Your marriage is either struggling mightily…
… or it’s experiencing the dark season of an affair.
You are distraught and wondering if your marriage can survive the damage and overcome the challenges in a relationship that seem to want to bring an end to your marriage.
If you’re experiencing hopelessness and helplessness and you feel there is no way to continue in your marriage, a counselor may be the answer.
In this post I will share with you everything you need to know about marital counseling that will help you to assess your own situation to see if this relationship saving option is right for you.
Do you need counseling?
Most marriages and relationships will go through periods of stress and conflict. The question isn’t will your relationship go through hard times, but what will you and your partner do to help yourselves through the hard times?
Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out when you and your spouse might need outside help to get over the challenges.
Thankfully, getting help from a professional doesn’t have the stigma it once did.
Today most people have seen a counselor of one type or another during their life. They’ve been counseled by a pastor, school counselor, social worker, therapist or psychologist.
Interestingly, it is estimated that 20% of Americans will suffer with some form of mental illness or condition in their lifetime. Identifying and managing these conditions is a priority in the psychiatric community.
But, counseling for those who don’t have a clear condition and just need a little help is just as important.
It is important to remember that the earlier you seek help and break bad habits, the easier it is to get through the challenges. As with any other habit, the longer you have it the harder it is to break it.
The same is true for communication habits with your spouse or with others in the family. The longer you communicate using specific patterns, the harder it takes to break them.
It isn’t necessary to suffer needlessly in a relationship that isn’t filling your needs or your partner’s needs. The answer is NOT to turn around and walk away because you’ll be taking your communication issues and other problems right along with you.
The issues in any relationship are the consequence of two people’s actions, and not one. So, before you think you should just leave and find another and better relationship, think again.
You’ll only be taking your problems right along with you.
Counseling for marital or relationship issues isn’t the classic twice weekly, digging into your childhood dreams and issues. Instead, it’s functional and works to help both parties discover the ways they have been pushing each other’s buttons and how to change in order to make themselves better people.
A relationship is best when you are at your best. You can’t change the other person, but you can become the best version of you that you can be.
There may still be some stigma around mental illness, but marital issues are not mental illness. They are issues around how hard life can be and how to interact together, so you are both going in the same direction.
This kind of counseling helps you to relieve the stress in your relationship, discover how to communicate your love and affection to the other person and how to be respectful. Each of those factors are related to a growing and developing relationship. (though this article is about counseling, qualified help can also be found in books or online programs like Marriage Fitness and Save The Marriage System).
You’ll know you need to seek professional help…
- when you find yourselves arguing over the same things over and over again
- when one or both are angry most of the time
- when you don’t want to see your partner or
- when your relationship is so strained that your friends and relatives wonder how much longer either of you will be hanging around
What are the different types of marriage counseling?
Most couples will go through a period of time in their relationship in which they struggle with obstacles and challenges. The question isn’t if you will, but what will you do when you find yourself in this position?
There is a variety of different ways that you can address the need for counseling in a relationship, and different types of counseling that are available. You can find help through social workers, pastors, psychologists, therapists and, less frequently, psychiatrists.
For the most part, psychiatrists get in involved in the prescription of medication for mental illness, but not for the actual counseling and behavioral therapy.
Couples counseling is important in building strong relationships that stand the test of time. However, it might happen that one of the partners is more willing to approach counseling first. The second partner may not be willing.
In this case, it is important for at least one to get help developing strong relationship skills that will pay dividends in the relationship. Often, after the first person has begun therapy, the second will join in several weeks or months later.
Sometimes the issue isn’t just between the adult couple, but also includes the children as well. In this case, family therapy is an important way to address wider issues and develop strong communication skills between the children and the adults.
Family therapy will approach the dynamics of the family differently than couple’s therapy. The way in which individuals are assigned roles in the family can make a difference in other relationships and change the dynamic between the couple.
If there are children, it can be very helpful to healing the whole family if you combine couples therapy and family therapy to improve the progress the family can make as a whole.
In many cases the therapist was first trained in individual therapy, which means that they may not have the health of the marriage first on the agenda. Instead, they are focused on making an individual happy, potentially placing blame on the other partner.
This might help the individual in the partnership, but marriage therapy should be designed to help heal the marriage and help the couple to move forward in their growth. It’s important to choose the type of therapy that supports marriage relationships and doesn’t inadvertently destroy them.
In some cases, one partner will be less than willing to go to therapy. In this case it’s best if just one partner goes to learn communication and relationship skills which can be brought back to the home. The reality is that we can’t change another person.
Instead, we learn to change ourselves and how we interact with others, which in turn changes their interactions with us. If your partner isn’t interested in getting professional help for one reason or another, it’s important that you respect that and honor it.
That is just the beginning of making the changes necessary to improve your relationship. If they won’t go, you can. You learn what you’ve been doing to push the bad buttons in your relationship, and thus change your partner’s outlook on the relationship.
Should you see a counselor together or apart?
