How Couples Counseling Can Help Your Marriage
If you’ve seen the recent movie It’s Complicated, you’re already familiar with the story. In the film, Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin play a couple who can’t seem to sever their ties with one another even though they’ve been divorced 10 years.
I found their ensuing affair sexy and hilarious, but I also think the script expresses some important truths about marriage and divorce.
First among these is that divorce rarely brings an end to feelings – both good and bad – between ex-spouses, especially when children are involved. The fallout from a failed marriage can continue for years, profoundly affecting everyone in the family.
The movie also shows how marriages fail due to the beliefs and actions of both spouses.
In a poignant scene, Streep and Baldwin are reclining on a hotel bed discussing why their 20-year marriage failed. She confesses that even before he cheated, she had given up on them as a couple. Baldwin’s infidelity was just a good excuse to bail on the faltering marriage.
This point is especially pertinent to the work I do with couples as a marriage counselor.
When a couple comes to me for counseling, it is not uncommon for one spouse to believe that it is the other who needs help. However, not accepting personal responsibility for communication difficulties doesn’t help resolve marital difficulties. Conversely, when a couple decides to face their problems and work together, they have a much better chance to salvage their marriage.
Why More Couples Are Seeking Counseling
I’ve been thinking more about marriage and divorce lately because of a trend I’ve noticed in my private psychotherapy practice: there seems to be a considerable increase in the number of couples who are seeking therapy due to dissatisfaction with their relationships. Many colleagues have commented that they, too, have seen a substantial rise in requests for couples therapy.
Why do people seem more motivated to look for help now? How can couples counselors and marriage therapists give them the hope and tools they need to improve their relationships?
I decided to take a look at current divorce rates and discovered that after rising for 25 years, from the late 1950s until the early ’80s, the divorce rate for first marriages has actually leveled off and begun to drop. From a high of about 50% for first marriages, the most recent figures indicate that the divorce rate has fallen to around 43%. Divorce rates for second and third marriages are still very high – nearly 67% and 74% respectively.
Clearly, divorce rates for first marriages are lower, which seems to indicate that fewer people want to resort to divorce. So, perhaps this is one reason why more people are looking for help to manage and overcome their marital issues.
Another reason may be the economic woes the nation has been suffering from for the past year and a half. When a climate of stress pervades society and our daily lives, our close relationships bear the brunt of the fallout. And a couple’s emotional and financial resources can quickly be exhausted when the unexpected happens, such as a partner’s job loss.
When one spouse loses his or her job, the relationship lurches off balance. The working partner may soon feel resentment or even anger if the other can’t find a new job. The jobless partner experiences grief at the loss of status, meaningful activity, and a well-defined role. Depression, accompanied by helplessness and hopelessness, can overcome even the most well-educated and accomplished individual who can’t secure employment. Less disposable cash means the family can afford fewer distractions or even modest activities. Prolonged loss of income threatens the financial survival of a couple and can eventually undermine their marital security.
Couples who choose professional counseling or therapy to address these issues discover right away that they are not alone.
Having a stable and confidential environment conducive to airing feelings of sadness, resentment, fear, and love provides partners with a safety valve for their marriage.
Couples therapy also provides partners an opportunity to bond with one another against the common enemy of economic forces that are beyond their control. In this situation, marital therapy can prevent an even greater financial disaster – divorce.
The Benefits of Parenting as Partners
Couples with children also benefit from marriage counseling.
In addition to money and sex – two common issues that precipitate marital conflict – couples with children must master the challenging task of making parental decisions in tandem. Parents often find themselves at odds with one another over how to manage daily discipline with young children or dating rules with their teen. Constant conflict erodes the marital ties.
The good news is that, when in therapy, a couple can discuss parenting issues, bring up their opposing viewpoints, and discover solutions that both can agree on.
Counseling provides a great opportunity for partners to craft a strategy they both can adopt to address problem behaviors in their children. Working as a team strengthens a relationship and helps to immunize the couple against future stress. They learn to turn to one another for support, help, and back-up when faced with any difficulty.
Achieving Relationship Success
When two individuals become a couple, they have a vision, often unexpressed, of what their relationship will be like. If they don’t share this “happiness blueprint,” it’s likely that one partner, the other, or both will wind up feeling puzzled or cheated when the relationship’s results deviate from their expected or desired state of happy togetherness.
Attending counseling and therapy encourages communication and the sharing of the hopes and beliefs each person holds.
Together, partners learn that all couples struggle, have setbacks, and may sometimes feel like giving up. By making a commitment to counseling, a couple chooses to actively pursue a better relationship.
Rather than passively letting your marriage atrophy through indifference or actively destroying the union with careless infidelity, wouldn’t you rather seek professional help and make the decision to move toward a mutually satisfying relationship.
Counseling and therapy take work, and it may be a complicated process. But, in most cases, it’s far easier than divorce and the resultant aftermath.
If only the couple in It’s Complicated had opted for some counseling sessions… but then we wouldn’t have been treated to such an entertaining movie. If you and your partner want to create your own happy ending, it may be time to talk with some couples counselors in your area!
If you think your relationship may be able to benefit from more honest and understanding communication – or any amount of communication – please feel free to contact me with your questions or to schedule a free consultation. I may be reached by phone at 650-634-9821, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I provide my services to the highest ethical standards and my relationships with my clients are strictly confidential. As such, I must inform you that the information provided in this website is offered for informational purposes only; it is not offered as and does not constitute professional advice. Replies to e-mail messages will be general in nature and will not form a therapist-client relationship. Be aware that the confidentiality of information sent over the Internet, including e-mail, may not be legally or otherwise protected or secure.