It's easy to conceive of marriage counseling as something only couples on the verge of divorce do. And if you are one of those couples on the verge of divorce, you might be even more opposed to marriage counseling, believing that it can't possibly fix your problems. But marriage counseling is incredibly effective. In fact, one recent study by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists found that 98% of participants were pleased with the results of marriage counseling. The right counselor can pull your marriage back from the brink, helping you recover the love you might think you've lost forever.
How Marriage Counseling Helps
Think back to the day you got married. Either the problems you have now didn't exist then, or seemed trivial. Either way, this suggests that these problems can be solved – or that, if the problems aren't solvable, they can at least be managed. For example, spouses with different spending styles can set rules and limits or create separate bank accounts. So how exactly dos counseling help you get back on track? That depends on what you're facing, but generally, a good therapist will:
- Help you clearly define the problems that you're facing.
- Work to help each of you see the role you're playing in those problems.
- Help you discern the difference between problems that can be solved (such as a spouse's gambling addiction) and problems that must be managed instead (such as a child with a developmental disability).
- Work to help you improve communication skills.
- Give you the tools you need to improve one another's well-being and self-esteem.
- Give you “assignments” designed to help you improve your marriage.
What Happens in Marriage Counseling?
The structure and feel of marriage counseling is primarily dependent on the counselor you choose. The single biggest predictor of success, though, is a strong and trusting relationship, so be sure you feel comfortable with your therapist – even if he or she pushes you a bit. In general, you can expect that most of your sessions will be joint sessions, though you may have a few individual sessions. You'll also get plenty of homework and suggestions for what to do outside the walls of therapy; fail to follow these suggestions, and you'll miss out on some of the most significant therapy benefits.
Choosing a Counselor
As with everything in life, there are good, bad, and great therapists. To get the most out of therapy, be sure to:
- Check the status of your therapist's license; unlicensed therapists should not be practicing
- Ask how long therapy will take and how you'll know you're succeeding.
- Ask about your therapist's philosophy regarding therapy; for instance, if you're an atheist and your therapist intends to incorporate Christian themes, it may not be the best fit for you and your spouse.
Explore whether going to therapy on your own is an option; many couples report that, even when one spouse is unwilling to attend therapy, marriage counseling with just one partner can.