Couples having relationship problems often see marriage counselors to help them resolve their issues and build happier, more successful relationships. With almost half of all U.S. marriages ending in divorce, many couples face problems serious enough to seek marriage counseling.
Common Issues in Marriage Counseling
Marriage counselors are trained to address all kinds of relationship issues, including problems with:
- Household responsibilities
- Alcoholism or drug addiction
- Sexual or romantic issues
- Intelligence/cultural differences
What Counselors Do
Marriage counselors, trained in family dynamics and psychoanalysis, help clients work through their problems and come to mutually beneficial compromises and solutions. For example, if spouses have grown apart because their busy schedules make it hard to spend time together, a counselor might suggest that they have a regular evening or day that they reserve just for each other, so that they can get to know each other again. Or if a couple is bickering over finances, a counselor might ask them to figure out a way to share decision making on spending.
Many therapists who specialize in helping married couples are especially skilled at helping spouses open the lines of communication. It’s a frustration the counselors hear often: “We just can’t communicate—we always end up arguing.” Because good communication is so important to healthy and happy relationships, marriage counseling often includes teaching communication and conflict resolution skills.
Counselors can often identify underlying problems of which the couple are not aware or are not able to confront on their own. Skilled marriage counselors don’t assign guilt or blame for marital problems, but strive to teach clients to work through problems, accept the past, and get over negative feelings so they can move forward.
A counselor usually develops a plan with each couple who comes in. It’s common for couples to attend only a few counseling sessions, especially if they have relatively minor issues to work through. Other couples benefit from months of once-a-week therapy sessions. When their issues are resolved or they feel empowered enough to handle any remaining issues on their own, it’s time to move on.
Even though marriage counseling is usually conducted with both partners present, there are times when a more motivated partner may benefit from individual sessions to discuss the marital relationship and personal issues affecting it.
When to Get Help
Many couples struggle for years before they make the decision to go to a marriage counselor in an effort to save their marriage. But marriage counseling can also be a proactive way to improve or enhance something worth preserving, not just a last-ditch effort to save a troubled relationship.
In many cases, marriage counselors can be very effective soon after the couple first notices some problems—the sooner, the better. Waiting may result in greater marital conflict and growing resentment, making it harder to resolve the issues. Couples with long-term problems can still, however, benefit from counseling. It may help them renew their energies and mutual goals, refocus their attention, and add new perspective to their relationship.
Spouses who divorce without trying counseling may never be sure whether or not they could have preserved their marriage. And even if you do eventually decide to divorce after seeing a therapist, both of you will most likely gain insights and skills during counseling, which can help you in the decoupling and recovery process during and after separation or divorce.
Picking the Right Counselor
Couples shopping around for a therapist may want to call several, and ask a few basic questions:
- How much of your practice is devoted to couples?
- How much experience and training do you have in working with couples?
- What’s your general approach to couples therapy?
If you are grappling with a specific issue, such as addiction, you might also want to ask about the counselor’s experience helping couples where that’s a problem.
After you and your spouse go to a session, talk about whether you think the counselor is the right one. For therapy to work, you’ll need to find someone who you both feel rapport with, and someone both of you trust to be fair and helpful.