Everyone knows the “fairy-tale ending.” The prince and the princess get married, and they live happily ever after. While you will be able to find happiness in marriage, it’s common to experience hardships that fairy tales never address.
Sometimes, you will experience rocky times for a few days, months, or even years. The reality of two very different people living as a single unit is very challenging. But at the end of the day, it’s worth the effort. Studies show that married people are, on average, healthier, happier, and financially better off than those who are not.
So what do you do when you start to struggle with your marriage? While hard work and good intentions can help, sometimes you need the help of someone neutral and experienced to sort through these matters. That’s why people should seek marriage counseling.
Wives Generally See the Problem First
According to a 2016 study, women are the first to see the problem and the first to seek professional help. And this is also anecdotally true for many practices, as women are typically the first to reach out for counseling.
Why is this? By the time most couples are ready to look for counseling, their marriage has already become distressed. They often fall into patterns of blame, withdrawal, and even some aggression.
Husbands, in particular, feel a sense of failure and judgment when considering couple’s counseling. Because of this shame, they are less likely to reach out.
However, this is partly why couples counseling can be such a challenge. For one person to seek individual counseling is already a big step. Getting two people to agree that they need professional help is a much larger one.
Among couples who separated without seeking professional help, over 70% self-reported that one spouse was unwilling to go to counseling or that it was too late for counseling to help.
Barriers to Marriage Counseling
1. Enforcing “Privacy”
It should come as no surprise in the age of Facebook and Instagram that couples are unlikely to share their struggles in marriage openly. Many people believe that their relationships should be kept private or that they can only divulge issues to spiritual leaders. Because of this mindset, couples are less likely to get professional help.
2. Laying Blame
Another barrier to marriage counseling is the blame game. When two people are having problems in their relationship, it’s easier to say that the other is at fault rather than accepting the complicated, nuanced truth that each partner bears at least some responsibility.
Finger-pointing instead of taking responsibility is a significant factor in why many marriages end without getting the help they need.
It is crucial to reframe marital distress. The problem that both individuals face is an unhealthy dynamic, not one another. This reframing reduces the amount of blame cast on each other and helps couples work together to solve the problem.
3. Lacking Prior Problem-Solving
Couples counseling is just one tool in a large kit for repairing a marriage. So if you haven’t used a similar tool, such as attending a retreat or workshop, reading a marriage book together, or having premarital counseling, you are less likely to seek counseling when running into marital problems.,
4. Going Too Late
While often seen as a last-ditch effort to keep a relationship from falling apart, marriage counseling is more effective the sooner you go. Couples will usually wait for too long, often until levels of distress feel like the relationship is beyond repair.
On average, married couples wait for six years of serious marital problems before getting help. Counseling can still work in such late stages, but it’s still difficult. But the perception that there is it’s too late prevents couples from seeking therapy.
Key Factors Affecting Marriage Counseling Success
Addressing marital issues can feel overwhelming. That’s why we’ve put together a two-part exercise that will help you identify the sources of distress in your marriage and ways you can reframe the situation to address it better. You can get this exercise and other helpful resources by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.
Effectiveness of Marriage Counseling
On average, couples therapy makes a positive impact on 70% of the people who attend it. This is in spite of the fact that couples frequently wait until it’s nearly too late to get professional help.
But where does this leave the other 30%? Perhaps a factor might lie in the training of the counselors themselves. Many people complain on this site of therapists that try to help couples even though they are unqualified. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, many of those therapists that offer specialized marital counseling have never had any formal training in that area.
That’s why at OnlyYouForever, we make sure that all of our couples therapists have specific, formal training in couples work. Our counselors that lack this qualification do not do marriage counseling, as they specialize in other areas of individual therapy.
When seeking marriage counseling, make sure that your therapist is qualified to help. And if they have qualifications, try to make sure that they use research and modalities that have the highest success rates with couples.
Common Approaches to Marriage Counseling
There are many ways for a therapist to try to provide marriage counseling. While some are generally more effective than others, you must seek a therapist that uses a method that works for you.
1. Behavior Modification
As the name dictates, the focus here on behaviors. The purpose is to ensure that any harmful practices (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.) are modified so that there is a reduction in harm.
