Before you buy something, you probably want to know whether it works. Fair question. You don’t want to buy an electric ab stimulator if it’s not going to work to tone you down to a six-pack.
Likewise, if your marriage is in need of some support, it’s reasonable to ask whether marriage counseling works. You don’t need to spend your time and money on something that’s not going to help.
The good news is that marriage counseling has been shown in many research studies to be effective at improving relationships. (Note that although I mostly refer to marriage in this post, it certainly applies to any kind of long-term relationship you might be in.)
Here are some benefits you can hope to achieve by going to marriage counseling. Of course, nobody can guarantee any of these results. Your success will depend on a number of factors – more on that below.
Many people come to marriage counseling looking for help with poor communication. Rest assured, this can be improved. There are proven methods for communicating in relationships that work better than what we may naturally tend to (namely, bickering and arguing). And it’s a skill than can be taught and learned. After a successful program of marital therapy you will be able to communicate about the things in your relationship that you want and need to talk about. You will no longer feel unheard and at odds with each other all the time!
Better conflict management
Closely related to communication is conflict management. How do you guys deal with it when a conflict comes up over any given issue? Do you argue, escalate, fight it out? Or do you sweep it under the rug and live in silent resentment? A marriage counselor can help you learn how to handle your conflicts in a more respectful and productive way.
Regain loving feelings
Do you feel like the love has gone out of your relationship? Like you’re friends or roommates instead of spouses and lovers? Modern research has shown us what makes intimacy and love thrive in a marriage. Marriage counseling can help you rediscover and nurture those lost feelings so that you can once again have a relationship that feels close and loving.
Develop greater closeness and intimacy
Even couples that feel like their relationship is on track can learn how to deepen their connection to each other. Maybe you don’t argue and don’t have a lot of conflict, but you still feel like something is missing. You can learn how to push forward in your marriage so that it is not just acceptable but great. Your marriage can be the best part of your life!
Get your sex life on track
It is the minority of couples that are able to have successful discussions about their sex life and explore comfortably what works for them and what doesn’t. Even couples with a solid relationship can feel like their sex life isn’t quite what they want it to be, or has been falling by the wayside lately. Your sexual relationship is definitely something you can bring to a marriage counselor for help in getting it moving in the right direction.
Solve specific disputes
I mention this one last because although for many couples there is one or two specific issues that are on their minds, the main goal of marriage therapy is to enable you to solve your own problems, not to arbitrate them for you. That said, sometimes all a couple really wants or needs is clear guidance on a particular issue. Moreover, going through the resolution process with a counselor is a good way to learn how to do it on your own. So you may very well get to clear up a particular difficulty in your relationship, but generally speaking that is not the main thrust of the counseling process.
Factors that Will Affect Your Chances of Success
As I mentioned above, nobody can guarantee that marriage counseling will solve your problems or fix your relationship. While marriage counseling as a whole has been shown to be effective, that doesn’t mean anything certain about your particular situation. This is true in many areas – ibuprofen has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation, but that doesn’t 100% guarantee that your headache will go away if you take it.
Here are some factors to consider that will affect your chances of success:
Willingness to change
If you are expecting to go to therapy to fix your partner, you probably aren’t going to get very far. (Your partner is likely thinking the same thing you are.) Marital therapy works best when both parties are willing to take a look at themselves and see where they can improve on their own part. If you are willing to change how you look at things and how you behave – whether or not you currently believe you are doing anything wrong – you have a great shot at making significant improvements in your marriage. If you aren’t, then the prospects are a lot less optimistic.
Effort you put into it
It’s one thing to be willing; it’s another thing to actually do the work. If you go to therapy and nod your head in agreement the entire time but when you go home it’s business as usual, you probably can’t expect much change to occur. Yes, it’s probably going to be a hard process; that’s how you know it something real. You’ll need to try hard. As the saying goes, “I didn’t say it would be easy. I said it would be worth it.”
