How A Marriage Counselor Can Help Your Relationship
By: Jon Jaehnig
Updated March 02, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC
Do you or your partner feel like you have been struggling to communicate with each other, trust one another, or regain your intimacy? This may seem scary, but it certainly isn't unusual.
All married couples struggle to maintain their relationship with their partner at some point in their relationship.
Most married couples will try to handle these problems on their own, and many will succeed. However, the cause or causes of an issue or stress in the relationship may not be obvious to either partner. This can make it difficult for people to get to the roots of their relationship problems on their own.
This is why seeking help from a marriage counselor can be greatly beneficial - to both of you as individuals and to the relationship as a whole. A marriage counselor does not have a stake in the relationship and can, therefore, give couples tools to strengthen their relationship and provide an unbiased space for communication to occur.
However, just like some people find that it is best to talk to a therapist before they or those around them start to notice mental health issues, some couples find that it is helpful to talk to a marriage counselor before they start to notice problems in their relationship. In this way, marriage counseling can look more like a preventative check-up with your doctor than corrective surgery for a problem.
Who Should Seek Counseling?
The most common reasons couples seek the help of a marriage counselor is because they feel they are growing apart from their partner or are experiencing disagreements in the relationship.
Many things can cause these problems, including having children, experiencing a traumatic event, or being very busy with other things, including work. In fact, some people start to feel this way even without any obvious relationship changes because the people within the relationship are changing and growing. This is a natural and healthy part of long-term relationships, but it can also seem scary. Instead of feeling scary, it should feel exciting, and a marriage counselor can help you and your partner to navigate this space and the emotions that can come with it.
No matter why you want to seek marriage counseling, it is important to seek counseling before either member of the relationship feels the marriage cannot be saved. Many couples wait an average of 6 years to seek counseling after problems arise, increasing the chance that counseling will be less effective. In some unfortunate cases, this can lead the couple to blame the counselor for not being able to save the relationship. To return to our medical analogy, this would be like contracting a disease but ignoring it for several years and blaming your doctor when they couldn't treat the condition.
Going to a counselor before it feels like it is too late plays another important role as well: it keeps you and your partner from being afraid of the marriage counselor. If you see the marriage counselor as the last step of a marriage falling apart, having a healthy relationship with your marriage counselor and productively approaching marriage counseling can become increasingly difficult. You should be able to consider your marriage counselor as an active part in maintaining the health of a relationship, not just someone who swoops in to announce the cause of death.
A Marriage Counselor Can Even Help Healthy Couples
As discussed above, marriage counseling is not just for couples who are experiencing issues. Some couples choose to seek counseling to maintain a healthy relationship.
Further, it may be difficult for some couples to speak about serious issues without an unbiased third party involved. Some couples may also seek counseling to be proactive about a forthcoming stressor such as adopting a child. Getting in the habit of speaking with a marriage counselor will prepare couples when issues arise. It will also give them tools that they can use when these issues arise so that these issues do not become more serious.
Marriage counseling can be like antibiotics. Even though you may feel better after taking only half the dose, the full dose must be taken to ensure the infection is gone. Couples who feel like they are benefiting from marriage counseling may leave counseling too early, and before all the issues are resolved. It is best for couples to stay in counseling to maintain the positive relationship that is being created.
What Happens In Marriage Counseling?
When couples do decide to seek counseling, they may be unprepared for what is required both in and outside of session.
Counselors will likely give each partner tips and tasks to complete outside of the sessions. It would be counterproductive for couples to resort to old habits and forget the lessons learned within sessions as soon as they get home. This exercise helps the couples to learn the tools that the marriage counselor is using rather than trying to rely on the marriage counselor to fix all of their problems for them. Sometimes, just doing these exercises can also make couples feel better because they make them feel like the problem is being worked on.
While a counselor is there to help and guide couples, it is not their job to repair the marriage or even decide if you and your partner should remain together. Couples might associate the counselor's office with positivity and trying hard to make the marriage work, but lose these associations once home.
The Uninterested Observer
We've gotten at it a couple of times in this article already, but one of the main roles of the marriage counselor is that of the disinterested observer. Going to someone who does not have a personal stake in the relationship can be helpful in several ways.
For one thing, your marriage counselor will have little idea of how your relationship works. This may sound like a disadvantage - and in some ways, it is - but it also gives the marriage counselor a set of fresh eyes. This is especially true in the case of older relationships. When we've been doing things a certain way for a long time, we can fall into a pattern of doing things that way simply because it is familiar to us. This kind of behavior can prevent us from seeing better options, even when they are right in front of us. Working with an outside member can help partners in a relationship to discover new ways of looking at things.
Another benefit of the marriage counselor as an uninterested third party is that they meet with couples all the time, and it's their job to know and to recognize what works and what doesn't. Have you and your partner ever seen an aspect of another couple's relationship in person or on television and thought, "That's a cool idea. We should try to do that in our relationship."? Well, marriage counselors have just about seen it all. The idea that they teach out of books is often just a defense or complaint by people who don't want to be in marriage counseling. The fact is that marriage counselors have loads of experience inside and outside of the office, and they can help to bring that experience into your relationship.
Finally, the marriage counselor also doesn't have a personal stake in the relationship. This can help them to point out things that we don't want to see even when they are right in front of us. Sometimes, we know that we are the cause of a problem - or our brains prevent us from seeing this - because we are defensive. When we don't want to be wrong or don't want to admit that we are wrong, it poses an obstacle to solving the problems that are keeping us from being happy. A marriage counselor can help us to understand when we are the cause of the problems that we are trying to solve. This can be difficult, but if it saves the relationship, it's worth it. As the great British humorist Douglas Adams once wrote, "I'd rather be happy than right any day."
Have You and Your Partner Thought About Online Marriage Counseling?
If you have thought about marriage counseling, that's wonderful. However, it's likely that you haven't considered all of your options. For example, did you know that many couples now attend marriage counseling over the internet? It may sound foreign and strange, but it's not that odd for the times that we live in. After all, you've probably been in a video call at work or even met remotely with a healthcare provider who works out of the area. Online marriage counseling is no different from these technologies.
In online marriage counseling, you and your partner can be at home while speaking to a certified counselor as well as continue the conversation once you have logged off. Online counseling also allows scheduling flexibility and the option to choose from many certified marriage counselors to find the best fit for you and your partner. That is opposed to marriage counseling in-person where your geographic location may limit the options that you have available. This is especially true in rural areas where couples may have to travel to the nearest population center to see a marriage counselor or to have access to a marriage counselor other than the one or two that may be available in their home town. After all, all relationships are different, and sometimes a marriage counselor isn't right for you.
To learn more about starting online marriage counseling and the benefit that it can have for you and your relationship, click on the link above.