This approach follows the solution-focused therapy model, where couples are taught to focus on solutions instead of problems. Most initial sessions focus on actions rather than addressing feelings.
Couples can get trapped in negative cycles because of unhelpful behaviors. And often, people feel helpless because even though they are aware of what they are doing, they are unable to stop. Behavior modification gives them the tools to change this.
2. Insight-Oriented Therapy
This approach seeks to shift each spouse’s view of their relationship with each other. The goal here is to help couples take a step back and view their marriage objectively.
3. Communication Coaching
When couples are doing well, or at least not in distress, communication coaching is a great tool to help couples improve their relationship. This method teaches you how to listen actively and apply empathy to your marriage.
This method is beneficial for helping couples communicate effectively, but doesn’t touch on more profound, underlying dynamics. Communication coaching is better for couples who are relatively healthy or even for teaching scenarios.
4. Gottman Method
If you’ve heard of The Gottman Institute, you’ve probably heard of their work with the Four Horsemen of Marriage. But aside from research in that area, they have also developed many good strategies for couples in conflict.
The Gottman Method uses techniques to increase affection, closeness, and respect by emphasizing conflict management and repair. It is a helpful tool for helping couples know each other when they’ve drifted apart.
5. Narrative Therapy
By assisting couples in articulating their problems as a story, this form seeks to help people rewrite the negative parts of their relationship. Narrative therapy allows couples to find new ways to deal with their problems and new ways to talk about their relationship.
6. Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy
This method forces you to examine how you engage with your significant other. It expands your emotional responses, creates new ways of interacting, and nurtures the bond you have together.
Many couples find difficulty in sharing their private feelings, and this method helps them do that. Rather than being stuck in an emotionally distant relationship, they learn to grow together. Emotionally-focused couples therapy (EFCT) is excellent for couples with a high amount of conflict that expresses itself in a clear pattern of pursue-withdraw.
Compared with other forms, this type of therapy is relatively short-term. Its fundamental goals are:
- For couples to understand and reorganize their key emotional responses to each other. You will learn how to see the core emotional issues that are happening underneath the surface. By doing that, you can compassionately address your partner’s heart instead of dealing with the more visible but shallower emotions.
- For couples to change their stance during interactions on difficult issues. By doing this, you can experience new, beneficial, and constructive interactions with one another.
- For couples to strengthen and build a very tight bond with one another.
At OnlyYouForever, this is the predominant approach we use in our practice. We use this method because 70-75% of troubled relationships that undergo EFCT can move into a state of recovery. And over 90% of couples experience significant improvement.
What About Individual Counseling (For Marriage Issues)?
While it may seem counterintuitive, there are specific situations where individual counseling might be the best option to take. For example, if both partners are not able to seek help with methods of communication, couples counseling can be ineffective. You might also choose individual counseling if your partner is not willing to go to couples therapy or as a precursor to couples counseling.
Individual therapy can be beneficial if one partner has to deal with trauma. One typical example is childhood sexual abuse. While not all who experience this require treatment, this trauma can have a severe and lasting effect on that spouse’s relationship. Sometimes when victims of this are unable to offer the level of sexual intimacy that their spouse desires, their spouse feels rejected, and they feel like they aren’t understood.
To overcome the fear and anxiety now associated with sexual intimacy, they might need one on one counseling to overcome their trauma.
The goal here is to provide a space where both individuals can approach an issue on level ground. For example, if the spouse of the victim of childhood abuse can see their significant other’s struggle from a place of compassion, both would be able to help each other address the issue instead of struggling against each other.
While this is one example, marriage has a strange way of uncovering past trauma that hasn’t healed properly. And when these issues do come up, individual therapy can be beneficial for the relationship as a whole.
If you’d like to get help here at Only You Forever, we’d be happy to schedule a free consultation for you. One of our team members will get the basics of your story so they can match you up with the therapist who they feel would be the best fit for you.
Marriage counseling is a good step towards trying to navigate a deep, complicated relationship. It’s not just a last-ditch effort to breathe life into a dying marriage. If you are having struggles or challenges, or even if you have a good relationship and want to make it better, know that marriage counseling is a great place to start.
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