What is Marriage Counseling? Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Marriage Counseling: Everything You Need to Know Beforehand. You meet someone, you fall in love, and then you decide to get married. Believe it or not but no matter how troubling that might sound, it is still the easier part. The hardest part is, of course, maintaining the marriage for the years to come. Because when you are married, there is more than one aspect to take care of.

You have children, your work, and other personal problems to take care of as well. While you move through the ups and downs of your life, your relationship with your wife and your marriage life will surely take some kind of hit. 

This is why these days, almost 40% of marriages end up in divorce. Now, of course, not every single marriage was meant to be in the first place. But for many of the co-couples, it is a bit different. Along the course of the marriage, they grow apart and also realize how incompatible they are. Some also struggle right after they get their first child. Just because they cannot figure out the basic tools to manage their problems regarding marriage, they resort to getting divorced. 

But this is where marriage counseling comes to your aid. But will that be very helpful for you? This is what this post is all about. Here, we will tell you everything you need to know before opting for a marriage counselor. 

So, let’s get started.

The Definition of Marriage Counseling

Basically, marriage counseling is a kind of couple’s therapy, and it focuses primarily on marriages and relationships. Marriage counselors are professional Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), and they are particularly trained to help couples identify and diagnose their problems and work on various kinds of solutions. This is one of the most perfect places for couples to clear things out and also talk about things that are going on in their minds.

how does marriage counseling work definition
How does marriage counseling work definition

As we all know, communication is the ultimate key to solving different kinds of marriage problems, and marriage counseling will offer you a chance to improve your communication skills. It will also help you to come down to a mutual understanding and decide on how to move forward as a couple or if there is no other way, they properly end a marriage to make the best possible outcome.

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Who Must Seek Marriage Counseling?

I how most people think about marriage counseling. That is why there is a huge stigma related to marriage counseling. Many people believe that it is only couples who are about to get a divorce or split up who should see a marriage counselor. However, that is not the case. If your marriage is struggling, then you can surely benefit from marriage counseling at one time or another.

Also, you don’t need to get married to seek some counseling. If you are in a relationship and it is going through a troubling state, then also you can seek some help. This service is applicable for straight couples, gay couples, couples of all races, or even for couples having a less traditional relationship set-up like the long-distance ones or for the couples who are married but not living together. Maybe you got married, or maybe you have been married for the past 40 years. There are many couples who seek marriage counseling way before tying the knot.

Always remember that there are no real restrictions as to why you should consider going for marriage counseling. If you are any kind of struggle in your relationship that you don’t feel you can handle on your own or if you feel the need for a trained, objective professional with an unbiased perspective, then you can benefit a lot from a few sessions of marriage counseling.

But to understand the matter even better, here, I am listing a few specific issues that usually prompt couples to seek counseling. They are:

  • All the couples who feel they experience frequent fights again and again over silly matters, and no matter how hard they try, they can’t seem to find a solution.
  • If you are a couple who often disagree about parenting, financial, or lifestyle choices.
  • It is also applicable for a couple who often feel the burden of household responsibilities and fail to figure out how to effectively divide the world and come up with solutions to the incessant quarrels they have.
  • All the couples who feel they don’t have that same s*xual or romantic chemistry as before.
  • If you are a couple and you feel that your marriage is on auto-pilot.
  • If you feel that as a couple, you are dysfunctional and your partner is always emotionally unavailable.
  • If, as a couple, you have experienced a recent tragedy or loss and also having some trouble processing it together.
  • If both or either of you is suffering from substance abuse, infidelity, or mental health issues.

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Will the Marriage Counselors Recommend Divorce?

Usually, the marriage counselors will never recommend divorce, and chances are they will keep their personal opinions to themselves. This is because they believe that only the partners in that relationship should have the moral right to make that decision. If you are in a bad and abusive relationship, then most therapists might not recommend divorce but will surely help the victim to separate themselves from the abusive partner and find help.

What Happens During Marriage Counseling?

Usually, most marriage counselors would ask both partners to be present at counseling sessions. This way, they can see the way you two usually communicate with each other, and the counselor will also help you with tools to have improved communication. But if your partner becomes reluctant to come or become unavailable due to some reason or the other, then you will have to attend marriage counseling alone. It can still benefit you in a lot of ways, and you can learn a lot about yourself and also how you feel about your relationship.

