How to Succeed in Marriage Counseling
When couples start working with me they often ask about my success rate. I usually answer, “When I have a couple with both spouses willing to take 100% responsibility for their part of the relationship, we’ll be 100% successful.” Sometimes folks aren’t even aware of how much they are expecting the other person to change. It takes a lot of humility, strength, and courage to self examine and explore the ways one is responsible for their part in the upset and tension happening in their union. Both parties have work to do to find “success”. As the counselor, I’m joining the couple to provide emotional support and safety so that both spouses can begin to see the pain and suffering the other is experiencing while at the same time learning to clearly express and state what’s happening for them.
Let’s first define “relationship”. Relationships are made up of two human beings with a desire to love, support, and connect to each other. Relationships are reciprocal which means that both parties are contributing- there needs to be some kind of balance for the relationship to remain in harmony. Typically, when both parties are contributing, there’s an awareness that when one is sick, struggling, or suffering in some way, the other will kick it up a notch to compensate. Eventually they come around and are able to participate in the relationship as they did before. Likely at some point, since they are married to another faulty and imperfect human being, they’ll need to pick up the slack for their partner as well.
Relationships require understanding and work; we understand that we married someone who is different from us; opposite sex, diverse personality, different family of origin. Healthy, thriving relationships take a lot of communication, seeking to really understand different perspectives, and genuinely listening to your partner.
So how do you define “success”? If you’re defining success as perfection, you’ll need to first come back to reality and remember that human beings, this side of heaven, will never be perfect and therefore your relationship will not be perfect. While the harmonious, happy couple is our dream and our goal, it’s quite rare for that dynamic to happen naturally and, more often than not, requires great commitment and investment from both individuals to achieve.
I believe a successful relationship is one in which both parties are working to become an expert in knowing the other. The more you seek to first understand your partner, their vulnerabilities, their strengths and weaknesses, their preferences and desires, the more you will find the love and intimacy you are looking for. We need to be aware of expectations that mimic culture’s instant gratification and easy to obtain pleasure. Otherwise, we are blindsided at the level of work and investment this relationship will require to be happy, peaceful, and intimate. Success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” and at Married Life your counselor will work with you both to define what exactly you’re aiming to accomplish to help you meet your goals.
How to Succeed in Marriage Counseling
How to succeed in marriage counseling? First, learn to confess your part of the problem. Second, speak for yourself by learning to identify what’s happening for you emotionally. Third, figure out how to listen well. Imagine your spouse’s surprise when they come to you with the complaint, “Hey, I’m upset because you drank too much last night and I felt embarrassed in front of our friends” and your response is “I’m so sorry, I’m hearing you say you felt embarrassed last night when I got too loud, is that right?” Rather than defending and explaining yourself or blaming your spouse for being too sensitive or always complaining, you owned your behavior, acknowledged their perspective, and asked for clarification. You’ve just managed to take the tension and fight out of a potential argument!
Expectations for Results
Some couples I’ve worked with will start couples counseling for two to four weeks every week, they’ll feel a little better and then discontinue scheduling, even though I’ve recommended weekly counseling for at least 6-8 weeks. They will then move to scheduling sporadically, bumping around busy schedules or coming in when things get bad again. Some folks will continue this way for months. Basically, what’s happening is they feel a little better because they’ve been heard by the counselor or they’ve picked up some techniques that offer some behavior change. Typically, however, this is only temporary relief for a chronic issue. How many folks find symptom relief when the doctor says to take the antibiotic daily and instead they take it whenever they feel like it? The infection will come back if doctors recommendations aren’t followed. In the same way, to succeed in couples counseling it will require consistency.
You will find traction, accountability and movement when you make the choice and sacrifice to engage fully in counseling for at least 6-8 weeks. Studies show best outcomes and results are typically more in the realm of 20 sessions. I’ve particularly noticed younger couples can make significant changes within about 8 weeks because they have less baggage, fewer hurtful memories, and the grooves in their brains aren’t as deeply carved.
5 Key Factors to Successful Marriage Counseling
I thought it would be helpful to recap a few key factors to successful marriage counseling.
- Learn to take care of yourself by noticing and naming your own emotions.
- Be assertive, not passive, not aggressive, not passive-aggressive
- Learn to listen with a genuine heart to really understand your partner. Repeat back what you hear them saying to make sure you understand them. Also, offer reassurance that you care enough to receive feedback if you’re not hearing them correctly.
- Practice authentic, humble, sincere apologies. Let me help you here, this is what an apology should sound like, “I am sorry I ___(fill in the blank)____. Will you please forgive me? How can I make amends?” Then, work really hard not to continue repeating the offense. I could write a book on this topic. Actually, Gary Chapman already did! Check out “The Five Languages of Apology” for more on learning to apologize. One more thought, apologies absolutely DO NOT sound like, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if you are upset”!
- Realize it takes time, energy, and commitment to do steps 1, 2, 3 and 4! If we desire thriving relationships, we must learn to say no to all the things this world has to offer. There are many good things to do, but the best things are often simply spending time with your most significant other cultivating an intimate, loving relationship that will not only benefit you and your spouse, but will spread love and cheer to all who are near- most importantly your children! The impact of a good, solid marriage relationship has no end when you think of your family, neighbors, coworkers, schools, churches, communities and generations to follow. This is why I do what I do!
If you’re ready to get to work on your most important relationship, please give us a call today. We have immediate availability as we do not take insurance and prefer to focus on our time with you rather than being buried in paperwork for the healthcare provider!