NOTE: The following information on marriage counselling is general in nature and does not necessarily apply to your situation. It should not be regarded as advice. You should seek the advice of an appropriately marriage counsellor or other appropriately qualified professional for guidance on your specific situation.
Why Attend Marriage Counselling?
Many couples (particularly those with no past experience with marriage counselling, or any other form of counselling for that matter) are initially reluctant to attend marriage counselling. And some very reasonable objections are frequently raised. Some of these are:
“Why attend marriage counselling when we can talk through things ourselves? Surely we don't need a marriage counsellor to step in and deal with our problems? After all, we know each other better than any counsellor.”
ANSWER: The answer to this question is that, while talking things through as a couple can definitely be a large part of the solution to your marriage problems, the very fact that you are talking about marriage counselling suggests that so far talking things through amongst the two of you has not been working effectively, at least not recently. A big part of what marriage counselling involves is improving communication in the relationship so that you are able to resolve issues when you do speak with one another.
In fact the purpose of marriage counselling is not to get some marriage counsellor to boss you around and solve your marriage problems. Rather the goal of marriage counselling is to equip you as a couple with the skills necessary to resolve your own marriage problems.
Many people see it as a sign of weakness to turn for others for assistance and feel embarrassed to see a marriage counsellor for this reason. Men in particular are on average more likely than women to be reluctant to consult a marriage counsellor. Nonetheless attitudes are changing and there is a growing recognition in our society of the value of consulting counsellors and psychologists for 'mental health' issues as well as for marriage and relationship counselling.
Given the high levels of divorce in our society it has to be recognised that most, if not all, of us experience struggles in our marriage relationships. So given the high risk of relationship breakdown it's worth asking yourself whether it would hurt to at least give marriage counselling a go.
“Our Problems Are Not Big Enough to require marriage counselling”
ANSWER: Sadly, most people don't attend marriage counselling until their situation is dire. They often attend counselling as a “last resort” with little hope and little enthusiasm. Ongoing conflict usually causes great pain for both members of a marriage partnership. This pain can make them reluctant to put in the effort which is required to improve their marriage.
When people attend marriage counselling earlier, counselling tends to be briefer, more effective, and bigger relationship problems can often be prevented from ever developing.
In fact some people with no significant problems in their marriage sometimes attend 'marriage enrichment' courses aimed at improving communication and intimacy, and immunising them against major marriage problems developing down the track.
Of course it's never too late to attend marriage counselling. However it is certainly a much bigger challenge once a large gulf has developed between partners. As mentioned, the level of motivation to tackle the marriage issues tends to wane as partners grow in distance from one another. If motivation is too low there much less chance marriage counselling will be of assistance.
“It costs too much money. We simply cannot afford it.”
ANSWER: There is certainly a financial cost to attending marriage counselling. However, at the risk of sounding cliché, it is worth asking what you are likely to lose if you marriage does not improve, as well as hoe much you have to gain if through attending marriage counselling significant improvements occur in your marriage.
That being said, there are clearly cases where the financial burden is a major barrier. While seeing a qualified and experienced practitioner in private practice can be costly, there are a range of other not-for-profit marriage counselling services. Some of these have fees just as high as private practitioners. However others are lower, and a number of organisations have a “sliding scale” for fee payment. This means that the lower one's income is, the less they pay. In some areas there may be free marriage counselling services.
So if finances are the most important consideration, it is worth ringing around a number of services for information on fees before deciding who to consult. (However it can be valuable, even in the case of financial hardship, to ask questions about training, qualifications, etc. of prospective counsellors, as these can vary greatly between practitioners).
Our other sites page provides details which may serve as a starting point for researching marriage counselling services in your locality.
“We don't have the time to attend appointments”
This is another very real problem for many people contemplating attending marriage counselling. Married people tend to have a range of commitments which make it a genuine challeng to organise time together to attend regular marriage counselling sessions.
It is worth noting that marriage counselling sessions are often arranged at fortnightly intervals, and the interval between visits can often be extended as therapy progresses.
Finding time can be a special challenge for couples with kids, particularly those without much in the way of baby-sitting resources.
lIt is worth noting that tackling marriage problems will almost definitely involve finding extra time alone together as a couple. Finding time and resources to attend marriage counselling sessions can be a useful step in the direction of finding this time.
“What's the use? It won't work”
It is not surprising people who are in distressed marriages find it hard to muster up the optimism to believe that marriage counselling will help. And the truth is marriage counselling doesn't always help, and sometimes helps only a little.
While it may sound trite, the truth is you won't know until you try. Ask yourself: (a) What have you got to lose? (b) What have I got to gain; and (c) Have I got any better (more constructive) ideas? (If so by all means pursue them!)
People who have attended marriage counselling in the past can be particularly skeptical of it's value. However for these people it is worth asking: (a) Did we see the 'right' therapist for us? , (b) Are we at a different stage now where what didn't work before may work now, and (c) Did we give it enough time last time?
It is important that you don't feel obliged to continue consulting a marital therapist in whom neither you nor your partner has confidence. Ideally the therapist you consult will be someone whom you both have a certain level of confidence in and who you feel “knows what they're talking about”.
Don't be afraid to shop around a little. However it is also wise to be aware that shopping around can sometimes be a subconscious, or conscious, strategy to put off having to confront some of the difficult issues which you expect to emerge in marriage counselling.
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