Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What You Can Expect From Marriage Counseling



Marriage counseling is a process in which two committed partners meet with a therapist to improve their relationship. Prior to entering marital therapy, consider how you would like your relationship to improve. Answer this question, "If marriage counseling were successful, how would your relationship be different than it is now?"

Look at your answer to this question and ask yourself, "Have I described a change in my relationship or changes I want from my partner?" Do not enter marriage counseling unless your focus is on changing your relationship. A good marriage counselor will not fall into the trap of doing two-for-one psychotherapy. The focus must stay on changing your interaction, not you or your spouse. Granted, changing the way you interact can have a profound effect on each of you, but this is not the focus of marriage counseling.

In the first session, you will be expected to describe how you view your relationship, as will your partner. Often partners use this time to defend themselves or attack their partner. This is counterproductive. Personalize your description of the relationship - tell what you see and what it feels like to be in your marriage.

Be prepared to listen. Marriage counseling is not the Judge Judy Show. Don't expect to present your case and have the counselor pronounce you guilty or innocent. Instead, listen to your partner's description of the relationship and open yourself to a different perspective. Tell yourself, "There is more than one view of our marriage and I need to understand my partner's perspective before I can expect him or her understand my perspective."

Expect your counselor to behave differently than the counselors you have seen on television and in films. In the media, counselors are almost always doing individual therapy and they focus on dramatic expression of feelings. In marriage counseling, feelings of anger, frustration and hurt can be detrimental to the process if delivered too early in the process. Marriage counseling is as much about how you share feelings as it is about what your feelings are. Learning to express feelings in a vulnerable way and learning how to listen to your partner's feelings are important tools of the marriage counseling process.

Marriage counseling is not a dual (or should I say duel) psychological evaluation. The marriage counselor is not trying to determine you and your partner's psychological health - or lack thereof. Instead, the counselor will try to determine each's commitment to working on improving the relationship and whether each is willing to accept personal responsibility for improving the marriage.

Marriage counseling identifies the barriers to a mutually satisfying relationship. Expect to come away with practical ways that you can be a better partner and trust that your partner will also be similarly challenged. Don't expect to see change happen immediately as each partner will offer small changes and wait to see if their partner is also willing to change.

Marriage counseling requires a mutual commitment. When one partner's commitment is uncertain, then counseling focuses on creating an environment for improving decision making before focusing on how the relationship can improve. I term this situation to be a marital crisis and have written a book, Crumbling Commitment: Managing a Marital Crisis for couples in crisis.



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4 comments:

Frank said...

My friends, a married couple, recently consulted a respected counselor. They really don't have any big problem, but as far as I understand, they want to make their relationship even stronger and they want to lessen the differences they are having. I think that marital counseling is an objective, unbiased view about what's going on in the relationship. My couple friends also read marriage counseling books to help them along the way.

Dr. Horton, in your opinion, what's the most important characteristic that a counselor should have when it comes to assessing troubled marriages? Thank you.

Lee Horton, Ph.D. said...

Frank,
First, the counselor needs to have been trained in doing marriage counseling, not just individual counseling - they are different skills.

Second, the marriage counselor must be able to direct the session. It is easy for couples interaction to deteriorate as they try to share their dissatisfaction and frustrations with each other.

Frank said...

I see. In essense, the counselor should good in being the mediator between the couple. Thank you, Dr. Horton!

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