No one likes to think that they cannot solve their own problems, especially when it comes to their marriage or any of their relationships. Although people will seek out help for all sorts of issues like back pain, an accounting problem or a dental issue, some people give a lot of negative meaning to seeking out help for interpersonal issues or relationship issues.
Many people do not like to admit that they are not having the success that they would like to have in solving their relationship problems. Many people believe that marriage or parenting is something that they SHOULD be able to do and they attachment meaning of shame or embarrassment or failure to getting help. Many people think counselling is something that you should do as an absolute last resort.
I often hear people talking out loud that “if our relationship gets so bad or we go for divorce we can always do counselling.” People's misconception that counselling can save a dead or divorcing marriage is unfortunate. Counselling alone will not be able to turn around a dead marriage or one that is already at the point of divorce. Once a person has made the decision to leave the marriage or stop trying it will be difficult to turn around the marriage unless the person makes a new decision to save the marriage. Counselling needs a motivated couple or a couple who are at least willing to be work on behalf of their relationship, even when they don't feel like it.
If couples wait until their marriage is so damaged from years of terrible, harsh and hurtful fighting, no amount of counselling may be able to help a couple that no longer likes each other, even if they love each other, or have kids. Counselling is not an Emergency Room that can stop the massive hemorrhaging of a dying marriage. It is not the counsellor that saves the marriage, but rather the counsellor gives the couples tools, skills and knowledge to use to make marriage work. The couple must save the marriage with the guidance of the therapist. It is still up to the couple to go home and implement the new tools and behaviors, regardless of how they feel.THe counsellor cannot change people's minds, force them to do a marriage or make them change their mind. The therapist will help an individual evaluate their choice and consider all the ramifications of choosing to end a marriage or save a marriage. Ultimately, the client must decide what they want to do, save the marriage or leave the marriage.
Coming to counselling also doesn't guarantee that the marriage can be saved. Part of the process is to evaluate if there is anything worth saving. The couple must see if there is one version of the marriage they both want and how motivated they are to try and get it. The marriage therapist can help the couple evaluate their marriage, look at ways of getting the couple can both get their needs met and see if there is a win-win outcome for both parties.
Unfortunately, people do not understand how counselling works and therefore cannot take full advantage of it in a timely manner. Waiting until your marriage is almost dead or at the divorce lawyer's office to go to counselling is one way to ensure counselling won’t be as effective as it can be to repair your marriage. If you want to save your marriage, start the process of counselling or getting help early while positive feelings about the marriage and your partner still exist.
Counselling is something that requires a lot of participation and engagement from the clients. They will need to do many actions that they do not FEEL like doing initially. In order for counselling to work, the clients are responsible for about 60% of the outcome such as setting the goals for counselling, identifying their willingness to change as well as identifying how much effort they are willing to put in regardless of their perceived effort given by their partner or they feel.
Counselling is not done to you by the therapist but with rather with you. The therapist provides a safe place for couples to experience a new frame work for talking to one another. The therapist provides a framework to help couples see the dynamics of power and control that are going on the relationship and learn new skills to be effect in managing power, control, decision making and how everyone can get their needs met. But at the end of the day, while the therapist can give you amazing tools and information, it is up to the client or couple to actually go home and USE the tools. The therapist does not go home with you and make you do them, she cannot.
You as the client must decide to do something different and take the tools you learned and practice them. If you wait until you have nothing but contempt and loathing for your partner and are so wrapped up in your own hurts and injustices, the likelihood of a person doing something different is very low. With marriage counselling you need to do things you don’t feel initially and be able to see the longer term goal.
An analogy I give my clients is that marriage counselling is a lot like dieting. People fail diets not because of will power but because they forget why they are doing things that they do not feel doing in the moment.
When you go on diet, let’s say to loose 50KG, which is probably a 12 month goal. You will have work very hard for many months before you see any results. So the reality is that for the next 365, every single day, for a minimum of 15 times per day, you’ll need to deny yourself immediate satisfaction and choose behaviors that you do not FEEL like doing and choose something that will help your long term goal with no immediate reward.
For example, you’ll need to get up early to exercise, you’ll need to plan your menu and snacks so you don’t get over hungry. You will not be able to eat some of your favorite foods. You’ll need to say no to the candy bowl on the office desk or no to going out for lunch with colleagues or no drinks after work. You won’t give up the short term satisfaction or pay off if you are not really really clear that you really really want to loose 50kg.
Often we must give up what we want in the short term, to get what we want in the long term.
Marriage counselling is like that, if you can’t see the purpose or what is so great about having an amazing marriage with a person that you pretty much can’t stand, doing the helpful good things will be impossible. In marriage counselling you really have to want an amazing marriage and be willing to do a lot of things for it that won’t give you an immediate pay off or return on your effort. Counselling can help you evaluate whether or not you both want the same type of marriage and whether or not you are both willing to put in the required effort.
Counselling, similar to dieting, you may only see some improvements in 1 to 2 months, provided everyone is changing their behavior. Of course improvements can come faster for couples that are not in the divorce stage, but you can imagine that if I want to divorce you and I really feel hurt and almost hate towards you, the idea of doing nice stuff for you and our relationship may be impossible to do for some.
So this is why I encourage people to not wait until the end to seek counselling. Counselling is like someone seeking treatment for cancer. If you see the doctor early and catch the cancer in the early stages, the treatment outcome is much better. The treatment is less intensive, expensive and painful and the likelihood for full recovery is high. The longer the cancer goes undiagnosed and untreated and grows and spreads, the less likely treatment will work when you decide do something about it. This is especially true if you get to stage 4, which is not treatable. Then it is palliative care. The same is true in marriages and with counselling. If you wait until stage 4 you may not be able to save your marriage.
If you are not sure how counselling works or if you want to seek help, please read our other articles to learn more. Or you can call or email us.