Marriage Counseling 101: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go
Looking to find ways to save your marriage and see if you can still work things out?
I get you.
In this guide I've collected the best advice from couples who went through therapy and they share their stories.
If you'll afterwards still want to go on to find a marriage counseling, you'll go there being a lot more informed as before.
And hey, what if some of the advice brings the hope or idea how to solve it yourselves? 👋
Or maybe you'll just understand that no amount of counseling will help and you better just part your ways.
Here's what we're going to cover:
- Does Marriage Counseling Work?
- How Does Marriage Counseling Work?
- Real Stories From People Who Went To Marriage Counseling & Share How It Turned Out.
Let's start with this story… which was answered by a marriage counselor…
It will give you an insight how a good kind of couples therapy could look like:
How often is it clearly one person in the relationship who is the problem?
“I have seen couples in therapy for many, many years.
I learned early on that the problem is usually an interaction effect.
As I tell people, it’s like bleach and ammonia — two excellent things that simply become toxic when mixed together.
Years ago in addiction treatment — we had the coke addict husband and the wife who really didn’t want him to recover because the coke meant 10K income per month (early 1980's).
Who’s the problem?
We have the cheater and the spouse who hasn’t wanted to have sex in the marriage for 10 years.
Who’s the problem?
Who created that distance, who perpetuated it? What happened to create this schism?
We have the one-income household and the spouse who had no idea this called for a 1950s lifestyle where the stay-at-home took care of the household responsibilities like kids, cooking, and cleaning.
They never negotiated what their one-income household would look like.
Who’s the problem?
To answer your question, I would say I can pick out the “problem” person perhaps 20% of the time.
Usually it is truly an interaction effect, two people who simply do horribly as a couple.
Sometimes I can see very clearly that one person is Over It.
Nothing anyone can do to save this relationship.
Most of the time I can see what broke in the couple.
I would say it rarely one person’s fault. I definitely tell the truth to the couple as to what I am seeing, fully aware that I am a new visitor to their life, fully aware that I could be totally wrong.
Usually what I have in my office is two people wanting to be heard.”
#1 — Does Marriage Counseling Work?
And here are different stories from people who went through counseling and they share their stories.
Every story is different and for each case there is a different solution.
But maybe you will here a part of your story in there that will help and resonate…
“I hated couples therapy. It didn’t do any good. “
“My husband is an intimacy anorexic, no sex for years at a time, no touching, no sharing emotionally.
Sorry but HE is messed up.
Couples counselor wanted to assign equal blame in the relationship.
She said she fights for the relationship (not what’s best for each.)
When I told her the issues and we hadn’t had sex in 3 1/2 years she said every couple has what works for them and we were a little out of the norm.
She didn’t validate my feelings at all.
Her answer was always, “ just talk and figure out what works for you both.”
Not that he is withholding in every way and it’s emotionally abusive. She told us to come back to her with a plan for our relationship.
I quit seeing her and am planning on divorcing.
Thank God I have a great individual therapist who tells it like it is and that this is NOT normal, nor am I getting anything from the relationship.”
“I would say it depends a lot on the counsellor. “
“I’d recommend looking for one with specialized in EFT, Gottman technique, or Crucible therapy.
A standard psychologist, with a weekend seminar in sex therapy, is less than useless.”
“I’m not a big fan of therapy. “
I’ve been to therapy, loved ones have been to therapy, and I have never seen any benefit from it.
If you look at the research on evidence-based therapies, it’s barely better than SSRIs, and those are barely more effective than placebos.
Plus most real-life therapists don’t really do evidence-based therapies.
Most of them identify as “eclectic”.
I think you can get more benefit from a really good, $12 self-help book than from many expensive sessions of therapy.”
“I went to therapy for a long time and it really helped me. “
I think some of the things I got from it was learning to open up to someone, to experience being vulnerable and eventually becoming comfortable with it, and learning to communicate my thoughts and feelings to someone.
It also taught me how to be more self reflective, that emotions don’t happen in a vacuum, there are thoughts/beliefs behind them, that once you dig down, it can make it easier to understand your own feelings and behavior better (and in some ways my own true motivations).
