Any relationship can hit a rough spot, and every relationship can benefit from some extra time and attention. Many couples fear that starting therapy marks “the beginning of the end”, and that they are headed for divorce. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, most couples who come to counseling do very well. But first, here's what some couples say at the beginning:
I'm worried about my marriage. I think our relationship is going in the wrong direction.
If we could just stop arguing, maybe we could learn to solve our problems.
We don't know how to communicate. In fact, we don't even talk.
We seem to be really growing apart. We don't have sex, we don't kiss, we hardly even touch.
If nothing changes, I'm scared we might be heading for divorce.
Every marriage has rough spots. Counseling can help smooth them out.
Please know that you aren't alone. Every couple starting out has their strengths and weaknesses. Some couples are lucky and they just seem to know how to face their weaknesses, and learn and grown from them, on their own. Other couples ignore their weaknesses, and then, years later, pay the price because those ignored weaknesses have grown into major problems.
Many couples find that counseling can really help. And it's not a matter of needing to commit to years of therapy. Very often, a few months of weekly sessions makes a tremendous difference, helping you change patterns that were destructive and learn skills for going forward. Some couples are completely satisfied and stop therapy at this point. Others like to continue, coming less often, for a period of time. Many others will call periodically for “a tune-up”, feeling very comfortable with the idea that their therapist can help them nip new problems in the bud.
How does marriage counseling / couples counseling work?
Different couples are looking for different things from counseling, so this answer to this can really vary. A lot depends on how long the couple has been together, how long the problem has been going on, and also on what other issues might be getting triggered, like old family history for one or both partners.
At the first session, I always ask couples what issue has led them to call for therapy. I ask what they have tried so far to solve the problem, how well or not each solution has worked, and what they have not yet tried. I also make sure to find out what they feel their strengths are, individually and as a couple.
Next I will get a brief history from each spouse, including what their own family was like, what those strengths and weaknesses are, and what they feel they are bringing to the marriage, both positive and negative. We also go over some typical areas of conflict that come up in most marriages, like conflict over money, children, in-laws, and yes, sex.
What sorts of goals do couples have for therapy?
Finally, I'll ask both members of the couple what their goals for therapy are. Sometimes husband and wife agree on these, and sometimes they don't. That's not a problem, it just means we have multiple goals. For example, some are looking to build or strengthen a few specific skills, like communication or conflict resolution tools.
Other couples may find themselves stuck in destructive patterns of many years duration. With time and commitment, therapy, like surgery, can help find and heal the sources of pain in a marriage, and help couples deal with the scars that remain. It can be hard work, but nothing is more rewarding than helping a couple come back from the brink of divorce, and go on to have a happy and rewarding marriage.
Still other couples come in for pre-marital counseling, often required by their church. Some of our therapists use a computer scored tool called FOCCUS to help couples identify areas of strengths and weaknesses, so that they can solve problems before they start. Or they will use a structured interview process for pre-marital counseling to help each person articulate their values and expectations, so that both can begin to join forces and “get on the same page”.
Whether you are not married, planning to be married, married for just a few years, or in a long marriage that has new or old problems, couples therapy can help. Just like anything else in life, problems that are faced and addressed can generally be solved , even if it takes some hard work.
I want marriage counseling but my spouse won't come
Many times one person will call wanting marriage counseling, but for a variety of reasons, the other spouse is not willing to come in right away. Some common objections include:
- I don't believe in counseling ; I don't think it helps
- I'm not the one with the problem. You are, so you go.
- I've been to marriage counseling , individual counseling, or some form of therapy, and it's not for me. It never helped before.
- Or, the hardest one of all… Our marriage is over, so what's the point?
Obviously, no one can be forced to come to couples therapy. I work with both individuals and couples on relationship issues. Generally, I encourage the person calling to see if their spouse will come in for at least one session, if the issue is a couples issue. If the spouse refuses to come in, my training and experience means that I will work with the one who is willing to come in, to work on their end of improving the marriage.
My belief is that if one person changes, the other is likely to change as well, in some direction. It is also possible that down the road that other person might be willing to start in couples therapy, after they see some changes happening, either because they feel encouraged , or perhaps because they feel concerned!
How to I get started with marriage counseling / couples therapy?
Most of the therapists here work with couples. A few are on insurance panels, and others, like myself, are considered “out of network” (click here for more info on insurance). Most of our therapists are here in the evening, a few on weekends. You can read more about my practice here, and at the bottom of that page are links to the other therapists practicing here at Families Counseling. You are welcome to call any of the other therapists directly if you wish, or please contact me either to make an appointment or to ask further questions. You can use our email form or call me at 805-583-3976 x 33.
I hope this information is helpful. Please call our office if you have more questions.
More information about marriage counseling
If you're wondering what couples therapy might involve, please take a look at this article reprinted with permission from Dr. Peter Pearson of The Couples Institute.
For more information, please see our blog posts for Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy