While the decision to seek marriage counseling typically indicates that there is a problem in the marriage that is preventing the relationship from progressing in a manner that both partners appreciate, the process of counseling should be viewed as a safe environment to learn new communication skills and behaviors to better yourself and your partner. Marriage counseling can provide the tools you need to address problems in the marriage, but it is not a magic pill. Understanding your role and the role of the counselor during your sessions will help make your counseling sessions as productive as possible.
1. Choosing a Counselor
You have several choices in marriage counselors including professional counselors, social workers or marriage and family therapists. Counselors tend to operate from the stance that individuals are in control of their own lives and will work with you in ways to examine and potentially change your behavior in the marriage. Social workers focus on individual problems in context to their social environment, while marriage and family therapists believe in addressing marital problems from a systemic view, looking at your entire social structure when working with a couple. Within each of these helping professions are variations in theory and technique that should be examined when deciding on a marriage counselor. Many professionals will offer to meet with clients prior to starting therapy to explain their role as a counselor, how they practice and what to expect from a typical session.
2. Commitment to Counseling
Regardless of which type of practitioner you choose, marriage counseling requires a commitment from both husband and wife to be successful. Your marriage counseling sessions will likely begin with one to two hour meetings each week. Over time your counselor may suggest that you alter the frequency and length of your sessions and may even suggest that you and your husband attend separate sessions from time to time. Like most forms of therapy, what couples get out of marriage counseling will evolve over time as the counselor works with you to learn your strengths, weaknesses and concerns in the marriage. Change does not happen overnight, so expect to attend counseling for several weeks before seeing a marked change in your relationship.
3. Beyond the Therapy Session
While the work done face to face with your marriage counselor is vitally important, some of the most important work on your marriage will happen at home, in between sessions. Your counselor may assign you homework, or skills and behaviors to practice between your meetings. An example of marriage counseling homework might be to practice rephrasing your conversations with your spouse to focus on positive, rather than negative aspects of your interactions.
4. Attitude Toward Counseling
At times the counseling process can be uncomfortable, as it has the potential to both leave you open for critique and can bring up issues that you may not normally be comfortable addressing. Since marriage counseling is about growing, both personally and as a couple, there may be times that your behaviors are challenged, along with your spouse. Working through those challenges, as opposed to ignoring them, will help to address the concerns that brought you to counseling initially and may uncover other underlying issues. During these uncomfortable moments it is important to remember that many times issues that are uncomfortable to address may be at the root of the issues that initiated your interest in counseling. Keep a positive attitude and remember that part of making a change in your marriage requires addressing the elements of the relationship that are not working for you or your spouse.
- Bosie State University: What is Social Work
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: Marriage and Family Therapists: The Friendly Mental Health Professionals
- California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors: What is Professional Counseling?
- University of Missouri Extension: Creating a Strong and Satisfying Marriage
- Harvard Health Publications: Couples Therapy: Methods Couples Therapists Use During Relationship Therapy
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