Does Marriage Counseling Work? Here are the Top 20 Reasons Why It ABSOLUTELY Does!
Oh God… That permanent pit in your gut just won’t go away.
It’s the constant reminder that your marriage is falling apart and you can’t seem to do a damn thing about it.
It’s not like you haven’t tried to save your marriage, you’ve tried everything! Date nights, doing more around the house, dressing up, losing weight, giving compliments, reading books, and yet it always turns out the same. You two bickering, arguing, or all out brawling.
So now you’re considering professional help. But you’re skeptical “Does marriage counseling work?”
And you’re worried “Is it too late to save my marriage?”
You’re not alone. Did you know that the typical couple will struggle for six years before going in for marriage counseling?
Does That Surprise You?
Well not really, because as you know, the thought of going to a stranger to air out your dirty laundry makes you cringe.
AND more than that, what if the relationship expert tells you that your marriage is doomed?
Before we get into the reasons why marriage counseling works, let’s run through some very common fears about couples therapy:
11 Fears Couples Have About Couples Therapy:
- The counselor will tell us that our marriage is over.
- It’ll be so awkward telling a stranger our secrets.
- My spouse will sell me out and make me look terrible.
- I’ll have to admit how much of a failure I am.
- What if it doesn’t work, then what?
- Marriage counseling costs.
- It may make things worse.
- What if I don’t love my spouse anymore?
- What if my friends and family find out?
- What will other people think?
- If she’s female, she’ll side with my wife.
So Why Do Relationship Experts Exist?
Remember back in high school, when you learned how to resolve conflict, merge two individual lives together (successfully), where you were taught coping skills to help manage life’s huge stressors?
No? Yea, me neither. All I got from home economics was a crocked sweatshirt sporting a 67 Mustang on it, and a delicious Chinese recipe.
It’s because of this educational over sight marriage counselors were born.
How Does One Become an “Expert” in Relationships?
Extensive specialized training. The difference between a general therapist and a marriage counselor is equivalent to what separates a family doctor and a neurosurgeon.
One of the reasons why you’re even researching the effectiveness of marriage counseling is due to the fact that the success rates aren’t that good. Why? Because too many general practitioners attempt to do a specialist’s job.
The Million Dollar Question: Does Marriage Counseling Work? Yes, and Here’s How (see descriptions below the list):
- It gives the marriage a new perspective.
- Brings new energy into your relationship to shake things up a bit (in a healthy, controlled manner).
- Teaches you how to merge two sets of opinions, values, priorities, and come out alive and unscathed.
- Shows you how to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
- Steers you away from the blame game or the tit-for-tat arguments.
- It brings a deeper understanding to why you fight about certain things.
- Understand why you see the world the way that you do, and if you had any unmet needs as a child that’s interfering in your marriage.
- Teaches you how to communicate in a way that your spouse can hear you.
- Shows you the power of vulnerability and the sense of pride that comes with saying sorry first.
- Marriage counseling teaches you how to rebuild trust in each other.
- Shows you how to reignite your passion.
- Explains why you should never stop dating.
- Discover your top needs and how your spouse can meet them.
- How to validate each other without having to say “You’re right and I’m wrong.”
- Clarify your legacy as a couple and individual.
- Realign as a team.
- It helps you create a shared goal.
- Discover how you feel loved the most.
- Learn how be an individual and part of a couple.
- Learn how to have fun again.
Okay, now that you know the reasons, let’s dive in a little deeper so you can understand what each one of these points look like in terms of counseling and how they can save your marriage.
Why is a new perspective important?
Have you ever been to a concert on the floor level and tried to see what’s in front of you?
It’s just hundreds of bobbling heads. Then you turn to the jumbo screen and you’re able to see the stage, the performer, and what the screaming is about.
Your marriage counselor is your jumbo screen. He or she will open your eyes to a totally new way of looking at your relationship and how it functions.
What do I mean about a “separate energy”?
