Can couples counseling prevent a divorce?
Alice (not her real name) calls me to make an appointment to discuss the idea of leaving her marriage. “I was unhappy for so long,” she says. “I don’t know what else to do.” One of the first questions I ask new clients is whether they went to couples counseling before deciding to divorce. “We went once, but it didn’t work,” she says. “I don’t think Alec will agree to go again.”
Couples therapy is certainly not a miracle pill, and a session or two isn’t going to cure all of your relationship’s problems. Let’s be realistic about whether seeking counseling on what marriage counseling is and isn’t is a good idea for you.
Who should receive therapy?
- You have tried to address the issues in your relationship but feel like it hasn’t worked.
- They just want a neutral place to discuss things.
- You and your partner argue a lot but don’t resolve anything.
- You don’t talk about things that bother you because you don’t know how to bring them up.
- You feel angry, depressed, distant, or avoiding contact with your partner.
- You have lost trust in your partner, perhaps due to betrayal or disappointment.
- There is no longer any emotional or physical intimacy in your relationship.
- You and your partner have very different values or goals in life.
- They struggle with parenting together.
- You are facing major changes such as having a new baby, losing your job, the death of a parent or retirement.
When couples therapy doesn’t work
- When there is uncontrolled violence or abuse.
- When either you or your partner are involved in another romantic relationship.
- When there are secrets that need to be shared. A therapist won’t keep secrets for you, but may be able to help you reveal something you’re afraid to reveal.
- If you have a psychiatric or other medical condition that would prevent either of you from participating in therapy.
- If one or the other of you refuses to participate in therapy.
“Not a stone unturned?”
When Alice and I meet, I ask her if she feels like “I left no stone unturned.”
“I don’t want to regret my decision in two or five years,” she says, “but what can I do if Alec doesn’t come back to my counseling?”
I ask if the therapist they saw once was a good fit, qualified to treat couples, and if she interviewed other therapists. After learning that Alec had felt embarrassed at the first and only meeting, I suggested that Alec might be open to meeting another therapist. “Would Alec be willing to interview two or three therapists to see if someone else might have a better approach?” I ask. I suggest that Alice addresses the issue in a hopeful way, since some people feel that therapy is being “portrayed to the principal’s office,” blamed, or punished. Alice decides to invite Alec to learn new skills and tools with her that will improve and strengthen their relationship. She hopes it will give them both new excitement in their marriage. She asks Alec to interview several therapists and he agrees.
Counseling is not always easy or convenient. But it’s an investment in your relationship that will pay off over time.
Source: Photo by SHVETS production/pexels
How does it work? How long does it take? How much does it cost?
In marriage counseling you can open up and share deep feelings and learn to be honest and vulnerable with one another. The consultation room is a safe, confidential place where you can express yourself and, with the help of the therapist, be heard and understood.
You will learn listening skills and ways to express your own feelings.
You will learn to forgive and/or apologize in a healing way. You will learn to manage your strong emotions and to express them in a way that brings you and your partner closer. You can focus on your goals for yourself, your relationship, and your future.
Growth, change and healing can happen with the support of a qualified, experienced and caring therapist.
The therapist will not usually tell you what to do.
Rather, through questions and feedback, the therapist will help you get in touch with your own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Some therapists give you homework, such as journaling, reading, or practicing new skills. A therapist may prescribe you “date nights” or check-ins or rituals between sessions. A good therapist doesn’t see you as a client, they see your relationship as a client. Couples therapists are trained to examine the dynamics and patterns of behavior and interaction in your marriage to see where change is possible.
Expect at least 10-20 sessions
Invest hard work, time, and money before making a decision about your marriage. Even if you break up, the insights and skills you learn will stand you in good stead in your next relationship.
If you have EAP or health insurance, the cost of your consultations may be fully or partially reimbursed. Many excellent therapists do not accept insurance, but you may be able to submit receipts for their services to your insurance company for reimbursement. Six months of counseling may seem costly, but it’s a valuable investment in your marriage. And divorce is even more expensive.
Hire a therapist trained in couples counseling
Finding a qualified, licensed therapist who has experience in marriage therapy is important. Look for therapists who have specific training in couple work, such as B. EFT (emotionally focused therapy) or Gottman approaches. Interview several therapists before hiring one. Think of it as an interview for the therapist. Many offer a brief telephone consultation free of charge.
Can Counseling Lead to Divorce?
Jim asks me this question when he consults with me about therapy for him and his partner. I tell him that a therapist shouldn’t have an agenda. That said, the therapist’s job isn’t to fix your relationship or tell you to end it. Rather, the therapist’s job is to remain neutral and help you and your partner safely and honestly explore your relationship, its strengths and weaknesses, and help you make clear, thoughtful decisions. Counseling is often uncomfortable, especially when one or both realize the relationship is unhealthy and unsustainable.
Marriage retreats get the work started
Some couples begin their couples therapy by going to a marriage retreat. There are many available on a Google search, and some are very expensive or sound glamorous, but choose carefully, read the reviews and learn about the retreat leaders’ approach.
Don’t wait until you’re ready to give up to seek advice
Marital stress and problems will not go away on their own, although many couples sweep difficulties under the rug for months or years. Unfortunately, this only creates a mountain of problems separating the two of you, and eventually one of you will lose motivation to work on repairing the marriage. John Gottman said that many couples are six years late for therapy. If you wait too long, problems may have quenched your willingness to solve them. But if you have even a few embers, counseling can help bring back the warmth and warmth you need in your relationship.
According to a study by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), 98% of couples who go to couples counseling say their therapists are either “excellent” or “good.” 90% report an improvement in their emotional health and 66% say their physical health is improving. Finally, almost 75% of couples see improvements in their relationships after couples therapy.
If you decide to divorce after couples therapy, choose a divorce process that will reduce conflict and allow you to heal and move on. Unless you absolutely need an outside decision maker, stay out of court.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2022
To find a couples therapist, visit Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory.