The truth about marriage counseling

Ever heard any weird stories about marriage counseling?  I sure have.  It’s no wonder people are worried about coming in.  Marriage counseling is a very misunderstood process due to a number of myths. You may have never been in a therapist’s office, but surely have some expectations based on movies or stories from friends and family. If the only thing you know about couples counseling is from a Vince Vaughn movie-please read on. Here is some help dispel some of these myths.

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Counseling is a scam, it doesn’t work

Research consistently finds that therapy works. Counselors are ethically trained to only utilize theraprutic approaches where effectiveness is research based.

In the approach of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, for example, 90% of couples report improvements in their relationship. In addition, results from an article from the Journal of Martial and Family Therapy report that clients generally reported satisfaction rates between 91% and 98%.  For effectiveness of the Gottman Method, another theory I utilize, see this link.  Science is increasingly telling us what works and doesn’t work in relationships.  I am careful to work primarily from this standpoint.

You must be really broken to need marriage counseling. Others don’t need it.  

All relationships need tending.  Your marriage is your biggest investment.   You wouldn’t purchase a fancy sports car or beautiful landscaping and then forget it.  They need servicing, fertilizing, attention.  Even the best relationships struggle time to time. It’s the healthiest couples who are willing to try marriage counseling.  Relationship counseling is the most effective if you come in before a crisis.  

The counselor will pick sides (and probably side with my wife since she’s a woman).

I am trained to be neutral. There is no side to pick and I will teach you that striving to “win” will not improve your relationship. If there is a winner and a loser the relationship breaks down.  My "side" is with the relationship and making it work for both of you.  

The counselor will boss us around.

My job isn’t to be bossy or dole out advice. This is one of the main differences between talking to a friend/family member or talking to a therapist. Many people in your life will tell you what to do. A counselor, on the other hand, is focused on listening, understanding and encouraging growth by utilizing proven theories and techniques.  I strive to create the atmosphere for enhanced connection.  I will work to keep us on track, focused and productive

The counselor will make us do stupid and embarrassing activities.

Showing up in a counselor's office can feel very strange at first.  A good counselor is going to work with your comfort zone. We don’t want to scare you off!  If you are uncomfortable, speak up. We work for you, not the other way around.  The silly things you see in a TV therapy session are not representative of what we do.

The counselor may make things worse.

It can be scary to think things could get worse. The situation probably already feels out of control.  But there is also risk in doing nothing. New behavior/new knowledge/new experiences = new results.

I will not let you needlessly rehash every argument you’ve ever had. I mediate and help you decrease conflict. I've got the road map and am driving the bus.  I will keep things on track.  You are validating your partner’s concerns about your relationship and showing good faith by showing up.  Often couples feel better before they even show up because setting the appointment together feels good.

BUT, when choosing a counselor, verify that they are properly licensed by your state and trained specifically to work with couples. Someone calling themselves a counselor, but not licensed to practice, can do harm. This means they were not properly supervised during their training and may not have the education and guided wisdom from supervisors necessary to do the job properly.  I will also do a proper assessment to determine if relationship counseling is right for you or if other avenues may be more helpful.

Seeing a professional is too personal and embarrassing.

It can feel very awkward to open up about private, embarrassing, and painful relationship problems. I have great respect for this.  Most people get over this pretty quickly and many times even forget that I am there.

Because I am neutral and an advocate for your marriage, it becomes easy to bring up the elephants that have been hanging out in your living room.

I’m ashamed of the mistakes I’ve made.

I am solution focused. You are not a sum of your mistakes. What brought you together? What challenges have you overcome? How are you each individually great? How can we make this all come together to move forward?

To put it simply, even in the midst of pain, there is something sacred and resilient. I will not judge.  I admire anyone willing to come in the door and do some work.

It’s too expensive.

How much did you pay for your sofa? Would you be willing to invest that same amount into your relationship? Counseling is substantially cheaper than a divorce.

I want to get you back out on the road as quickly as possible and work my way out of a job as soon as I can.

We shouldn’t have to work on this, it should be easy.

We would like marriage to be easy, but sometimes it just isn’t. That’s not to mean it’s awful. The more we invest, the more we receive. To quote romance novelist Nicholas Sparks: “Nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy. Remember that.”

Working on your relationship can teach your kids how to have a great marriage. You teach them that you invest time and energy into your priorities. When your priority is each other, you all benefit.

My goal is for this "work" to become easier and feel intuitive.  There is no need to struggle on your own.

The other person is the one that needs to change.

Finding fault won’t move you forward. If you are waiting on the other person, nothing will happen. Do something first.

The goal is not to “change a person.” The goal is to change relationship patterns and reconnect. Change can come from either side.

The counselor will tell us if we should break up or not.

It is never my place to make relationship decisions for you.  This is disrespectful and unethical.

Therapy will fix everything.

There is nothing magical about showing up and sitting on my couch every week. The real work is done by you between sessions.

We can’t do couples counseling because one of us won’t go.

We can do 1:1 therapy-it’s not ideal, but can work. Again, change can come from either side. That doesn’t mean things are your fault, the goal is to change the entire pattern and functioning of your system. One person can adjust the whole pattern, or at least get things started.  

So now I hope you have no more excuses and make the call to get started today!

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