If you’ve read my posts over the years, then you know that a) I love my work and b) I take it very seriously. People who call my office literally entrust their treasures to me…their own emotional health, that of their children, and perhaps most importantly, the health of their marriage. I think marital counseling is the most important work that I do. In fact, it’s so important that even when a person comes in individually, I am still always thinking about their marriage, how our counseling is impacting their marriage, and how to improve their marriage, even if I never meet the husband or wife.
When a couple starts marriage counseling, there are several things I do right from the start:
1. I reassure them. Coming to marriage counseling can be literally terrifying for one or both members of the marriage. Very often (but certainly not always) the wife has said, “We have to go. ” Or they both have reached the same conclusion, but fear that this decisions means their marriage is perhaps fatally flawed. I point out to them they are already different from so many couples with troubles, because they have taken a positive step to do something both different and difficult. That makes a good result very likely, if they can stay with the process.
2. I inform them. The process of marriage counseling is difficult, but a good counselor keeps it on track, productive not destructive, and within a “zone” that means we’re working hard but not beyond each person’s capabilities.
3. I help them heal. Just as in individual therapy your marriage is still in the therapy room with you, in good marriage counseling, your individual hurts and hot buttons are in the room too. In fact, this is what makes marriage counseling challenging, including for the therapist. Couples often tend to “boomerang” back and forth, reacting very quickly to perceived hurts, feelings that arise inside, old patterns, and any number of things. My biggest task is often to help them slow down in the session, so that we can change the patterns that lead to bad arguments by catching and healing the hurts that cause them.
There is so much more that I could say. Let me just add that in addition to more than 30 years of practice experience and trainings, I have also been happily married to my husband for 37 years, and we’ve raised two grown sons who are off on their own and doing well. I know about the ups and downs of marriage, including coping with plenty of external and internal stresses, and how hard it can be at times.
When I help a couple come “back from the brink”, I feel like I’ve helped save generations from a lot of pain and difficulty. This is not to say that children raised in divorce cannot do well; of course they can. But like having to recover from a bad auto accident, it is so much better to not have to go through, and as a bonus, to for them to witness their parents working through the tough times and coming out the other side.
The Family Research Council has a very sobering article online from 2012 that surveys the research about the various effects of divorce on children. It is definitely worth a read. You can find reference to it on our blog. The article just reinforces what we already know, that divorce is something to be avoided whenever possible, and that any efforts toward avoiding it and improving the marriage can pay off for generations to come.