, you will have the appropriate tools to deal with these problems as a team.

Signing up for marriage counseling can be hard, but if you have a troubled marriage, seeking help is more effective than ignoring your problems or waiting for them to get better on their own. Sometimes, taking the first step by admitting that your marriage needs help is the hardest part, but most couples find the experience to be empowering and a savior for their marriage.

References:

Ginsberg, B. G. (1997). Relationship enhancement family therapy. New York: Wiley.

Hahlweg K, Klann N. The effectiveness of marital counseling in Germany: a contribution to health services research. J Fam Psychol. 1997;11:410–421.

Locke HJ, Wallace KM. Short marital adjustment and prediction tests: their reliability and validity. Marriage Fam Living. 1959;21:251–255. doi: 10.2307/348022.

Lundblad A-M, Hansson K. Outcomes in couple therapy: reduced psychiatric symptoms and improved sense of coherence. Nord J Psychiatry. 2004;59:374–380.

Nowlan, Kathryn & Georgia Salivar, Emily & Doss, Brian. (2017). Long-Term Effectiveness of Treatment-as-Usual Couple Therapy for Military Veterans. Behavior Therapy. 48. 10.1016/j.beth.2017.05.007.

The State of Marriage Counseling [Study] (2017). https://www.mnu.edu/graduate/blogs-ideas/the-state-of-marriage-counseling-study.

Wiebe, Stephanie & Johnson, Susan & Lafontaine, Marie-France & Moser, Melissa & Dalgleish, Tracy & Tasca, Giorgio. (2016). Two-Year Follow-up Outcomes in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: An Investigation of Relationship Satisfaction and Attachment Trajectories. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 43. 10.1111/jmft.12206.

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