By David Joel Miller.
Are there reasons to avoid Marriage Counseling?
Marriage counseling can save your marriage. It can also hasten the end to that relationship. I see many couples who have used marriage counseling to strength and improve their relationship. There are also those couples, up to half of all couples who attend couples counseling, who end up divorcing soon after the marriage counseling experience.
How can you tell if you are one of those couples that can be helped by marriage counseling or if you are one of those couples where attending a counseling session might end your relationship?
Here are reasons some people need to avoid marriage counseling.
1. You want the Marriage Counselor to decide who is right and who is wrong.
Specifically, you want the therapist to tell your partner that they are the one causing the problem.
If you want a right and wrong decision, see a judge for the divorce. Couplehood is a partnership. To be effective the counselor needs to stay neutral and rather than solving problems for you, they need to help you learn ways to resolve these disagreements in a more positive way.
2. You want the counselor to change your partner.
Change is an inside job. Changing a relationship requires the people involved to each work on changing themselves.
3. You have already decided to divorce and you want to prove that you did all you can to save the marriage.
A significant number of clients come to the first therapy session already having decided that they want a divorce. They want to be able to say to their friends and family that they did all they could. The truth is they didn’t want to fix or save this relationship.
If you already have your stuff packed and plan to move on no matter what happens in therapy, going for marriage counseling is just one more trial that you will need to get over to start your new life.
Counseling can be helpful when both parties know that this is coming and they are trying to work out some end of relationship issues, like co-parenting.
Counselors can and do work in the area of divorce counseling. But before you turn your marriage counseling session into negotiating a divorce talk to the lawyer types first.
4. You are making your partner go so you can punish them for their misdeeds.
The couple shows up for counseling often at the insistence of one partner who has demanded that they attend counseling as a condition of staying together. This can work if both parties are committed to changing themselves and things in their relationship.
What will not work is to inflict X sessions of therapy in which one partner beats the other up over the “guilty” person’s transgressions.
If there was an affair you can work on the reasons it happened in the first place or how to rebuild the relationship and trust. What is not helpful is just to use counseling as a way to flog the affair partner for their misdeeds.
An ordeal in the therapy room results in more resentments in the relationship and addition problems in the future.
5. You expect everything to happen in the sessions and are opposed to doing any “homework” outside of sessions.
Relationships need maintenance. Sometimes in sessions, you can get some of the “garbage” out. You can also learn some new ideal relationship skills.
What you are likely to hear in the couples counseling session is that relationships take work. You need to make repair efforts when things go wrong and there is work to do to maintain a relationship.
Expect that your convalescent period for an ailing relationship will include homework and skills practice you need to do outside the counseling session.
A good marriage counselor will make suggestions and may well suggest some homework assignments outside of session. Do not expect your therapist to do all the work. You need to practice good relationship skills between sessions.
6. There are topics that are off-limits and you are unwilling to talk about.
Couples come to therapy saying they have poor “communication” and they want to learn to communicate better. The next part of this conversation is that there are topics they do not want to talk about.
Some topics probably should be off the table. You like coffee and your partner is a tea drinker. You can share and each try the others beverage or you can fight forever over who is right. Some disagreements have no resolution and it is a waste of time to continue to fight over things for which there is no solution.
The off the table topics that cause relationship counseling to be unproductive are the big issues that stand in the way of having a good relationship.
Additions, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, pornography, those things undermine any relationship. So you come to couples counseling and say you want to communicate better, only he won’t talk about his drinking and she won’t discuss her affair.
Is this situation likely to get better? Not unless the unresolved issues get handled. That resolution could be he stops drinking or tries to anyway. It could also be that she just has to accept she married an alcoholic and accept that if she wants to stay married. Either way, the topic can’t be off the table if they want this relationship to get better.
7. You expect your partner to do all the work and make all the changes.
A relationship involves people, more than one, so any real change in your relationship will involve both of you making changes. If you think that your partner changing will solve all the problems consider that each year we see a great many people who divorce and remarry.
Before long those new relationships are fighting and there may be second, and third divorces.
Pick a partner and you get a set of problems. Learn problem-solving in your relationship, not problems switching.
8. Your relationship is not worth the cost of marriage counseling.
Marriage counseling is often not covered by insurance. If you are mentally ill your medical insurance should cover treatment. But if you are unhappy do not expect the insurance company to pay for dating services or marriage counseling.
A lot of people who spend a great amount of time complaining about their relationship are unwilling to spend money to work through their conflicts.
Before you say you can’t afford couples counseling, consider that the average couples come in about six times. The cost of six or even twelve sessions with most therapists would not equal the cost of the retainer for the divorce lawyer.
How much is it worth to you to end your relationship? How much might it be worth to transform the relationship you have into the one you would like?
9. You already have a replacement partner lined up.
If you already have a new partner waiting in the wings. Not much rational thinking takes place in the early stages of love. After six to eighteen months the love neurochemicals wear off. At that point, you will discover that this new partner is a lot less perfect than you thought. But while you are in the throes of a new love it is hard to see the good things you are leaving behind.
If you can’t give yourself a year or two to try to work out the problems in the current relationship – well then you will get to do the work later.
Marriage or relationship counseling can be very helpful in transforming a relationship into the one you want. But if you go into relationship counseling with any of the 9 problems listed above your are not likely to get much help from being in couples therapy and the therapy may well leave you with one extra “relationship trauma” to deal with after your relationship ends.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.