If you have ever found yourself struggling in your marriage, you know the feeling of desperation. You want so badly to be happy and to have your relationship at a peaceful place. You might wonder if marriage therapy would be the answer to your problems. Sometimes, that’s exactly what is needed.
The words “marriage therapy” have become kind of dirty words over the past few years. There is often a stigma that comes with attending a counseling session. In reality, some of the healthiest relationships were born from couples attending marriage therapy.
For many couples, though, it is difficult to know when it’s time to go to therapy. What constitutes making that initial appointment and what can you expect when you go to marriage therapy?
|This post was co-written by Licensed Professional Counselor, LaVonne Dyste, LPC. This post should not be taken as actual medical advice. Please seek professional help when needed. |
How do you know if it’s time for marriage therapy?
A lot of struggling marriages end in divorce because couples wait too long to seek professional help. While there might be hesitation about going to marriage therapy, there are some major red flags to look out for. When your marriage has reach a point of being self-destructive, it’s time to seek professional help.
When these things start to happen, it is time for marriage therapy:
Not understanding the needs of your spouse.
Marriage is difficult for many different reasons. When two people unite, it can be hard to understand what exactly the other person needs.
When spouses needs aren’t being met, a marriage can head south quite quickly. It doesn’t matter how minor or insignificant a certain need appears to be. Every person deserves to have their needs met in their marriage.
If it becomes so difficult to really “get” the needs of your spouse, and it causes turmoil in your relationship, then it would benefit you both to seek counseling.
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Lack of intimacy.
The subject of intimacy is not always one that people want to openly talk about. However, it is an important part of marriage and not one that can be ignored.
If there is a lack of intimacy in marriage, it can affect all other aspects of the relationship. And sometimes, there are other, uncovered issues that are happening in a marriage that lead to the lack of intimacy.
When there is minimal or no intimate connection in your marriage, seeing a marriage therapist can help address the underlying issues.
Communication is difficult.
In marriage, healthy communication should be a priority. When communication breaks down between spouses, not many problems can be solved.
You might feel like you go around and around in conversations or arguments with your spouse. It feels like nothing gets accomplished and you are both saying the same things over and over again. A compromise is never reached.
Once this break down of communication starts happening, it is hard to reset and take control back of your connection with your spouse. Marriage therapy helps with this issue because it allows for an outside and unbiased person to mediate and give communication tips.
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Trouble finding solutions to problems.
Sometimes marital arguments never end with an actual solution. The same argument can rear its ugly head over and over again between spouses.
When you have trouble finding solutions to problems in your marriage, there is an unsettling feeling that overwhelms the marriage. With all topics in a marriage, spouses should try to reach an agreement.
A marriage therapist can help you bridge the gaps in your communication with your spouse and help you to acquire tools to solve problems together.
When one or both spouses feels disconnected.
Feeling disconnected with your spouse is that “blah” feeling. Like something just doesn’t feel right in your relationship. Maybe you aren’t communicating well, there is a lack of intimacy or you are having difficulty finding solutions to problems in your marriage.
Whatever the reason for your feelings of disconnect, it is important to get an understanding as to why you might be feeling that way. In marriage therapy, a therapist can pinpoint your feelings of disconnect and find a resolution that will bring you closer to your spouse.
When infidelity has occurred.
Infidelity is an emergency. If you or your spouse have been inappropriately involved (emotionally or physically) with another person, this needs immediate attention from a professional.
It is impossible to work alone through a problem of such magnitude.
If you and your spouse are willing to attend therapy, your marriage therapy will come up with a game plan on how your relationship can begin healing.
When one or both spouses has a substance abuse problem.
Substance abuse problems can tear down a marriage faster than the blink of an eye. Although all marital problems need to be dealt with, substance abuse is a crisis situation and needs immediate help.
Your marriage therapist can refer you to a substance abuse treatment program and will help you take the necessary steps to finding a healthier lifestyle.
What to expect in marriage therapy:
A therapist with his or her own set of skills.
Each therapist is going to take a different approach in a marriage therapy session. By using a variety of therapeutic approaches, therapists can pinpoint issues and create a game plan for getting your marriage back on track.
