The ideal marriage…
Does not exist. Ideally, marriage would be a long, blissful life together with a partner you respect and love. But the reality for many couples is something different.
All relationships and marriages go through ups and downs. These bumps can be caused by many factors–finances, different politics, different friendships outside of the marriage, job and career stress, children and other relatives–practically everything and anything can be disruptive to a marriage.
Often times, couples can work out the problems which inevitably arise in a marriage. However, sometimes those problems can seem too serious, too involved or just plain too messy for the couple to come up with a solution by themselves.
It is at that point, and sometimes before that point, where marriage counseling can be a very positive step to take in order to find a solution for couples.
What exactly is marital or marriage counseling?
Marital or marriage counseling–both terms are interchangeable. You may have heard these words before, but what exactly do they mean? It is important to have a clear understanding of what these terms mean before proceeding.
The well-respected Mayo Clinic defines marriage counseling like this:
“Marriage counseling helps couples of all types recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Through marriage counseling, you can make thoughtful decisions about rebuilding and strengthening your relationship or going your separate ways.”
An up close and personal look
Okay, now that marital counseling has been defined, let’s take a look at a specific example where marital counseling proved to save a marriage.
Zack and Benicia, both professionals in their early 30’s, knew that their marriages were in trouble when they could not agree as to where to spend their upcoming summer holiday. This decision had never been a problem before; in fact, discussing where to go for their annual trip had always been an enjoyable activity.
This time though, there was discord. Zack would suggest someplace, Benicia would nix it, Benicia would offer up her idea, and Zack would find a reason to dismiss it. Clearly, there was something going on below the surface.
Soon, all sorts of disagreements arose, and what had been small-scale conflicts, had escalated into something neither before had experienced in their married life: open hostility towards each other.
Benicia stated, “I can’t believe that Zack is being so obstinate.” Zack had much the same to say about Benicia, “She can’t even make a simple decision.”
Benicia’s best friend suggested marital therapy, and willing to try anything, she started researching this. Finally, Benicia suggested marital therapy to Zack, and fortunately for their marriage, he agreed to it.
But how did they find a good marital counselor? Benicia asked friends, Zack did online research, and together they made phone calls and found a counselor who helped set their marriage back on course.
How do you find a good marital counselor? Take these steps:
Finding the right marriage counselor will take research. Do not just make an appointment with the first name you come across. You should:
- Look at the credentials of all potential therapists. You do not want a counselor who is a graduate of Whatsamatta U or another less than a reputable institution. Additionally, make sure the counselor has training specific to the areas you feel need addressing.
- Find out what the fees will be. Many counselors have sliding scale fees.
- Ask lots of questions.
- Is the counselor a member of any professional groups?
- Which organization accredited his or her practice?
- How long has she or he been in practice?
- Will your insurance be accepted?
- Is there a success rate?
- How many sessions are typically planned?
What happens in marital counseling
The approach, strategies, and techniques a marital counselor utilize depend on the individual couple’s needs, and the specific training and background the counselor has.
No matter which approach the counselor uses, both individuals must speak openly and honestly in their sessions so as to get the most out of them.
A good counselor will encourage honest and thoughtful dialogue and will know how to deal with highly emotional issues. The counselor will show compassion and empathy for both sides, and provide a supportive safe environment where grievances, hurts, and conflicts can be discussed. The counselor will maintain control and not take sides.
He or she will not allow interruptions or for one of the partners to speak for or over the other partner.
Couples who are invested in improving their marriage will work with the counselor to find solutions that both partners agree are solutions. At this point, marital counseling can be deemed a success and is over.
Back to Zack and Benicia
It took Zack and Benicia several months of every other week counseling to iron out their problems. Their marital counselor skillfully worked with them and helped them realize their individual grievances which had been simmering underneath their seemingly happy marriage–the marriage that had been quietly unraveling until the vacation choices brought tensions to the surface and brought them to a counselor.
Zack and Benicia ultimately chose their annual vacation spot–they chose to go back to where they spent their honeymoon: Honolulu, where they impulsively chose to renew their vows.
Benicia enthusiastically stated, “It was even better than the first time! We both know each other so much better now. Marital counseling really helped us open up to each other and establish better communication.”
Zack smiled, and added, “Once we started counseling, I could see some of our issues clearer. And Hawaii, well, what better vacation spot exists? Who knows where we will go next year, but I can’t wait to start discussing options!”