When it’s just the two of you, your energy is in a very comfortable, automatic state. And an expert rattles your comfort zone in order for new patterns of interaction to be learned and acquired.
Trust me this is a very good thing.
So how successful were you at merging your lives together as one?
It’s damn near impossible. Some of the first questions I ask each partner is “How do you define marriage?” And “What were your expectations before you two said I do?”
We all define things differently and until you share yours with each other you won’t be able to successfully come together in a way that respects both sides.
A fighting couple does not equal a doomed marriage.
What!? Yes, fighting is a more passionate way to communicate. It’s not about the fighting per say, it’s how you fight.
Couples counseling teaches you how to fight fair, how to communicate your needs in a respectful manner, and how to make up (well you probably know how to do that — but this is on a more emotional level).
How many times have you shared a frustration with your partner only for them to come back with “Oh yea well I do this much”?
The blame game and tit-for-tat cycles are quicksand traps that will not benefit your relationship. All it is, is a way for you to protect a fragile ego. And it’s fragile because right now you don’t feel like you’re doing an A+ job at being a spouse.
It sucks feeling like you can’t do anything right and when your spouse brings up more failings you almost feel obligated to retaliate with a “Oh yea, well you do this” comeback.
Sometimes we don’t know why we fight or why certain things bother us.
One of the most helpful components about seeking professional help, is gaining a better understanding about why you get triggered when you do. For example, why does it bother you so much that your wife spends $100 at Target each week? Or why does it enrage you when your husband goes and has a beer with a bud after work?
It could be because you work you’re a$$ off, and you want the money to stay in the bank. Or, on a deeper level it could be because you saw the same pattern go down with your parents and you know how well that turned out…
Maybe your father was an alcoholic and so any form of drinking (social or otherwise) bothers you and you want nothing to do with it. You’re scared that you’ll become your mom and suffer like she did.
Unmet needs are a big deal, and often times we bring what we didn’t get from our parents in to our marriage for a do over.
I remember the first time I realized this in my own marriage. When I was a child I used to wait for my dad to get home. And he was excited to get home and check out in front of the tube.
I needed (and well, still need) a substantial amount of attention and so I would flop down by my dad and demand that he watch me and not Peter Jennings.
That didn’t work out for me. So I felt rejected, and the meaning I made was that the news report was more important than I was. My need then going into my marriage was that I wanted the man in my life to choose me.
Wouldn’t you know I married a man that works at home on the computer. So each night after we put the kids in bed, if I saw him open up his computer I would immediately flop down and demand attention.
We fought over this for years. He felt unappreciated for his hard work, and I felt rejected all over again.
One day I was in a class and I learned about unmet needs. A bell rang and I knew that I wasn’t actually needing anything from my husband and that I was recreating a pattern from my childhood in order to get an old need met.
After I explained this to my husband he did the computer once in a while, and I stopped flocking to him like Garfield does lasagna, every time he tried to work.
Think of the last time your boss, or even spouse came up and right off the bat their tone was sharp or accusatory and you immediately felt defensive.
That’s a common place for couples to live. In this state of always on the defense. Nothing ever gets resolved.
How do you talk with your spouse? For example, if you get really irritated about the spending at Target how do you approach the topic?
Chances are it’s like this “Aw, God damn it! Seriously, what could you possible buy at this store each week!?”
And not like this, “I don’t know why the spending bothers me so much, it might be because of my parents and how their marriage failed all because of money. I’m scared.”
Do you think your wife would hear you better with the first or second example? Obviously the second.
This is the kind of stuff you learn how to do when you’re in counseling. How to start up soft to keep your spouse engaged (defenses down) and able to hear you.
Why is vulnerability so important — I just feel uncomfortable even thinking about it.
Until Brene Brown blasted onto the scene a few years ago with her shame and vulnerability research, everyone, myself included, believed that to be vulnerable meant that you were weak. When in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. Vulnerability takes an enormous amount of courage and strength.
Why is this an essential skill to have in order to have a successful marriage? For one, it creates that deep intimacy we all crave. And two it helps clear the air so the fight doesn’t linger or drag on.