No two therapists are created equally, so if one therapist doesn’t work out well for you and your spouse, don’t be scared to try a different one.
You and your spouse will be expected take a long hard look at current commitment to your relationship and recommit if necessary.
When a marriage has been ignored and allowed to suffer immensely, there may be commitment issues that surface. One spouse may not be fully committed to making the marriage work. Maybe neither spouse is interested in committing to the relationship.
Your therapist will evaluate your commitment levels and ask that you and your spouse really think about how much you are committed to each other and the marriage.
Recommitting to the marriage means that you re-prioritize the marriage and start to work toward peace in your relationship. Sometimes this is necessary when both spouses have had issues with committing to the marriage.
Discover what makes your relationship worth while.
When you are in marriage therapy, your therapist is going to ask you why you stay in your marriage. What reason do you have for staying married to your spouse? What makes the relationship worth while?
If this is a difficult question to answer, that is okay. Your therapist will walk you through some exercises to rediscover what your relationship is all about.
Explore weaknesses and strengths of your relationship.
Even a struggling marriage has strengths. When you go to marriage therapy, one of the things you will discuss is the strengths and weaknesses of your marriage.
While it’s easy to think of weaknesses in a struggling marriage, it is important to not just dwell on those. Remembering the strengths of your marriage will help you capitalize on the strong points you have with your spouse and apply them to different areas that are failing.
Find meaningful solutions to long-standing problems.
Since communication break down and difficulty finding solutions to your marital problems are generally reasons couples seek counseling, your therapist will try to help you find those solutions you need.
Long-standing problems in marriage can overrun the rest of the marriage. When solutions and compromises are found for that problem, the clouds rise and you are able to see clearly again.
This is the ultimate goal for marriage therapy.
Explore spousal expectations and unmet needs of you and your spouse.
A therapist will also want to discuss the unmet needs of you and your spouse. Once those unmet needs are identified, you and your spouse can begin working on a plan to meet each other’s needs.
Sometimes it is simply the way something is phrased by your therapist that creates an “aha” moment for you and your spouse.
Learn new ways to communicate effectively.
Communication is the key to a healthy marriage. Your therapist will teach you ways to communicate that are healthy and effective.
A lot of times, couples have become so used to arguing and bickering that they have no idea how to communicate in a civil and productive way.
Your marriage therapist can help you come up with ways to talk to each other that help you both get your points across.
Practice new behaviors to enhance marriage.
Marriage can cause some couples to put in less effort as time goes by. This can cause the deterioration of the marriage at a fast pace.
In therapy, your marriage therapist will assess what is lacking in your marriage and will give you some new behaviors to practice with each other.
For example, maybe your husband is habitually late coming home from work. Year after year, this has been a growing issue in your marriage. Your marriage therapist will give the assignment for your husband to come home from work on time for a certain amount of days out of the week.
As you practice these different, new behaviors, they will begin to enhance your marriage and ultimately be a better way to meet the needs of each other.
Explore your history as a couple.
Although we don’t want to live in the past, it is important to reflect on your history as a couple. If you have been in an unhealthy marriage for a long time, it may take longer to get back to a healthy relationship.
In marriage therapy, your therapist is going to want to know of any past issues you have had. This includes things such as infidelity or communication issues.
It is important that you explore your history so you can see where the patterns and trends are. Once these are identified, it is easier to put a plan in place to mend your broken marriage.
Final thoughts on marriage therapy.
Marriage therapy should not be feared. A huge percentage of couples go to therapy because they know it is what they need to be able to sustain their marriage.
Sometimes your marriage might just need tweaking. Maybe nothing major is going on, but it just feels stagant. Whatever the case may be, it is beneficial to see what a professional says about your marriage and how to improve it.
Just remember, a therapist is not a refereee, but a third party to assist you and your spouse in identifying issues that need attention. The ultimate goal is to help a couple grow together and not apart.
LaVonne Dyste is a Licensed Professional Counselor at The Springs Counseling Group. She specializes in working with couples and families, hoarding and patients with OCD.