I went through different therapists though, some were useless, and the last one was a master at pushing my emotional buttons, I swear he could read my mind, knew what I was thinking and always pushed me to talk about the hard stuff.”
#2 — How Does Marriage Counseling Work?
This story sums up the good kind of marriage counseling the best.
Therapist is not there to fix your problems, he's there to moderate the conversation, help you see things.
“I think people have a mistaken view of what a therapist is for — they are not going to fix your problems.”
“They should be an impartial sounding board that helps you to reframe ideas and explore consequences of decisions you may be planning to make, but they shouldn’t be telling you what to do or what is right for you.
I view a couples counselor as an impartial mediator for disputes who can listen to you, help if something is reasonable/unreasonable in expectation, and you can have the confidence that they will not spill your troubles to other people.
I do disagree that you shouldn’t ever talk to family and friends about your marriage issues.
That can be very isolating and denies you access to needed support.
Finding a good therapist can be hard. Maybe we could work as a sub on a good set of interview questions/criteria for a good therapist.
I think most importantly, if you don’t like/trust your therapist, then you should find a new one.
If you can’t be honest with the therapist, then it’s not going to do anyone any good.
A good therapist can be invaluable.
A bad therapist can make things worse potentially, though it could be also that it is just magnifying the negative issues more and the relationship needed to end anyway.
Some of the statistics are really not very valid because of the different ways and reasons people go to therapy — many couples will have therapy before the end of the marriage as a last ditch attempt.
That doesn’t mean therapy is to blame or the therapist failed.
And when we did divorce counseling, before we talked about any details of separating our lives, he made sure we came to an agreement about what our goals were in the separation — to make it as easy on the kids as possible.
Then when we got bogged down in the details and lost perspective, he was able to help is reframe the discussion and make sure we were putting the correct value on things.
(I love the kitchaid stand mixer, but if fighting over it was going be extended and I was going to be not able to use it much anyway, then it maybe wasn’t worth the stress to me to fight it, and there was something else that we both wanted and he could maybe give that item to me.)
An example from my experience, and I remember this one clearly because it was the turning point that made me decide to separate, there were other instances where the argument didn’t go “my way”.
I come home from work around 5pm.
I pull my car into the garage and immediately smell gas.
I’m panicked. I open the door — the dogs are definitely not as active as they usually are.
I’m worried that everyone else is unconscious somewhere, because that’s the only possibility in my mind how this could be happening.
I start calling for them to find them, to find that they are watching TV or reading or something else, conscious, ok.
All the windows and doors in the house are closed. I immediately start opening everything to air out the gas as I prepare to evacuate.
I tell ex-husband that we need to get out, there’s a gas leak.
He responds with “oh, I found one of the burners on high with the pilot light out a couple hours ago. I don’t know how it got left on/pilot light went out”.
I asked if he could smell the gas — he confirmed he could.
I keep opening doors and windows and turning on fans. I asked him why he didn’t open any windows or doors.
He shrugged, he figured he turned off the burner, that was enough.
I was furious because with such a strong gas smell, there was clearly a good amount of gas in the house and it could have ignited.
Even if it that wasn’t true, it’s not good to breathe it in for extended periods of time.
When we got to the therapist later to discuss this issue, I presented my POV, ex-husband presented his POV, and therapist facilitated the discussion.
He was able to get me to clarify to ex-husband that I wasn’t mad about the burner being left on, because I know that can happen to anyone.
What I was mad about was there was a potentially dangerous situation, he didn’t think it through and put him, the kids and the pets in danger, and that I can’t rely on him to make good decisions and think them through.
As ex-husband continued to deny doing anything wrong and just focus that I was wrong for yelling and losing my temper, we were coming to the sort of impasse that would happen without a mediator.
Therapist spoke to me and asked me questions about how ex-husband felt and whether my anger actually helped the situation at all, and how it could feel belittling.
And with the reframing, I could see that more clearly.
Therapist went to ex-husband and asked about the incident and what he could have done differently, and he kept defending that since I had never told him what to do in such a situation, it wasn’t fair for me to expect him to know.
Therapist continued questioning, trying to get ex husband to see that it was a reasonable expectation to think that someone would smell something in the house, and would then try and air out the house.
