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Are you curious what to expect from marriage counseling? When you have issues in your marriage where do you turn for help? If you are a private person (or are concerned about people judging you, your partner, or your marriage), then you might frantically google search books and podcasts for advice. Many people seek out friends and family, or their spiritual leaders, for guidance on marital issues. This often looks like one person venting frustrations and hoping for wise words to fix the discord. These solutions can be helpful, but sometimes they are not enough. Every marriage has its own unique set of challenges and this is where marriage counseling can be helpful. To better understand, let’s look at five ways that marriage counseling works.
Setting Aside Time to Talk with a Trained Professional
The first thing marriage counseling does is set a place and time to talk (see my post on “Why Time is Important in Relationships). We live increasingly busy lives. Add to that technological advances in streaming movies and smartphones and it is easy to avoid the challenging conversations that every marriage faces. People often use temporary escapes to cope with the stressors in a marriage, and though these methods offer immediate relief to strife they do not help couples develop lasting solutions. You can’t play Angry Birds every time your partner wants to talk about the sexual problems you have in the relationship. Working with a marriage counselor guarantees that there is a set time and safe place to talk about difficult issues with someone who is trained in relationship work. Knowing that there is a weekly time to address relationship issues helps to decrease tension in the relationship during the rest of the week. Concerns and complaints no longer hang in the air, waiting for some arbitrary incident to set off a fight (Learn How To Fight Right). Instead, you have an established container and guide to aid you in dealing with problems.
Gaining Knowledge and Breaking Myths
Marriage counseling is a place to better understand how relationships work. The process shines a light on common myths about marriage that actually do damage to relationships. A common myth about marriage is that partners must do everything together, otherwise, there is something awry in the relationship. The reality is that people in a relationship need an individual self as well as a relationship self. How can we miss or desire that which is always there? A little room for an individual self actually allows couples to be closer to each other. This is just one of many marriage myths, there are plenty more. Marriage counseling provides a space to confront notions of what being married means to you and your partner. It offers a place to consider what is useful to your relationship and what ideas about relationships can be discarded. A marriage therapist will also help partners understand the unique dynamics in their own relationship. If you feel like you’ve been having the same conversation around a sour subject with your partner for years it’s because you have, and a marriage therapist will provide feedback and understanding in a way that will help new insights to develop. Rather than a well-meaning saying borrowed from a meme, you’ll get a tailor-made solution that you and your partner collaborated on and agreed to honor. (Also check out Four Factors that Predict Relationship Investment)
Dealing with the Past
One major role of marriage therapy is to help couples deal with the past. The past of each individual and, and past as a couple. People are not always aware of how their current actions are influenced by past relationships with family and former partners. A marriage therapist facilitates a conversation about the past and uses those revelations to help couples put current problems in perspective. For example, someone who felt financially taken advantage of by their family might have some strong convictions about spending when it comes to their marriage. A deeper understanding and empathy for the past can help ongoing conflicts be talked about in a new way. Marriage therapy is also a place to address unresolved grievances in your own marriage. Bottled up resentments turn into contempt, which will end a marriage. Marriage counseling provides a healthy environment to address past hurts and make amends.
Honest Communication and Learning Skills
The Gottmans’ say that under every complaint there is a deep longing, and marriage counseling is one way to access the skills to express those longings. As couples describe an interaction that leads to conflict, a marriage counselor will listen for the unexpressed desires in the retelling of the incident. With some thoughtful questions from the therapist, both partners are better able to state their needs. Suddenly, an argument about being late to church is reframed as a desire to honor an obligation to teach Sunday school and a want for a stress-free weekend after a stress filled week. Understanding and empathy will replace a desire to be right. Not only will a marriage therapist help couples have more honest communication in the session, but there will be skills taught to practice outside of the session. Homework provides practice, which leads to mastering the art of honest communication.
Creating Solutions and a Future
Marriage therapy is about helping a couple learn skills so that they can collaborate and develop solutions to the challenges they face, that way they can have more space to talk about their visions for their shared future. Marriage therapists are there to support the relationship, not decide which partner is correct or pick a course of action for the relationship. There are many ways to spend your time on this planet and just as many ways to be in a relationship. A marriage therapist helps clients learn how to work together and choose ways to be in relationships that are best suited for them.
Ultimately marriage counseling is about partners in a relationship discovering their communication styles so that they can discuss anything. People don’t leave marriage counseling with every answer to the problems they will face as a couple, they leave with the knowledge and skills to connect, and as a team takes on the challenges they will face. If you are not feeling like your spouse is your teammate right now, then some marriage counseling might help your relationship get back on track. Contact us today to make a counseling appointment and we will work with you to find a marriage counselor who can guide you.