One thing you must remember, and that is much like most of the therapy sessions, is that marriage counseling will also not going to be emotionally comfortable all the time. When you are there, you have to think of it as a safe place to share some of the feelings you cannot really express all the time and which are a bit difficult for you and your partner to share easily. It is quite natural for marriage counseling to have intense emotions, some crying, and sometimes, a few raised voices as well. 

Your therapist would wish to offer you a space where both of you can have your feelings validated and a place where both of you can just “let it all out.” But along with that, the therapist will also give you some instructions as to how you can work on your communication and also some tips to solve the problems while moving forward.

Most marriage counseling tends to be quite short-term since the couples usually come down with a specific problem that they wish to solve. It will be very much practical as well. Some people can also give you some “homework” or specific tactics to try next time the same issue occurs.

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How Effective Can Marriage or Couples Therapy Be?

There are many licensed and reputed family and marriage therapists out there, and one of them is the renowned therapist Nikki Young. She practices as a licensed marriage and family therapist with her organization Catalyst Counseling Inc. in Modesto, California.

According to her, when you try and combine a qualified professional, some committed participants, effective skills, a fresh perspective, and a safe environment, one can easily address sensitive topics and also will be able to:

  • Create some positive change in relational dynamics
  • Rekindle that old passion and romance
  • Heal all the trauma and wounds
  • Definitely equip them for the future

The positive changes can happen when each partner is:

  • Absolutely invested in the treatment process
  • willing to put in an effort not just during the session but outside the therapy office
  • When both of them are able to take ownership of their own role in dealing with the problem

As per the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), the therapy can be even more effective than treating someone individually to deal with marital distress and conflict.

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How Can You Know If a Marriage Counsellor Can Help or Not?

Most experts note two very important signs for the counseling to work:

  • Both of them must have the willingness to engage.
  • Both of them are very much committed to the therapy process.

Believe it or not but the therapy process can work much better when the couple has a very good connection with their therapist. But there are some important signs as well, which indicate that the therapy might not work at all:

  • If the member of your relationship is having an ongoing affair.
  • If you see that one of the partners is exhibiting a pattern of controlling or a dominating and violent behavior over the other.
  • If both of them are suffering from some significant mental health or substance use concern. 

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What Can You Expect During Marriage or Couples Counseling?

You cannot find an all-in-one approach for therapy that will work for all couples. So, you will have to be ready for all the uncomfortable moments along the way.

According to expert Young, it is always dependent on the therapist’s theoretical approach and also on the concerns presented by the couple. No matter, both of them, along with the therapist, must work on creating an accepted and safe environment for both members of the relationship. You have to remember that every single partner can have a very different view of the problem.

“A good therapist will help to make each person feel heard and understood. They will facilitate a safe experience for both,” Young said. 

To do that, one has to:

  • Actively listen to both the partners.
  • Reflecting and summarizing the experiences each of you might have.
  • Stop all the harmful communication patterns that might have occurred during the therapy or before that. 

“Factors such as s*xuality, gender, or marital status often produce a hesitation to seek couples therapy for fear of judgment. To those who are gay, transgender, unmarried, or just plain ‘different’ in society’s eyes, it is critical that therapists relay acceptance and openness,” 

Young said.

If you wish to get the most amount of benefit from your therapy, then you must be clear with yourself and also let your therapist know if you have a condition such as:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

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How Long Does Marriage Counseling Take?

Of course, the time frame will vary from couple to couple. It can take just a few sessions for the therapist to understand your issue completely. But on average, most people require about 12 sessions, but there are people who might require even less than that. 

“We can teach you all the skills in the world. But you must be willing to enact these in your day-to-day life to see change. There is no magic formula for how many sessions will be most effective in addressing the issue at hand. Each partnership is different.” 

Young said.

There are a few things you-ness to consider:

  • relational cultures
  • communication styles
  • specific areas of concern
  • levels of investment
  • individual histories

When a thorough assessment is done, the therapist will be able to give you an idea of what to expect. Most of the sessions will be about 50 minutes.

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What Kind of Therapy May Be Used During Marriage/Couples Counseling?

Most professional therapists can incorporate various types of therapy for different kinds of issues. Here, I am listing a few of the therapeutic approaches most of them use:

Gottman couple therapy

This one is a very structured and goal-oriented approach, and it is based on 40 years of research. According to various studies, this approach can be very effective in improving:

  • Marital relationships
  • Adjustment
  • Intimacy

The process starts with you and your partner filling out an in-depth assessment. Whatever you will write will help the therapist choose specific interventions.