For example, if you rip your spouse a new one because the dogs were not put away before he left for work (and this is not a strict rule to begin with in your house) and this starts an all-out brawl over dinner prep. The moment that you realize you’re not actually pissed about the dogs but that you felt rejected last night when you tried to initiate sex and your spouse didn’t respond favorably — you need to share it.
This takes guts. To share our softer feelings — the root of why we are hurting takes guts. And once you realize the power of being vulnerable (in a safe place such as your counselor’s office) you will never go back.
In order to have vulnerability there must be trust.
Trust is broken in a multitude of ways.
It’s broken when you don’t show up to where you say you’re going to be, when you don’t stay up late to help your spouse talk through a stressful day at work, when you choose your personal hobby over your spouse’s desperate needs, or when you step out with someone from the office and it’s not to talk about work.
Trust is also broken when someone is vulnerable and shares some past pains or tells you when something really hurts only to have you turn it around and use it at a later time against him or her.
So in order to have the sensual nature of vulnerability you have to repair the broken links of trust.
How do you regain trust that has been broken? By consistently showing up and being there for your spouse. Saying, through actions that, I have your back.
If you want a roaring fire you have to keep adding wood.
Just like the flame of a fire extinguishes if neglected so does your passion for each other. After you get married life ramps up and takes on its own identity. You have kids, work, mortgages, social functions, family drama, outside obligations and so on. The relationship gets tossed aside for survival purposes.
Once you do slowdown in marriage counseling and take inventory of all the stuff you do and things that you juggle you realize that you can trim down a great portion and put that time back into your marriage.
I am not a fan of adding to someone’s life, I’m a fan of simplifying and streamlining. We trim the excess and readjust your priorities to match your values. That’s a happy life.
We share way too much in today’s world.
When you were dating, would you poo with your boyfriend? Would you shave and leave the hair remnants on the counter? Okay then why do you do that now?
Maybe you don’t poo together but there’s certainly a different side of you that you now show your spouse that he wasn’t privilege too in the beginning.
PMS ring a bell? It does with me. Once I got comfortable in my marriage I didn’t try to hide the fact that I was miserable. In fact, I allowed myself to turn into an all-out monster towards my family. I was bitchy, needy (extra needy I should say), mean, irritated, and rude.
One day I caught this look on my husband’s face and it said oh my god what did I marry?
And I realized, he didn’t sign up for life with this girl. And he didn’t deserve it.
I realized that if I wanted to have a great marriage I needed to never stop dating my husband and to always treat him like I was trying to land him.
Never forget the person that your spouse fell I love with. And channel that person when you are at your worst.
Couples tend to fight when they are not getting their own needs met.
Like I said before life gets busy and we neglect each other and ourselves. William Glasser came up with this theory that describes five basic human needs that we all have but some of the needs are greater than others.
The five needs are freedom, fun, love and belonging, survival, and power. Check out this infographic to see more detailed definitions.
Keeping with the Target example, if your top need is survival and with that your bank account needs to have a substantial amount in it for you to feel safe, having a partner spend like crazy would feel like the ultimate betrayal and slap in the face.
If you need to have freedom and stopping by your buddy’s shop to have a beer once in a while fills your cup, yet your wife gets very upset when you do so, you’ll feel betrayed and unloved by her every time she nags at you to come straight home.
Our needs matter and when we don’t take the time to meet them and our spouses don’t encourage us to meet them in a way that respects the bounds of marriage, things get dicey in a hurry.
So you fight, and the longer you go without your basic needs being met the more vicious and louder you get.
It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about feeling understood.
How many times have you thought, she just doesn’t get me? or heard “You just don’t understand”?
Couples get caught in the pot hole of who’s right and who’s wrong versus just validating your partner’s feelings.
If your husband feels betrayed that you spend $100 at Target today, don’t say “Well what about your hunting trip!?” That’s the tit for tat trap that gets you two nowhere.
