Taking a Look Behind Closed Doors

What is marriage counseling? What should you expect from marriage counseling? How does it help? Can marriage or couples counseling save a failing relationship?

It’s mysterious—what goes on behind the closed doors in a marriage counseling office. Is one partner getting a scolding for not taking out the garbage?  Is the other going being told how many times to have sex next week?  Does the therapist wave a magic wand and cause the couple to fall in love all over again?

No.  Not exactly.  

So, what is marriage counseling or couples therapy, and how does it work?  

Good Marriage Counseling or Couples Therapy Provides a Safe, Judgment-Free Environment in Which to Speak Honestly

You may be afraid to speak about an affair or about infidelity.  You may worry that speaking honestly will harm your relationship with the therapist—just as it may have harmed your relationship with your spouse or partner.  Or, you may feel embarrassed about a sexual fantasy or other sexual issue.  You may wonder if you’ll be shamed in treatment as you may have been shamed before when speaking honestly about yourself.   Marriage counseling by its nature, grapples with those difficult, challenging subjects like infidelity, sexual problems, and deep personal issues that derail relationships.  A trained therapist is interested in everything you have to say and will help you to speak authentically about your struggle.   

Good Marriage Counseling or Couples Therapy Takes a Strictly Neutral Position

A good marriage counselor or therapist knows that neutrality is critical to success.  He or she is very careful to remain neutral and to protect neutrality by declining to side with or take up one partner’s position against the other.  A good marriage counselor knows that the details of a position or argument are not really the issue.  Rather, teaching the couple to communicate effectively and compassionately is the key to a successful outcome.   

Marriage Counseling is Not Something Done to the Couple; It’s Something the Couple Undertakes Together

You may have a fantasy that marriage counseling is like a drive through; you put your request in and you get a warm bag of goodies back!  Simple!  Well, of course not.  Good marriage counseling asks you to get into the kitchen, roll up your sleeves, and get cooking.  Successful marriage counseling requires that both participants be motivated, interested and engaged in the process, curious, willing, and yes—hopeful.  

Good Marriage Counseling Teaches the Struggling Couple How to Communicate Effectively

Talking with your partner or spouse about what you need and how you feel is the glue that holds healthy relationships together.  It generates closeness and intimacy and forms the basis for a strong friendship as well as a good sexual connection. Communicating, which includes both speaking and listening effectively, can be the key to success in transforming your failing relationship into a satisfying one.  Without good skills, you find yourself holding onto your pain and resentments, moving away from each other, and feeling disconnected and devalued.  In the therapy, couples are taught how to frame their distress, how to listen carefully, and how to speak authentically and effectively.  

Good Marriage Counseling Helps the Struggling Couple Replace Scorn and Contempt with Compassion and Empathy

Feeling compassion and empathy from your spouse is a tremendously longed-for experience.  More than any other complaint that I hear, couples most frequently voice deep despair that “she doesn’t care about me,” or “he could care less that I was upset!”  Empathic failures are disturbing and can cause deep ruptures in a relationship.   Good marriage counseling models compassion and empathy for the struggling couple and teaches, through carefully designed and facilitated sessions, how to access your own caring self, how to bring it into the room, how to show and demonstrate compassion, and how to include compassion and empathy in your daily interactions with your spouse or partner.   

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