22 Secrets Marriage Counselors Wish You Knew
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Marriage counselors can be a huge help for couples going through challenges. But there are some things they wish you knew before you ever stepped foot in their office. There are plenty of myths out there—about both marriage and marriage counseling—that can prevent you from getting the most out of your sessions. So, it’s best to get a little bit of education and do a little bit of work before you start seeing a professional. With that in mind, here are some of the secrets that marriage counselors wish you knew. If you keep the following things in mind, you’ll be way ahead of the curve in counseling.
There is no such thing as being “right” in marriage.
In marriage, there is rarely a right and a wrong party—there are just two different perspectives, explains Rabbbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC, founder of The Marriage Restoration Project.
“This doesn’t mean that your point of view is invalid; it means accepting that their point of view is also valid,” he says. “Honoring each other’s differences is what makes relationships work.”
Understand your partner’s explosiveness.
When your partner has an “intense reaction” to something, Slatkin says to try to recognize the root of the situation and to not take it personally. “Just have some compassion, wait until things calm down, and debrief,” he suggests.
Listening leads to understanding.
There are times in a relationship where each spouse feels like the other is on a totally different planet, and “you just can’t seem to understand where he/she is coming from,” says Slatkin.
However, instead of dismissing your significant other’s concerns, listen deeply to what they are saying. “The truth is that if you listen long enough, everyone makes sense,” Slatkin explains. “If you get curious enough to explore where your spouse is coming from, you’ll discover the meaning of what he/she is really saying.”
See conflict as an opportunity for growth.
“Strife in a relationship is never pleasant,” says Slatkin. “But when you realize that conflict is growth trying to happen, you can view it as an opportunity.”
Areas of repeated conflict are also those in which you and your spouse still have the ability to learn and deepen your relationship. Slatkin urges couples to “stop being defensive and see what you can do to change.”
Love has to be shown, not just felt.
Love is not just a feeling, it’s also an act, says Slatkin. “To love your spouse is to perform ‘loving’ acts and is not limited to an emotion,” he explains.
Even if you aren’t feeling “in love” like you once did, that’s no reason to cease “loving” your spouse. In addition to fulfilling your vows, doing so just might reignite a dimmed spark. “The very act of giving can reawaken those dormant feelings,” Slatkin explains.
Kindness is key to a healthy marriage.
Kindness can actually help alleviate other negative emotions as well. “Showing kindness towards your partner, yourself, your kids, and your extended family can take a lot of the negativity and stress out of your relationships,” she explains.
Focus on feelings instead of events.
Oftentimes, spouses get into fights over who said or did what. But it’s best to avoid that kind of arguing, and instead focus on what is bothering each of you, says Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, a marriage therapist at the Baltimore Therapy Center.
“Unless you have a video or audio recording of the conversation, you will never be able to determine what actually happened—and the secret is that you don’t need to,” he says.
Instead, Bilek suggest couples “tune into what’s bothering your partner and offer validation and empathy.” When that happens, you’ll be able to move on from it, even without getting to the bottom of it.
Celebrate each other’s successes.
An often overlooked ingredient to a successful marriage is celebrating each other’s successes, says Jared Heathman, MD, a practicing psychiatrist at Your Family Psychiatrist.
People require “constant support and uplifting,” he says. And celebrating your spouse’s victories—big or small—”demonstrates support for one another.”
Consider that arguments are the result of misunderstandings.
“Fights usually begin with miscommunication of messages or interpreting intent,” Heathman explains. “Being able to sit down and ask clarifying questions of what your partner is saying can actually resolve most disputes.”
Don’t make character attacks.
“If every misunderstanding is fraught with yelling and screaming at each with attacks towards character, it’s highly unlikely your partner will listen to you or even be willing to try to find a solution,” Heathman explains.
And if you can’t listen and be solution-oriented, your marriage is unfortunately in a bad place.
See the power in forgiveness.
“Holding a grudge prevents forgiveness and can ultimately end your relationship,” Heathman says. And because we all make mistakes from time to time, forgiveness is necessary to move on and remain together.
Don’t use the threat of divorce as motivation for therapy.
Christina Previte, Esq., a divorce lawyer at NJ Divorce Solutions, says she has seen too many situations in which one spouse refuses to see a counselor until the other serves them with divorce papers. But at that point, “it’s too late,” she says.
“The best advice I can give is to not wait too long to go to marriage counseling,” says Previte. “You can’t wait until the marriage is beyond repair to try to fix it.”
Don’t expect a counselor to “save” your marriage.
If you think a marriage counselor will magically solve your relationship problems, you’re in for a big surprise, says John Wilder, a marriage coach and author of Sex Education for Adults.
Couples need to enter the process motivated to make it work. While a counselor may be a big help, no one can solve your relationship problems but you.
Don’t enter counseling just to say, “I tried.”
Marriage counselors are there to help make your marriage work. Unfortunately, many couples aren’t there for the same reason. All too often, a couple goes to therapy simply to say they “tried.” But in reality, they didn’t.
If you’re not going to do the difficult work to reconnect with your spouse, don’t waste time and money by going to counseling.
Not all marriages are worth saving.
Listen to your gut. If you feel like reconciling with your partner now is bound to lead to another decade of an unfulfilled marriage, it may not be worth it to keep it going.
After all, saving a marriage is hard work, and that energy should only be expended if you’re sure the relationship is for you.
Physical abuse should be dealt with by police, not counselors.
Spousal abuse is a crime, not a “rough patch.” If your spouse is physically abusive, you should talk to the police, not a therapist. If you find yourself trying to reconcile with a partner who is violent, you are putting yourself in danger and misusing the counseling experience.
If you’re in this situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233.
Marriage counseling lasts shorter than individual therapy.
You might think that because there are two people rather than one, marriage counseling would go on longer than individual therapy. However, the opposite is the case.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, couples go to therapy for about 11 sessions on average, as compared to the 15 to 20 sessions individuals typically do. Thus, if it’s the time commitment that’s stopping you from seeing a counselor, it’s not a valid excuse.
Successful counseling can end in divorce.
Most people assume that a successful bout of marriage counseling would end in a happy marriage. However, sometimes a successful course of therapy will actually convince the participants they should divorce.
The goal of therapy is clarity and understanding and peace with the solution. For some couples, that’s going their separate ways.
Consider how you communicate with yourself, not just with your partner.
Being a good communicator doesn’t just mean learning how to verbalize your feelings to your partner. It’s understanding those feelings yourself, as well, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD., a licensed psychotherapist and author of It Ends With You. “Therapy will help you learn the skills you need to improve both external and internal communication,” she says.
The fact is, before you can tell your loved one how you feel, you need to fully appreciate it yourself.
Nothing is off the table in marriage.
When it comes to marriage, “no topic is off limits,” says Tessina. That means that when you come into therapy, you better be ready to discuss anything your spouse brings up, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.
“Whatever you haven’t been able to talk about, the therapist will create a safe place for you to hear and be heard,” she says.
Start counseling when things are going relatively well.
Marriage counseling works best the sooner you start it, before problems begin to fester, says Tessina.
It’s also cheaper that way. “The earlier you go in, the quicker you can get the problem solved, and the less it will cost,” she adds.
Happiness is the goal.
Though couples may have different goals when it comes to marriage counseling, happiness is the ultimate one, says Tessina.
“Therapy can help you understand your underlying motives and desires and teach you how to be your best, most fulfilled, and happiest self,” she says.
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