Instead if you responded with, “I’m sorry that this upsets you so much, I’m working at it, I promise.”
You’re much more likely to get a response of “I know you are and I’m sorry it bothers me so much; it just does”. And a little while later he may very well add, “and I know I just spent so much on the hunting trip, so it’s not just you”.
Notice in that interaction no one said, you’re right and that means I’m wrong. Or “Yes, I spend your money to piss you off”.
What happened was that the husband felt understood and soften his stance and followed that with a statement that validated the wife at the same time. Admitting that it’s not just her.
Super simple tool but ultimately it separates the good and the great marriages.
What do you stand for and who do you want to be remembered as?
Sometimes life can get so busy that we lose ourselves in the hustle. Coming together in a space to clarify what it means to you to be a good parent, realigning as a team, and checking in with yourself to see if you’re on path that will lead you to the legacy you desire, is refreshing and very beneficial.
You have to be on the same team.
The world can be a cold hard place and you need to have a safe landing when you come home at night. In order to have that safe space you need to stop fighting like enemies and remember how good it felt when it was you two against the world.
Get back together, life is a lot easier when you’re on the same team. Couples counseling helps you get this done.
Where the hell are you two going?
Again, with the fast pace it’s easy to get lost and sidetracked. Marriage counseling offers a pause button for you to check in and see if you’re still working towards a shared goal.
Sometimes we can set off to achieve something and we lose the other in the process.
Restating your shared goal and setting into place safe guards will help you two stay on track and keep you working together for the present and future.
What tickles your love fancy?
When do you feel most loved? When your husband starts your car in the winter, when your wife goes out of her way to buy your special bread, or when you cuddle and watch the Late Night Show?
Everyone has different ways that they feel loved the most. In counseling you get the opportunity to pick out ways that work best for you and share them with your spouse.
I know most of us believe our spouse should be able to read our minds, but it turns out we can’t. So we need to say it out loud so we get loved the right way and they can get the most bang for their love buck.
Who are you?
One of the biggest down falls to getting married and creating a life with someone is that we get so busy that we lose touch with ourselves. We start to float with the current and let it take us where ever it wants.
We go so long not asking ourselves “Will this truly make me happy?”
You need to have your own identity as well as, an identity as a couple. Otherwise what the hell are you going to have to talk about?
Think back to when you first were dating. You would go do your thing, he would do his, and then you would come together and talk about what you experienced out in the world apart.
It kept things interesting, created the needed space to miss each other, and you were happier. Which made you more fun to be around. It’s a nice feedback loop.
Counseling helps you slow down and truly reflect on who you are now (how you have grown and changed through time) and it almost gives you permission to go have have fun as an individual again.
When did life become so serious anyway?
Holy shit we take ourselves so serious as adults. My gosh it’s like everything is life or death. You forget the baked goods too donate for the fundraiser and you lose your mind. The house needs to be cleaned every Saturday (no matter what). You have to work, provide, sleep, repeat.
I mean seriously we are so boring as adults. We need to lighten up and learn how to have fun again. Otherwise this ride isn’t worth taking.
In counseling you two will learn how to let loose, play, and flirt (oh gosh flirting reminds us that we are alive!)
And That Was Just the Tip of the Iceberg
This has been a short and certainly not complete list of reasons why marriage counseling does work. It’s important to mention that you also need to find the right marriage counselor for you. Don’t just go to one that is close to you or the first one that calls back. You need to interview at least three qualified relationship experts to make sure that you indeed find the best one.
The Final Component that Determines the Success of Marriage Counseling
You matter. How ready you are for change and to do the work matters. You can’t just go in to an expert and expect them to wave a wand and save your marriage. No you have to roll up your sleeves and be prepared to do laborious work.
Check out more great articles about relationships and that help answer the pesky question, “Does Marriage Counseling Work?” Jessica M. Miller, MA is a relationship expert and author of Back 2 Love. Chat with Jess on Twitter or Facebook today!
Originally published at www.southmetrocounseling.com on September 13, 2016.