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Marriage Counseling

QUESTION: What can I expect during marriage counseling?


A marriage requires focused attention in order to flourish and that is why many couples seek marriage counseling. Every marriage, at some point, will encounter challenging situations. Problems can arise from a crisis outside the marriage, behavioral habits brought into the marriage can cause havoc, or any number of other issues can threaten the relationship. So couples should not be surprised or embarrassed about needing and seeking help through marriage counseling.

Because professional and pastoral counselors are trained in various schools of counseling, there are several approaches they might take. Depending on the method of the counselor you see, you can expect some of the following issues to be addressed during marriage counseling:

  • The counselor will first want to assess the problems. Both the husband and the wife will need to be willing to talk about significant issues; be as accurate and open as possible.

  • The counselor may ask each spouse how they feel about their current relationship and what they want to change about it. This lets the counselor know if either spouse is unwilling to change or desires to divorce. This can also lead to a discussion of the couple's expectations for their marriage and how those expectations have or have not been fulfilled.

  • Clear and honest communication is often a significant problem; many couples do not have good skills in this area. A counselor will observe a couple's interactions to discern any unhealthy ways they relate to each other. He/she can help the couple establish better communication habits.

  • A counselor may want to discuss how a couple resolves conflict. People learn different methods of handling disagreements from their childhood environment. What is considered "fair fighting" in one household may be unfair in another. A counselor can explain how to disagree in a respectful and non-aggressive manner and help the couple develop their own "rules" for resolving conflict.

  • The counselor may wish to have a session with the husband and wife separately. This gives each spouse the chance to speak openly about their feelings and concerns, and allows the counselor to address issues with them privately that might be difficult to address in front of their spouse, such as sexual purity.

  • Many marriage counselors like to explore a couple's family and personal histories to determine where bad patterns of relating came from. Their training enables them to uncover the roots of faulty behavioral patterns and help people learn better responses and habits.

  • Personality inventories are sometimes used by counselors to show couples how their natural personality styles influence their marriage.

  • Forgiveness is a major hurdle in any marriage, since it's impossible for two people to live together without offending each other. Offenses, whether small or large, create barriers, and must be addressed. Learning how to give and receive forgiveness is a very important aspect of true love and may be a major focus of marriage counseling.

  • You can expect a marriage counselor to help you set some measurable goals to work toward and to give you "homework" - assignments of some sort which will reinforce or apply what was discussed during the counseling session.

  • A Christian counselor will want to pray for the couple and may ask the couple to commit to praying for their marriage. He will also bring biblical teachings into his advice and may ask the couple to study relevant Bible passages.
Be aware that counselors are not always right; don't be afraid to question their evaluations. You might need to reexamine and clarify some area of discussion. On the other hand, a counselor is gifted and trained to recognize behavioral problems, so be open to his or her insights and observations about yourself and your marriage.

Ultimately, the success of marriage counseling depends on the willingness of each spouse to do what is necessary to resolve the issues dividing them.

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