Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Getting the Most Out of Marriage Counseling

Ellie and Pete were struggling in their relationship. The kids were now in elementary school, playing sports and going in many different directions. Both Ellie and Pete were tired all the time from the non-stop running and seldom had time for each other anymore. The kids had kind of taken over the relationship. In recent weeks, both had begun thinking about the possibility of divorce, or at least getting some help. Both are starting to see some signals that the marriage is not going well. So, in one of their few quiet moments together, Ellie suggested that she and Pete see a marriage counselor that Ellie's friend Kiara had recommended.

Pete never really thought it would come to this; when he and Ellie were first married, life was so sweet. What had happened to them to make them virtual strangers in the same home? They were certainly more parents than they were lovers anymore. Maybe working with a marriage counselor would be worth the investment emotionally, financially and with the time it will take if it might save their family and rebuild their relationship.

Pete and Ellie are like many young couples with small and growing children. Their marriage has suffered as they have invested in their children and their needs and have let their own marital relationship go from lack of maintenance. When a husband and wife find themselves in such a circumstance, they often choose to find help through a trusted adviser, family member, clergy member or marriage counselor. As they are seeking advice from a competent professional, husbands and wives need to consider a number of factors.

Finding a good counselor. One of the first big hurdles a couple will face when choosing to seek marriage counseling is to find a counselor that both can feel comfortable with. You can ask other couples for referrals, your employer may have an employee assistance program which may have counselors available, or you may want to ask your minister or clergy for a suggestion. Once you have selected a couple of possible choices, ask to meet with the counselor to see if he or she will be compatible with both of you. Counseling works best when both husband and wife feel good about the choice and are willing to share their concerns with and accept advice from the counselor. If you can't find one you can both agree on, keep looking until you do.

Understand the process. Usually, the counselor will start with an assessment phase where he or she tries to understand the dynamics of the relationship and what both of you want from the counseling experience. Be patient with this process; it may take several visits to get all of the issues on the table and to the point where the counselor is ready to begin helping you work on the relationship. If your expectations are for a short-term fix, you will probably be disappointed. Plan on about three to four months of therapy before you begin seeing meaningful results.

Be willing to be the one who changes. I have seen many couples go into marriage counseling with each partner hoping that the counselor will "fix" the other one. The truth is that if a marriage is going south, there is probably lots of responsibility on both sides of the couples equation. So go in with your eyes wide open and recognize that you will need to make some changes to make the marriage work. Creating a successful marriage takes full engagement from both marriage partners.

Put yourself out there. Often marriage counseling at the outset is hampered by one or both of the couple members who is not willing to share all of their thoughts and feelings and to come to grips with some of the negative emotions that have formed. Being willing to be wide open in your communication approach can be painful, but in the end, it pays huge dividends in the counseling process.

Remember that couples therapy can have non-marriage benefits as well. The relationship skills that a therapist will help you and your partner develop will work in a marriage, but will also help with relationships with children, other family members, coworkers, friends and more. Watching for opportunities to practice what you learn in multiple settings will help hone the skills for better relationships in your marriage and family.

Remember how brave you are. Taking the important step of going to counseling is a real act of bravery and faith. All your secrets are at risk, and you were willing to do that in order to rebuild your marriage. That bravery and trust will be needed in abundance as the process rolls forward, and if you remember how you felt when you first started, you can hang on for the long haul and make it a positive experience.

Marriage counseling can seem daunting and even threatening at first, but for couples who are willing to invest the time and the emotional capital, it can be an experience that brings your entire family closer together. Doing all you can to preserve your marriage and keep your family together and strong is worth the effort for you, your partner and your kids.