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

The next one is EFT, and it is intended to become a short-term therapy with a focus on the present. In this process, you will know how to express emotions and resolve conflict, all in a very healthy way. According to experts, this method can improve marital satisfaction.

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Bader-Pearson developmental model of couples therapy

This process focuses on the various developmental stages of each partner and also the developmental stage of the relationship. This is how the experts point the way toward specific interventions for your relationship.

Behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is famous worldwide for being the “gold standard Trusted Source” of psychotherapy. 

This method is actually based on the premise we have a link between thoughts and emotions and also between emotions and actions. Hence, the therapist will try and help you replace all the negative patterns you have with positive ones. Different versions of CBT include:

  • Behavioral couple therapy (BCT)
  • Traditional behavioral couple therapy (TBCT)
  • Integrative behavioral couple therapy (IBCT)

Discernment counseling

This kind of counseling can never work unless both of you want the relationship to continue. It is ideal for mixed-agenda couples or when none of you are sure what exactly you two want. The expert can help you sort out your true feelings.

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Do You Need Marriage Counseling?

This is the main question here. As mentioned before, there are many kinds of reasons why a couple should seek marriage counseling. For some, it can be because of a higher risk for divorce, or for some, it can be other problems such as marrying at an early age, having divorced parents, or being in a very poor financial state. But you need to figure out your own reason. 

You must consider the aspects of your relationship and see if they are contributing to distress, dissatisfaction, or conflict. This is why I am listing these questions about yourself, your partner, and your marriage which can lead you to your answer:

  • Do you frequently fight with your partner about conflicts over religious faith or values?
  • Do you often end up criticizing each other?
  • Do you sense that there is a lot of defensiveness in your marriage?
  • Do you often feel like withdrawing yourself from your partner?
  • Do you often feel contempt, anger, or resentment for your partner or vice versa?
  • Can you feel that your communication is poor?
  • Do you ever feel indifferent to your partner?
  • Does it often occur that you and your partner have nothing in common?
  • Is there a feeling of growing apart from your partner these days?
  • Do you have problems regarding infidelity, addiction, or abuse in your marriage?

If the answer is “yes” for most of the questions, then it is clear that you might face quite a higher risk for relationship dissatisfaction and divorce. No one is saying that your divorce is inevitable. However, it is clear that you have to work much harder to make the relationship healthy and happy. When you visit a marriage counselor, he/she can help you with that work.

There can be many reasons why a marriage finally reaches the stage of counseling. The stress we feel every day, combined with the demands of work and family and everything else together, can make it very much difficult for couples to feel close and connected.

This is why you need to remember that just considering marriage counseling isn’t a sign of failed relationship. Rather, it proves a willingness to do whatever is necessary to improve your marriage and, at the same time, strengthen your communication and also become very close to your partner.

It is always better to have a very realistic kind of expectations of one another and from your marriage as well. This way, you can communicate well and also come up with conflict resolution skills. When you are compatible with one another, you will be at very low risk for divorce. Most couples can benefit a lot from counseling at times of transition or simply strengthen their communication skills and make their connection strong.

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How Happy Couples Handle Conflict?

You need to always remember that even people with healthy and happy relationships can sometimes experience problems and face other kinds of conflicts in their relationships. According to some experts, it is also seen that these happy couples can sometimes argue about the same trivial things as the unhappy ones do.

Don’t ever think that happy couples never argue about money, kids, in-laws, and intimacy. Yes do, but their key to success lies in how they manage these disagreements.

Many experts noticed that a lot of happy couples experience conflict in their marriages, but somehow they know how to handle their disagreements and conflicts. This is because they have a strong foundation of affection and friendship. This is where most unhappy couples may struggle.

The problems about which most couples usually argue can also leave an effect. Based on many studies, researchers found that most happier couples have the tendency to focus on issues that can be resolved more readily. But most of the unhappier couples focus their conflicts on long-standing issues, which will often lack an immediate resolution.

If you are able to successfully differentiate between issues that need to be resolved and the issues that you can lay aside for the time being, then you can have a long-lasting, happy relationship.

What Remains?

So, these are the most crucial things you need to know about marriage counseling. I guess after reading this; you now have an idea as to where to start. If you have any similar experiences, then do feel free to share that with us in the comments section.

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