Marriage counseling can save your marriage, prepare you for the stress of a baby, help you communicate more effectively, and get you on track for a lifetime of love. But when marriage counseling doesn’t work, it’s like throwing away money. This can make marriage problems even worse; studies show that many couples tend to fight often about money, and the false hope given by bad marital therapy can lead to despair and increased conflict.
If you need help in your relationship, it’s usually not enough to pick the first therapist you find online or on your insurance plan. Not every marriage counselor works well for every couple, and couples seeking help need to find someone who works for their specific situation.
Reputation and Recommendations
Recommendations from friends and other people you trust can be a great starting point for finding a therapist. If you’ve noticed meaningful change in someone else’s relationship, the odds are good that his or her therapist is doing something right.
If you can’t rely on recommendations from friends, read online reviews and check out discipline records with licensing boards. A therapist with a stellar reputation—particularly one who has been in practice for several years—is likely one who has a long history of helping couples wade through difficulties.
Marriage counselors each have their own approach to marriage. Some draw on biblical principles, while others are influenced by feminism and humanism. You don’t need to agree with your therapist about everything, but you do need a therapist who shares your core values.
If you and your spouse are struggling to build an egalitarian relationship in which you share chores, you need a therapist who recognizes this goal as important and who has helped similar couples. If you’re deeply religious, you need someone who understands the important role faith plays in your marriage. If you start therapy and your counselor makes a recommendation that runs counter to your core values, find someone else.
A therapist isn’t a paid friend. And while marriage counselors can serve as referees and mediators, this should not be their only role. Your therapist should have a specific strategy for helping you move past marital issues.
Ask your therapist how he or she wants to proceed with treatment, and if there’s a specific therapeutic modality he or she uses. After you’re in therapy, if you don’t feel like the therapist takes control and directs the session, it may not be a good fit.
In therapy, many people want results without having to make lifestyle changes. If your therapist doesn’t call you on problematic behaviors or make suggestions about what you can do at home in between therapy sessions, he or she might not be proactive enough to help you navigate the storms of marriage.
After you’re in counseling, the key measure of success is results. Your marriage won’t be changed after one session or even five, but if you’re slogging out your differences in therapy week after week with no change, it’s time to move on.
Some people get stuck with an ineffective therapist because they like the therapist or because they’re not carefully monitoring results. But good counseling works, and if you don’t notice changes within a few months, find someone else.
Questions to Ask
A good therapist will happily answer your questions, so if you struggle to get information, this is a glaring red flag. Some questions to consider asking in your first few sessions include:
- How long have you been in practice?
- How do you define success? How will we know we’re making progress?
- How long can we expect to be in therapy?
- How much of your practice is devoted to marriage counseling?
- What is your background and training?
- Do you think divorce is ever an option? Would you ever recommend divorce?
- Harley, W. F., Jr. (n.d.). How to find a good marriage counselor. Marriage Builders. Retrieved from http://www.marriagebuilders.com/graphic/mbi7100_counselor.html
- Meineke, S. A. (n.d.). How to choose a marriage counselor. Center for Marriage. Retrieved from http://www.centerformarriage.com/how_to_choose_marriage_counselor.html
- Questions to ask a marriage therapist. (n.d.). The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists. Retrieved from http://www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com/questionstoaskatherapist.php
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