What Should We Expect From Marriage Counseling?

You may be wondering what to expect from marriage counseling. Seeking marriage counseling can spike your anxiety levels, which often stops couples from getting help. Knowing what to expect from the process and therapeutic sessions can take some of the mystery out of the process, and it will help you make the right decision and seek help.

Why Marriage Counseling?

Marriage counseling is for couples that seek to improve their relationship or have become unsatisfied in their marriage. They may feel that their relationship is stuck and fixated on the same issues over and over again. Marriage counseling is useful in helping couples move on from conflict and create an environment which is both emotional and intimate for both partners. Even if the relationship is already considered relatively good, marriage counseling can improve emotional connection and intimacy, transforming the relationship onto a satisfying and more fulfilling. Marriage counseling offers a neutral and safe place for partners to explore their relationship.

Marriage Counseling FAQ

What will we learn in marriage counseling?

Marriage counseling will first of all uncover the real causes of distress in your marriage and will help you quickly resolve issues before they escalate to resentment. Partners will find ways to support each other’s goals and dreams, and will offer a supportive and positive environment. You will both look at past experiences, including your childhood, old habits and defenses that may impact your relationship, and you will explore each other’s empathy and learn how to understand and forgive each other. Furthermore, marriage counseling will give you the tools in order for you to improve emotional connection and through learning, you will both learn how to love each other again.

Is marriage counseling only for couple sessions?

You may be wondering whether marriage counseling requires only couples sessions. In fact, marriage counseling will not always be as a couple. While couples sessions are the basis of marriage counseling, there are usually some issues you need to work on by yourself, especially when one of the partners has certain skills and the other needs to take their time to build up to that level. Also, there are times when partners need to work out trust issues from their past. However, keep in mind that marriage counseling does not work when it is delivered only individually. For marriage counseling to be successful, you need to make sure that both you and your partner are committed to the therapy.

How many sessions will we need?

This is a difficult question to answer because every couple is different. However, good marriage counseling stimulates changes within a few sessions. You should be able to notice an improvement in how you understand your problems and deeper insights about yourself and your partner early in the counseling process.  

What will the process be like?

Going into your first session of couples counseling can be intimidating at first. There are three separate phases of treatment in marriage counseling, as follows:

Initial Phase: The beginning of treatment focuses on building a relationship or alliance between the counselor and each member of the couple. The first session is spent learning more about each individual person and your relationship as a couple. Your counselor may inquire about your relationship history and assist you in identifying goals for treatment. Here, the counselor will get to know each of you on a personal level and may ask about anything from your childhood to how you met each other. Many people feel discouraged after the first session, thinking that counseling is just a bunch of questions without actual change happening. But while these questions may seem unimportant, they are essential to the therapist understanding your story and how you got to where you are.

As your sessions continue, counseling explores the root of your problems. Some of the most common problems that couples face include arguments, avoidance behavior, and intimacy issues. No two couples have the same problems, but identifying your problems is an important step towards healing. As you share your concerns, your counselor will look for the underlying issues and will develop goals, reaching the working phase of marriage counseling.

Working Phase: During the working phase of treatment, the counselor will use evidence-based models to assist you and your partner in reaching your identified treatment goals. You may be asked to complete interventions during sessions to practice skills such as active listening and healthy communication. Often, your therapist will even assign homework so you can practice these skills outside of your sessions, as well.

Closing Phase: Finally, the working phase leads to the closing phase. The closing phase consists of reviewing the couple’s progress toward reaching their identified goals. The counselor ensures that the skills learned during therapy can be applied to the couple’s life outside of therapy as well. Successful marriage therapy occurs when couples demonstrate an ability to solve problems on their own without the help of their counselor.

How to Make the Best of Your Search for Marriage Counseling

Research for the counselor that fits your needs.

It is important to go out there and find the appropriate counselor that will help you fix your marriage. You can discuss with others and get references or you can use the internet to search through counselors’ profiles. When you have an idea of what you want, make a small list of the possible counselors. Include both male and female counselors and have a visit both individually and as a couple or call them. Compare and contrast. It is always a good idea to ask counselors about their approach on the assessment and the treatment process. Have your questions ready, because counselors will not spend a lot of time listening to your story.

Marriage counseling can be a therapeutic process, but there are some things to prepare for before committing to counseling with your partner. Here is a list of things to have in mind:

Both you and your partner should commit 100% to attending counseling together and have common goals.

This may be obvious at the beginning, especially during the enthusiasm phase, but both of you should take time and discuss your concerns with an open mind. There are times where partners approach counseling with ‘mixed agenda’ meaning that one of the partners seeks reconciliation while the other seeks divorce. Not saying that approaching counseling differently will lead to failure, but if you both decide to proceed with counseling keep in mind that the more dedicated you are to the process and the more common ground you have, the more effect counseling will have on your relationship, resulting in healing and growth.

You and your partner should aim to create a comfortable and safe counseling environment.

It is important that you and your partner find a counselor who offers the environment you both want. In marriage counseling, both partners should feel safe and comfortable expressing their needs and wants. Each partner should feel heard.

Signs That Marriage Counseling May Not Be the Answer

Individual therapy may be your best solution instead.

Even if you have some troubles in your marriage, marriage counseling might not be the first step. Sometimes, each partner needs to resolve their own individual issues before stepping into marriage counseling. Unresolved issues from the past can affect relationships in the present. By resolving individual issues first, you can then step into marriage counseling, focused on working out the remaining issues with your partner.

The counselor is not fit for you and your partner.

It is possible that a certain counselor is not an ideal match for you and your partner. A good counselor will both make you feel comfortable and safe in the therapeutic process. Don’t waste your time with unfit professionals.

Just going to sessions without commitment does not count as work.

Counselors will not magically fix your problems. They can teach you skills and help you communicate more effectively, but you need to put in the work. If you are not focusing on the homework and time between sessions, then counseling is not for you.

Don’t go into counseling thinking it will change your partner the way you want.

Many people think that marriage counseling will change their partner, but in reality, you can only change yourself. Neither you nor a counselor can force your partner to change. Your partner will change only if he or she wants to.

You are there to speak, but you won’t listen.

Marriage counseling should be an environment where both partners can express their thoughts, feelings, fears, and concerns. If you are there just to speak and not to listen to your partner’s thoughts, feelings, fears, and concerns, then you may not find a way to improve your marriage.

There is no more love.

You cannot force a marriage to work. If you are no longer happy and you have tried all your options, but you feel that there is no love left, it may be time to admit that the marriage is simply not working anymore.

References:

Doherty, W.J. (2011). In or out: Treating the mixed‐agenda couples. Psychotherapy Networker, 45–50, 58, 60.

Doss, B. D., Simpson, L. E., & Christensen, A. (2004). Why do couples seek marital therapy? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 35, 608–614.

Kanewischer, E. J., & Harris, S. M. (2014). Deciding not to Un‐Do the “I Do:” Therapy experiences of women who consider divorce but decide to remain married. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. doi: 10.1fi11imft..12064

Owen, J., Duncan, B., Anker, M., & Sparks, J. (2012). Initial relationship goal and couple therapy outcomes at post and six‐month follow‐up. Journal of Family Psychology, 26, 179–186.

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