Does Marriage Counseling Work and What to Expect Out of It

What to Expect from Marriage Counseling?

Marriage counseling helps couples improve their relationships by recognizing and resolving conflicts in a healthy way. It also helps them make decision on putting effort in rebuilding their relationship or ending the relationship on good terms.

Marriage counseling usually includes both partners. However, sometimes one partner can choose to work with a counselor alone. Marriage counseling is often a short term therapy. It ends after partners reach the point where they either feel that they restored their marriage or need to go separate ways. The specific treatment plan of a therapy normally depends on a situation.

Working with a couples’ counselor, you will gain skills to improve your relationship. Some of the skill you can expect to learn include problem-solving skills, communication skills, ability to accept the differences and understand your partner’s feelings. Furthermore, marriage counseling may help you learn how to recognize and address the problems in your relationship without blame and explore the healthy solutions to your relationship challenges.

Before You Reach Out for a Marriage Counselor

According to a study published in Journal of Martial and Family Therapy, marriage counseling helps seven out of ten couples to improve their marriage. However, there are many factors that impact the potential success of marriage counseling. Before you decide to seek assistance of a marriage counselor, you need to prepare. To ensure the best possible effect, here are some tips to keep in mind when considering couples counseling:

  • Be open and honest with your marriage counselor.

It may be hard to talk about your problems with the therapist, especially in the beginning of a therapy. It is OK if you need some time to gain trust and confidence. Talk to your counselor about your doubts. Remember that he/she is not there to judge you, but to help you improve your marriage.

  • Decide whether you and your partner will go through counseling together or you’re going to seek counseling alone.

This depends on a problem in your relationship that you are coping with and your partner’s willingness to participate in marriage counseling.

  • Make sure you and your spouse are motivated to attend therapy sessions and participate in exercises that your marriage counselor may suggest.

In addition, your counselor may suggest some homework for you and your partner to practice at home. For example, he or she may ask you to practice listening skills at home every day – without any interruptions, complaints and blame-game.

This form of couples counseling is a great option for many couples because it’s convenient and efficient: you can work with a counselor from your home and at time that works the best for you and your partner. In addition, some people appreciate the fact that online marriage counseling allows you to stay anonymous and share your problems with the counselor without disclosing too much of personal details.

Reasons For Marriage Counseling Failure

Some studies, however, show limited success of marriage counseling. Some of the possible conditions under which marriage counseling may not help a couple restore their marriage include:

  • Unwillingness one of the partners to attend marriage counseling sessions.

Couples’ counseling may not be helpful if one of the spouses is not willing to try it as a toll to save the marriage.

Also read: My spouse doesn’t think we need martial counseling

  • A couple that waited for too long to seek marriage counselor’s assistance or problems in the marriage are too deep-rooted

If problems in your marriage have been an ongoing thing that lasts for years, it may happen that counseling doesn’t help you much. It may simply be too late. Therefore it’s important to seek marriage counseling as soon as you notice that challenges in your marriage are becoming to deteriorate your relationship.

  • Seeing a counselor as a ‘marriage fixer’ or ‘miracle worker’ and having unreal expectations from counseling

If you decide to seek marriage counseling, you need to have reasonable expectations from it. Don’t expect your counselor to solve your problems for you or give you some ‘instant-solution’.

  • There isn’t a good fit between the couple and the counselor

Sometimes couples cannot establish a trustworthy relationship with the counselor and be open about their problems in front of him/her.

To work with the clients, a marriage counselor needs to establish rapport with them, which means a sense of having connection with the person/couple. This is very important, because unless the clients don’t have a sense of rapport, they will not be willing to share and work with the counselor.

In case you don’t have a feeling of rapport with your marriage counselor, you should cancel further sessions and look for another therapist. Or you may try online couples counseling for free and see if that works better for you.

  • A mental illness or addiction of one of the partners

A certain mental disorder or addiction of one of the spouses that has not been treated previously may be a huge obstacle to the success of marriage counseling. If you or your partner suffer from one of the aforesaid, make sure you seek treatment for that issue before or while go to a marriage counseling.

  • Verbal or physical abuse in a marriage

Marriage counseling doesn’t work in an abusive relationship. Abuse of any kind is a serious issue that may require much more than assistance of a marriage counselor. Couples counseling helps the two people cope with conflict resolving, communication and struggles with intimacy. In an abusive relationship, these goals can’t be achieved because the abusive partner is not interested in equality and success of the counseling.

  • A therapist that is not qualified and doesn’t hold the needed credentials

When seeking marriage counseling, make sure you find a trustworthy and skilled mental health professional with an adequate training and valid credentials.

How does Marriage Counseling Help Couples?

A massive, 40 years long research published by UCLA psychologists Lisa Benson, Meghan McGinn and Andrew Christensen combined the approaches of the most successful method of marriage counseling. They came up with the five principles of successful therapy for couples. These include: changes in the view of relationship, modifications of dysfunctional behavior, decrease in emotional avoidance, improvement in communication, promotion of strengths.

Situations in which marriage counseling can be successful include both partners being willing to solve their problems, both spouses being committed to not missing their appointments with the counselor and coming on time for scheduled appointments. Furthermore, for marriage counseling to be successful, both parties need to have reasonable expectations from it and understand that they are responsible for success or failure of their marriage.

If these conditions are met, marriage counseling may help in different ways

Marriage Counseling Benefits

  • It helps partners improve communication and mutual understanding.

Marriage counseling can help you find the best way to communicate with your partner. You and your partner can learn how to become active listeners who respect each other’s feelings and needs.

  • Marriage counseling may motivate spouses to begin understanding their problems from a new perspective.

The couples sometimes need a third person (in this case a professional counselor) to help them take a shift in their standpoint and begin looking at their problems from different perspective. Counseling may boost your empathy skills and strengthen your ability to ‘put your spouse’s shoes on’. For example, if you believe that your husband hates you because he doesn’t show affection, is often upset with you or forgets important dates, ask yourself if he is maybe hurt too and is there anything you can do to recover his love.

Also read: My Husband Hates Me: How Did I Find Out and How Did I Fix It?
  • It can provide tools for couples to learn new, constructive ways to resolve conflicts.

If you and your husband/wife disagree a lot, or have different standpoints about important things such as parenting style, for example, marriage counseling may be helpful in learning how to solve your disagreements in a healthy and positive way.

  • Marriage counseling may help spouses learn how to renew trust and rebuild their marriage after the infidelity.

Building trust in your partner after his or her infidelity is extremely hard. A skilled marriage counselor may help you gradually restore trust in your spouse and eventually rebuild a healthy relationship.

To sum up, making the decision to seek marriage counseling can be hard. However, if you have issues in a relationship, looking out for help is always better option than ignoring the problem. For couples counseling to be effective, both parties in a relationship need to be motivated and willing take responsibility for their part in problems and to restore their relationship. In addition, it is very important to have realistic expectations from marriage counseling for it to be efficient.


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