Ex husband steadfastly refused to acknowledge that.
For me, it was helpful to have earlier to show how my losing my temper/yelling wasn’t positively impacting the fight and that it was working counter to my goals, and the validation that I wasn’t being unreasonable like his claims, about what a person should be expected to know to do in such a situation.
I just remember the therapist asking my ex husband something to the effect,
“Can’t you see, even a little bit, how it could have been scary and frustrating and why it would be reasonable to expect someone to open doors/windows?”
And ex husband said no.
Having the third party recognize that while I wasn’t perfect in the interaction, I wasn’t asking unreasonable behavior was helpful for me to be able to make the decision that things needed to end.
Therapist never suggested that, he just helped me figure out my own feelings.”
Real Stories From People Who Went To Marriage Counseling & Share How It Turned Out
I wanted to share this real experience that happened on Tony Robbins event.
A couple stood up, opened their souls, flaws and Tony was able to help them.
It's amazing transformation and great perspective to maybe your own story?
And now…here are some other people experiences:
“Years ago we had Christian couple’s counseling. “
“Went well on the surface. We improved on our communication problems. Didn’t resolve our root issues of difference of faith though. I went on faking it and trying to make her happy. She went on oblivious.
Nonchristian counseling would have been better, but I’m not sure they would have gotten to the root issues either.
I was still pretty immature and willing to lie to everyone, including myself, to make everyone happy.
All that said I’d still recommend it.
The communication skills I learned helped immensely not only in our relationship, but in life in general.
I saw it said somewhere that the goal of counseling shouldn’t be to fix the marriage, but to gain a better understanding of yourself and your spouse (or STBX).
In doing so maybe you can fix the marriage.
Maybe you can’t. Either way you’ll be better off after counseling.”
“We went a couple of years before we split up. “
“Found out later, this was also while she was cheating on me.
She made the whole problem between us into me farting too much and not putting the toilet seat down.
I held it in and put the toilet seat down and she said things were fine so we stopped going.
I was still miserable.
Finally came out that she cheated (continued to cheat, with more guys) and the marriage imploded.
Every girlfriend I’ve had since has greatly appreciated my toilet etiquette. Jokes on you, ex!
I am becoming something of an expert in therapy.
Both kids have been to therapists, I’ve gone to “couples counseling” during and after the divorce with the ex in an effort to reason with her for the benefit of the kids.
I’ve gone to family therapy with all of us and my own therapist(s) as well. It helps.
Between the therapists and lawyers over the last few years, I feel like an honorary therapist/lawyer.
I should do mediation now.”
“We went, but this was after/during her affair so it wasn’t useful to us as a couple because she didn’t want it to be.”
“That being said it was incredibly useful for me as an individual and gave me a much better look at where I’d actually let the ball drop in the marriage, and where I was beating myself up over nothing.
It really let me see my marriage for what I had known it was the whole time.
Counseling is never wasted effort as long as you go in with humility and the desire to grow as a person.”
“I think the main thing is you’ve both gotta be in it, or it doesn’t work.”
“I don’t even mean you both need to want to marriage to work (I think we’re both on the fence about that, him a bit more so than me), but you need to want the counseling to work.
It’s definitely not a magic bullet that will fix things and you both need to want it, not just one person, and you need to be honest about things.
We don’t have solutions, and think we might actually be closer to separating than before, but our communication has literally improved 100%.”
“Unless you are both willing to work on things, don’t even bother wasting the money. “
“It took over a year for me to convince my wife to go to counseling.
All it did was make things worse.
My wife took everything she said about her as an attack and everything that was said about me as justification of her actions.
I really tried and part of me feels like a failure, but the logical side knows it takes two.”
Bringing It All Together
I hope these stories helped to you.
But in short:
You both need to want to make it work.
Not even marriage.
Make counseling work. If you are able to both go there with open mind, you'll learn something.
Try to find a good counselor, who has specialised in EFT, Gottman technique, or Crucible therapy. These are used by the better marriage counselors.
If nothing else…and you just want to be heard Reddit “DeadBedrooms” community is great place to vent and just understand that you're not alone in there.
You can do it! 👊