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Does marriage counseling work?

“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”  ― Dave Meurer

When people ask if marriage counseling works, what they’re really asking is, can counseling save my marriage?

Well, the answer is complicated, and dependent on a lot of factors.

For one thing, marriage counseling is not going to work if one or both partners are actively abusive. Other clinicians may have different opinions on this, but that is mine. Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse must stop before marriage counseling can even begin.

For another thing, marriage counseling is more likely to be effective if the couple seeks it at the first sign of problems. Counseling is not impossible, but less likely to work if the couple has waited until the problems are so severe that they have already brought destruction and chaos to everyone in their path. This meme illustrates what I mean… just imagine the dog’s spouse is sitting across the table.

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So, assuming that the married couple is not abusive and problems are not wildly out of control, there are two other factors that increase the likelihood of marriage counseling being effective. I base these factors on my own experience, both as a licensed professional and as a wife.

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1. Both people are willing to put in effort. 

Successful marriage counseling takes work on the part of both people in a couple.

Each person in the partnership will need to accept responsibility for their part in the failures of the marriage. This may sound unfair, particularly if one partner has been unfaithful and the other has not, for example.

But determining ‘who has hurt their partner worse’ is not only impossible, it also will not move things forward in therapy.  Both partners must be willing listen to how they have harmed their partner, and to apologize for having done so.

Acknowledging how you have wronged your partner, intentionally or unintentionally, takes courage, humility, and faith. If each of you is willing to do this, your chances of success in marriage counseling will be much higher.

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2. Both people can learn to accept their partner as they are. 

Many people enter counseling hoping that the therapist will convince their partner to change. It’s just not that simple. No one, including therapists, can force anyone else to be different from how they are. It isn’t realistic to expect therapy to change an aspect of your partner’s personality (for example, to change a chronic procrastinator into someone who gets things done weeks in advance).

What marriage therapy can do help you and your partner make adjustments to the way you interact with one another.

If you are willing to work on accepting the things you don’t like about partner (or better yet, embracing them, as in the quote above), couples therapy is much more likely to work.

If you already know that you cannot accept your partner as they are, continue to re-evaluate whether you want the relationship. Marriage therapy could help with this, but depending on the situation, individual therapy may be more appropriate. 

If you’re interested in marriage counseling, talk to your partner, and contact me for more information.

I provide online counseling to long-distance couples, which allows for therapy on a consistent basis through a secure video platform.

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Rebecca is a licensed therapist who practices telehealth counseling in Illinois. Rebecca empowers therapy clients to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems using their natural strengths and inner wisdom. 

To learn more about becoming a therapy client, contact me.

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