Time you put into it
I am guessing the problem you’re hoping to solve didn’t come up yesterday, so it’s probably not going away tomorrow. Variables like how long it’s been going on, how deep it runs, your history as individuals and as a couple, and some of the other factors mentioned here will affect how long it takes you to fix things. As with all the really good stuff in life, success will require patience and persistence.
Capacity for change
In addition to being willing to change, you and your partner both must be able to change. If someone has a mental illness or a personality disorder, they may simply not have the capacity to do things differently (or at least not without professional help). So for example someone with an anxious personality disorder may not be able to control their anxiety or emotional sensitivity, and if they aren’t willing to get help for it, couples counseling may see only limited success (but it can still help you manage a difficult situation better). Likewise, someone with an active addiction is probably not going to be able to do the work necessary for couples counseling to be effective until they get treatment.
Competence of the therapist
Certainly part of the equation is what the therapist brings. There are crummy therapists out there, and if you happen to work with one, you may have trouble getting anywhere in your counseling. Trust your gut – if something isn’t going right, you have every right to try a different therapist until you feel comfortable with somebody. Note that it is better to go to someone who is specifically a couples counselor; individual therapy and couples therapy are not really the same thing.
Here are some concerns that won’t stop marriage counseling from working for you.
You don’t know how to communicate
Many couples come seeking help with communication issues. They feel disconnected and can’t seem to get through to each other. This is a very common concern and can definitely be improved though marriage counseling. Counseling can help you learn how to say what you need to say and be heard by your partner, and to hear what your partner is trying to say to you. This naturally leads to a lot of improvement in the quality of the relationship between you.
You can’t talk about anything without fighting
Is your marriage at a point where every discussion becomes an argument? Somehow whatever the topic is becomes a topic of contention, or a springboard to launch back into your ongoing complaints about each other. Marriage counseling has been shown to reduce fights and improve the quality of the dialogue between spouses. Couples who fight can learn how to do it differently!
You have had a strained relationship for a long time
It may take a while to undo longstanding patterns, but it can absolutely be done. Remember that you won’t be at 10 out of 10 overnight. But if your relationship has been at a 3 for years, then maybe a 4 by the end of the month is something to look forward to.
You don’t think you’re compatible.
There’s no such thing as compatibility. Really. Love doesn’t need shared hobbies or similar personalities. Love needs respect and work and other things that are in your power to choose. If you’ve got those, marriage counseling can help you.
You feel like roommates instead of spouses.
It’s hard to keep the romance alive. Even couples who love each other and have a solid relationship sometimes fade into a friendly but unromantic or even asexual relationship. A satisfying, long-term sexual relationship (wait for it!) takes work. Many if not most people never really put thought into it and so find themselves after years or decades of marriage with an empty bucket in the romance department. Fear not – marriage counseling can succeed in this department as well.
You are dealing with an affair.
Although surveys have shown that many people believe infidelity necessarily ends a marriage, it’s absolutely not true. We have worked with many couples where this has happened, and it isn’t impossible to pull the marriage back from the brink. In fact, an affair isn’t even the hardest problem to solve in couples counseling. Really. We can fix this.
You don’t believe in therapy
That’s okay. You can think what you want about therapy, we don’t mind! But… what have you got to lose by trying it? We’re not going to ask you about your childhood or your mother or your inner demons when you walk in the door. We’re going to try to figure out what’s wrong in this marriage and what can make it right. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. Your skepticism won’t ruin the process. Isn’t it worth coming to find out for yourself?
You’ve tried everything.
Have you tried marriage counseling? Just because you’re out of ideas doesn’t mean we are! (And if your answer was yes, still don’t despair – there’s good reason to hope a different counselor can do the trick! Why You Should Try Couples Counseling (Again).)
At the end of the day, the only way to know if marriage counseling will work for you is to give it a shot. Objectively speaking, yes, marriage counseling works. There is plenty of research showing positive outcomes for a variety of different styles of marriage counseling. If your marriage is suffering, reach out to us today to meet with a marriage counselor and try out a proven solution!