Expectations For Marriage Counseling

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

How do you know what you should expect out of marriage counseling? This tip will help guide your expectations for marriage counseling regardless of the presenting issue you two are having. There are various approaches that trained marriage counselors may use in order to help you and your partner establish a stronger marriage, but four expectations should be guaranteed to come out of it. If your own expectations or this list of four expectations for counseling have not been met, it may be time to start looking for a different marriage counselor to better meet your needs.  

It is rare when a couple shows up for counseling when their problems are just starting to form. More often, people have been dealing with problems in their relationship for 7 years before deciding to finally start marriage counseling. This means that both people are feeling hopeless and discouraged that anything will help them at all.

            Clients presenting for marriage counseling are rarely expert problem solvers across all areas of their relationship/lives. Sometimes the way you resolve conflict with you partner creates a similar dynamic across each topic, while others come in with one or two chronic problems that feel unresolvable and the impact bleeds into other areas of your lives that are going well. When you are the one inside of the problem, it can feel so huge and daunting after trying to fix it on your own with every solution you had imagined. You exhausted the list. You consulted some friends and everyone else seems to be doing marriage better.

HOPE

Marriage counselors have witnessed examples of all of the problems imaginable from beginning, middle, to end. Even if they may have a different version present in their office, they have the tools and expertise of where to look to gain more about the problems they have less experience with in order to help you regain the hope you had when you two said your vows. The competent marriage counselor can help you see hope through all of the problems you have and begin working on your marriage from that position of hope.

 

Establishing Safety

            When a marriage is struggling, people often are not putting the best version of themselves forward and end up hurting the person they love the most. The underlying pain each partner has endured is real and deep. Pain is a barrier to healing if safety is not first established. One cannot move on from the past when a wound is still raw and they do not trust it to not happen again.

Safety is both physical and emotional.

Emotional safety exists on a continuum. The extreme side where safety is lacking is evidenced by being very guarded and not sharing anything personal. On the safest side, imagine the emotional equivalent of being held in a warm fuzzy blanket as a baby where you feel completely taken care of your needs, able to communicate openly and honestly regardless of how vulnerable you feel.

 

Marriage counseling helps you rebuild a foundation of trust and safety to begin to take the risk of changing old patterns by doing new things. Even though a struggling marriage is painful, sometimes people would rather stay stuck in the discomfort because it is familiar to them rather than try something different and not know how it will turn out. Or worse, be the one to change first and have the partner not follow. There should be a balance between feeling safe to express oneself and still taking risks of vulnerability to put yourself out there to your partner. With the expectation that your partner also deserves safety and the right to also put themselves out there. Marriage counseling sets the precedence that you are both showing up to do the work equally so one person isn’t left raw and unsafe, responsible for making all the change happen. A strong marriage counselor will create an atmosphere of safety from which to begin addressing your issues. 

 

Taking Vulnerability Risks

            Doing something new or different is scary. People are biologically wired to avoid taking risks. Even when you know how helpful it would be to respond in a different way, when confronted with adversity or stress, your helpful amygdala triggers you to fight, flight, or freeze. However well trained, your amygdala sometimes works against you. This reaction is not helpful in a marriage that requires enduring a lot of stress and change, but despite all biological urges to turn away from your partner, marriage counseling’s foundation of hope and safety will help you begin to turn toward your partner and ask for what you need. Asking for your needs to be met is very vulnerable and hard for adults to do. Sometimes we just turn into children, stubbornly trying to solve problems independently, when we really are just looking for connection with our partner. Getting the most out of marriage counseling will require you to take risks.  Identifying a marriage counselor that you trust will facilitate your ability to take risks.

 

Making Change Solidified

            Forming new dynamics takes time to practice. There will be moments of relapse back into the old pattern until you truly both recognize the signs of slipping back into it, actively pull out of your role in the old pattern, and do something different that fosters growth for your marriage. Of course, you may feel like you are back at square one, you are way more comfortable in the old than in the new and it may be easier for either one or both of you to give up and stay the way you were. However, successful marriage counseling will help you prepare for these slips and establish a maintenance plan to ensure change for your future.

 

Marriage counseling is an investment. It can be costly of your time and finances. However, the benefits can be huge. Research shows healthy, satisfying marriages improve the quality of life and physical health/longevity. Some couples may choose to only invest in a few sessions to help them get unstuck or strengthen the current positive state of their marriage. Others invest in longer lasting treatment goals. Marriage counselors use many ways of helping you and your partner get where you both want to go, but these 4 elements should be present to help you and your partner successfully complete marriage counseling.