If you have ever Googled “marriage counseling,” you have been inundated with mixed messages. Some sites scream all marriage and couples counseling is a scam. Other sites promise cheap, easy results. Many couples have requested referrals from trusted family, friends, or a faith community. Unfortunately, some couples struggle to embrace the idea of counseling because it requires admitting there may be trouble in “paradise.” Feeling embarrassed or ashamed could be a barrier to asking for help. Just finding a therapist to assist with marriage concerns may seem daunting.
One way to ensure you have the best chance at a successful outcome is to find a clinician who is competent in relationship therapy. The practitioner should be well-trained and have expertise in the issues you are facing. Finding a qualified therapist, however, is only part of the equation. Even the most competent, passionate therapist requires your effort to help you repair your marriage. Therapy is a collaborative effort.
Here are some questions to ask when trying to get the most out of your therapeutic experience.
1. Are both partners ready?
Both partners do not have to be enthusiastic about beginning counseling, but success is more likely when both partners invest early in the process. In many instances, one partner does not want to be there. Resistance is normal. The challenge comes when that partner refuses to engage in the process in any way at any point.
One partner cannot carry a relationship within therapy or outside it. Both partners must understand the importance of the process, the need for help, and the willingness to invest in the future of the relationship. Two engaged participants will have the resolve to work through the challenges the relationship faces.
2. Is your therapist the right fit?
Therapists are not “one size fits all.” Some have specialties where they have received additional training and experience to work with certain issues or groups of people. If so, they usually state that clearly in online profiles. If you pick just any counselor, you may lose in efficacy what you gain in convenience. Taking the time to find the right therapist is extremely important.
The clinician is right only if they are the right fit for your relationship. When you have found a qualified specialist, make sure they are a good fit for the two of you. Even the most qualified therapist may not match you in temperament or make you feel comfortable. Interviewing them over the phone or reading their website/social media may give you a better sense of who the person is. Being honest and upfront about how you feel may save you time, money, and perhaps even your marriage.
Coming into the therapeutic relationship prepared to advocate for your relationship is paramount in rebuilding. It takes both of you to decide to do what it takes to help your marriage thrive.
3. Are the real issues being talked about and addressed?
Successful marriage counseling requires a considerable amount of effort from the therapist and the couple. Some couples pretend everything is fine because they do not want to feel judged or persecuted; meanwhile, their relationship is crumbling at their feet. Couples often struggle with how to start. Sometimes the best way to start is to talk about how you feel at that moment. It takes courage to talk about your pain.
The investment into therapy is more than financial; success requires an emotional investment as well. The counseling office is a safe space to work through the challenges that may have been hindering your relationship for years. A competent therapist will assist you in navigating the landmines of hurt and pain. Some issues (such as physical intimacy or infidelity) deteriorate in silence. It is difficult to heal a relationship if you are unwilling to talk about where it hurts.
I never tire of seeing the amazing changes couples make in the therapy office. Two people who seemed far apart become intimate allies. Through marriage counseling, many couples learn to communicate better not only with each other but with everyone else around them. Partners are free to love and be loved, can dream again, and are excited about what is in store. People on the outside of their newly constructed, safer relationship bubble typically notice the changes even before the couple does. In my experience, most couples who experience healing say they wished they would have started much sooner. Many remark that the issues that brought them to therapy were catalysts to the changes they have needed for years.
Marriage counseling comes with no guarantees. Even the most gifted therapist cannot promise you will live happily ever after. Coming into the therapeutic relationship prepared to advocate for your relationship is paramount in rebuilding. It takes both of you to decide to do what it takes to help your marriage thrive.
When counseling works, the results are amazing. But it takes effort on the part of everyone involved to get there.
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