What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility. – George Levinger
We all know romantic relationships are hard work. Like a garden, the relationship needs repeated attention, watering, weeding, and fertilizing to keep it healthy. It is always better to invest in problem prevention by addressing it early than to invest much more later when there is a major breakdown. Regular maintenance and tune ups are the key to a great marriage to eliminate or minimize greater conflicts later.
Many times, a couple can address the basic maintenance and repairs on their own. Other times, however, even with sincere effort, professional outside assessment and treatment may be necessary to help the couple. Many people take more routine care of their houses and cars than they do of their own marriage.
Unfortunately, many couples wait until much damage has been done and negative relational patterns have become established. This weakens the prior strong emotional, verbal, and behavioral bonds, which contributes to layering of unresolved differences and resentment. Some researchers suggest that couples wait as much as six years before pursuing couples counseling.
Some couples have misunderstandings about what couple’s therapy is and how it works. This may inhibit many from obtaining counseling earlier because they may believe it is only for serious problems, such as addiction or affairs. This often leads to a final effort before a divorce. Other couples believe that they can drag their marriage partner to counseling so that the counselor can prove how right they are and how wrong their partner is.
I need two major items to occur in couples counseling.
- Each person must be willing to look in the mirror and face his or her own contribution to the problem and be willing to identify ways to fix it instead of blaming the other.
- Each person has made the decision to stay in the relationship, not just evaluate whether they should still be in the relationship. If you are undecided seek individual counseling first to determine your willingness to work in couples counseling.
So, what Exactly Is Couples Therapy?
Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy or treatment in which a therapist with educational training and clinical experience working with couples, such as a Licensed Professional Counselor, helps each person in the couple obtain more insight into their relationship, resolve conflict more productively, and improve relationship satisfaction utilizing a variety of therapeutic interventions. Although the practice of couples counseling may vary depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, all couples therapy tends to involve the following common elements:
- Identification of a specific problem (an affair, control, sexual misunderstandings, etc.)
- Active counselor participation in treating the whole relationship, not just the individual.
- Solution-focused, short term change-oriented interventions employed at treatment inception.
- Clear formation of treatment goals.
You’ve decided to get counseling for your marriage. Now what?
First, let me congratulate you on being a great investor. You are making the right decision to invest in your relationship, which may pay dividends for your lifetime and that of your children and grandchildren. Second, see how can counseling make a difference.
My effective couples counseling utilizes the following strategies to help you resolve your issues:
- Assists you and your partner to see your relationship more objectively.
- Gives you both tools to identify and change dysfunctional behavior so you can choose healthier communication styles and connect positively with each other.
- Reduces the tendency to avoid each other emotionally so a safe environment can be created in which you and your partner may communicate his or her thoughts/feelings.
- Improves communication. Effective couple’s counseling will provide you the guidance needed for utilizing the best tools for communicating. (Communicating with each other should never be abusive and each partner should feel the freedom to express his or her true thought/feelings without fear of ridicule).
- Assesses each partner’s strengths and helps you and your partner build on those strengths to increase enjoyment in your relationship.
The above information is adapted from Benson, McGinn, & Christensen (2012). Common principles of couple therapy. Behavior Therapy, 43(1), 25-35.
Christian Marriage Counseling
If you desire Christian marriage counseling, I provide insights on a biblical understanding of a husband – wife relationship and would be glad to assist you in making the right choice for a Christian marriage counselor. Just because a person refers to herself as a Christian therapist does not necessarily mean she is Christian in beliefs and practices.
Here are some questions to ask your Christian counselor to help you decide if they share the same biblical values as you and your spouse:
- Are you recognized and recommended by a Christian organization and the local church community? I am by Focus on the Family and our local church.
- Do you attend church regularly? I do. What activities are you involved with at church? Do you teach a class or participate in service activities? I am involved with ongoing regular church attendance, life group attendance, and discipling projects.
- Who is your minister or pastor? Do you feel uncomfortable with the prospect of me talking to your pastor? You are welcome to speak with my pastor about me.
- Do you have a statement of faith? Yes, I do. It is essentially the Apostle’s Creed. Do your beliefs conflict with mine? Call me to discuss if needed.
- What do you believe about marriage and divorce? I believe that the husband and wife make a covenant with God and with each other to work together for life.
- Do you encourage reconciliation and offer therapeutic services to couples toward that end? Yes, I do.
- Do you use prayer and Scripture in your practice? Yes, I do.
- If a counselor seems reluctant or uncomfortable in answering these questions, feel free to seek other recommendations from trusted Christian advisors such as church leaders, staff, Sunday school teachers, denominational boards, etc. I will answer any questions you have before our first appointment if you wish.
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