Too many times couples wait too long until they decide it’s time to get help. Once both partners have agreed to get counseling, it can take longer and more work to break bad habits or heal wounds. And, sometimes, the relationship has been strained to a point that one or the other is more willing to walk away than to take the time and effort to fix what’s broken.
It is important to know that running from the current relationship only means that you take with you the problems to the next relationship. Even if you start therapy with the idea that you want a divorce and want to get out of dodge, therapy can help you fix the issues that you carried to the relationship.
And, once both of you have broken bad habits and learned to communicate with each other more respectfully and with love, you might find that you don’t want to run away after all.
For the most part, marital counseling is best done with both partners. But the reality is that too often it’s one or the other that wants to get help while the second partner is digging in their heels and waiting until things get just a little bit worse.
It might be that they don’t think counseling can help, or that their friends will laugh and make fun of them. But, no matter the reason, you can’t change their mind. They must change their own mind.
And, the second part of this reality is that you can’t change the other person. The only thing you can do is to change yourself and become the best version of you that you can ever be. And, the reality is that no problem in a relationship is the result of one person.
So, when one person gets help with communication skills, those benefits will be experienced by both people in the relationship.
In many instances it is the woman who wants to get help and it is the woman who learns relationship skills training better than the man. In this case, the relationship will benefit because the new skills training makes it back to the couple’s home.
Because women are more comfortable talking about their feelings and situations, they are also often able to work through the pain from the relationship making it easier for the man to agree to counseling as they move forward.
In a perfect world, couples would see a counselor together. However, individual counseling to heal old wounds and bring healing to a relationship can be effective when the information learned in the counselor’s office is brought home.
Don’t get discouraged if your partner refuses to get help. Instead, go start the healing process yourself and watch your relationship change.
Is this the right counselor?
Once you’ve decided to get professional help with a counselor or therapist, it’s important to know whether the person you are placing the future of your relationship with is the right one.
Before making your first appointment, get a referral or recommendations from friends or relatives that you trust. If you don’t know anyone who has seen a therapist, call your church, pastor, or ask your child’s teacher.
The beginning of finding the right therapist is getting a good referral from someone you trust.
Once you get in the office there are a few things you can use to evaluate a counselor and determine if you want to continue to use their services. Of course, it’s important to trust your gut. In other words, your first reaction to the therapist is often the right one.
Later you may be able to verbalize why you feel that way, but your initial ‘feeling’ about the counselor is often the best.
Personal appearance is not an indicator of the skill of the counselor, but it is an indicator of how you’ll interact with them. Here are questions you should ask your potential counselor, both before your first appointment and during your first appointment.
1. What are the office charges?
2. Do they apply to insurance companies or is that your responsibility?
3. What area does the therapist specialize in?
4. What are the therapists qualifications for doing marriage or family therapy?
5. What expertise does the therapist have to address your issues?
6. Do you feel comfortable with the therapist in their office?
7. Did the therapist explain issues of confidentiality – and if they didn’t bring it up, did they answer your questions?
8. Is the therapist willing to discuss the issues that are important to you?
9. Does the therapist handle your conversations with respect?
10. Does the therapist maintain professional boundaries with you and your partner?
11. Do the sessions begin and end on time?
12. Does the therapist maintain professional boundaries?
13. Does the therapist refrain from personal contact that interferes with the professional relationship.
What are the qualifications of the counselor or therapist you are considering
Once you and your spouse decide it’s time to see a counselor and repair the problems in your marriage relationship, you’ll want to consider the qualifications of the therapist you choose.
Be sure to ask for recommendations from your friends, relatives, church, pastor and insurance company with specifics about why this particular therapist is good or bad. Once you have chosen someone that you and your partner agree to see, it’s time to determine if they hold the qualifications needed to be an effective therapist.
The most common type of therapist who works with broken marriages is a marriage and family therapist. These individuals hold a graduate or postgraduate degree in this professional discipline. They may hold a master’s degree which takes 2-3 years, a doctoral degree taking 3-5 years or a post-graduate clinical training program, historically 3-4 years.
While these years of education should give the therapist greater skill, realistically that skill is related to the abilities of the person and not the degree they hold in their hands.
At this time, all 50 of the United States regulate the profession through licensing and regulating requirements to receive their license. These requirements are substantially equivalent to those of the American Association of marriage and Family Therapists.
Once graduated, the therapist needs 2 years of post-degree supervised clinical experience before certification and licensure.
The training and education for a Marriage and Family Therapist is in psychotherapy and family systems.
They are usually a highly experienced group that evaluate and treat mental and emotional disorders and other behavioral issues within the context of families. They usually take a holistic approach to treatment and stay focused on the marriage and family relationships as opposed to individual therapy which can damage a marital relationship with one partner’s needs are valued over the marriage as a whole.
A Marriage and Family Therapist will treat a variety of situations that affect the family, such as depression, anxiety, alcoholism, affective disorders and drug abuse. Children who suffer from drug abuse, conduct disorders, anorexia or the emotional effects of chronic illness can also find respite with a marriage and family therapist.
Normally, working with a marriage and family therapist will be short, approximately 12 sessions on the average. Couples therapy and family therapy are usually completed 1-2 sessions on average sooner than individual therapy.
The therapist focuses on solutions and not on your past behaviors; on specific therapeutic goals that you both agree is attainable and is begun with the end in mind. This is not long-term, weekly therapy but short term, action based, goal-focused help.
Recommendations, Referrals and Insurance
When you consider seeing a professional to address the issues and challenges in your marriage, there will be at least three factors that must be taken care of.
In the first place, you’ll need to find a therapist that you and your partner will be comfortable seeing together. You should start by seeking recommendations from friends, relatives, pastors, churches or your physician.
Within this group of people you’ll be able to find several people who have seen a therapist and will have something good or bad to say about the therapists they have had contact with.
Listen to these recommendations carefully.
Sometimes the bad comments are things that wouldn’t bother you, and other times the poor recommendations relate to the poor skills of the therapist.
Be wary of counselors who ASK to work with you separately, who are inappropriate in their physical touch with either partner, who don’t share their qualifications or have them hung on the wall of their office (the law), or after seeing for a short period, your relationship has deteriorated even further.
Often, by the time you reach the therapist’s office your relationship is at an all-time low. If you are proceeding down the same path and things are getting worse, the therapist is not doing his or her job.
The second factor in determining if the therapist is right for you and your partner is cost. We’d like it to not be an issue, but for the most part, it is. Therapy over several months can cost close to $1000.00. If you aren’t seeing the right therapist it’s money that could have been well spent elsewhere.
Most insurance companies have provisions in their policies that pay for or help pay for therapy visits for children and adults. Before getting started with a therapist, you should check your policy benefits with the insurance company and your therapist to see if they take your policy.
In some cases your policy may not cover marriage therapy, or not cover the therapist that you want to see. In that case, you should discuss your financial options with the therapist. They may have a sliding scale option, might be able to put you on a payment plan or help by extending the time between visits in order to stretch the payment process.
If your insurance policy does not expressly say they don’t cover marriage counseling you may try petitioning the company to cover part of the cost. Don’t wait to see if you’ll be successful, but negotiate the fee schedule with the therapist and insurance company.
Your therapist may agree to charge only partial payments for the therapy sessions for a short period of time so they can legally bill the insurance company – or they may provide you with an itemized bill you can submit to the insurance company.
As with recommendations, you won’t know the financial possibilities until you ask!
Marriage Counseling Tips
Before starting and during counseling there are a couple of tips you can follow to get the most out of each session.
1. Before going to your first appointment develop a clear understanding of the issues you want to address while in counseling. Being able to communicate issues will help your counselor focus on the challenges that you and your partner are facing.
This does not mean understanding the issue and being able to solve it, but instead, being able to vocalize the issues that appear to be the strongest challenges for you and your partner. These may include issues such as circular arguments, poor communication, not feeling loved or cared for, lack of respect, or poor ability to resolve issues.
2. Before getting recommendations, determining if the therapist is covered by your insurance and what the costs will be, you should determine the type of expertise you want your therapist to hold.
Marriage and Family Therapists are certified or licensed to counsel individuals and families in a varied of circumstances. Some social workers hold additional training in therapeutic relationships or marriage counseling.
Some pastors have additional training that focus on marital relationships. Unfortunately, many therapists are focused on individual therapy, which can be detrimental to marriage relationships.
3. Along those same lines, it’s important to determine the therapists’ stance on marriage. The best therapist will believe that no marriage is irreparable and should not counsel their patients to divorce.
4. When you choose a therapist they should be easy to talk with and not identify or favor one partner over the other. Both partners should be free to express themselves during the therapy sessions and not feel as if they are being judged or condemned.
Candid relationship between yourself and your therapist is essential to a therapeutic relationship. Only through expressing yourself and talking through issues that they can be resolved.
5. Before starting you should consider the cost; both the cost from your wallet and the cost of not attending. It may cost a few hundred dollars to get your marriage back on track but a broken relationship will cost more financially and emotionally.
6. Can the therapist clearly define how they are going to help you? Marriage therapy should be short-term, focused and attention given to the end goal. This is not the type of therapy that delves into your childhood and inner psyche.
Instead, your therapist should have outlined how they will proceed with you and your partner and how you should anticipate finding the answers to your challenges.
7. Does your counselor foster independence or dependence? A good therapist will encourage the couple to become independent of their therapy sessions as the challenges and obstacles in the relationship are addressed and met.
Before a marriage ends both partners should open their hearts and minds and ask for help. But don’t wait too long to seek help. The longer you wait the more serious the problems can become.
If lack of money or not wanting to share with strangers is keeping you from seeking assistance there are other alternatives to marital counseling like programs offered by Marriage Fitness or Save The Marriage System.
These are inexpensive compared to marriage counseling and can be used in the privacy of your own home by you and your spouse. Studies show that therapy works and the success rate is high. But, it’s up to you to initiate the process.
Have you considered couples counseling? Please share your experience by leaving a comment below.