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What To Expect In Marriage Counseling

Rarely does a couple consider marriage counseling for a relationship tune-up.

Instead, couples call a marriage counselor when there is a relationship breakdown.

Emotions usually are running very high by the time a couple calls to schedule marriage counseling. The intensity of emotions and high levels of stress result in couples having many expectations about what marriage counseling can do and cannot do.

Marriage Counseling - Wrong Expectations

  • MY counselor will be on my side.

When a couple finally goes to marriage counseling emotions are intense. Each partner desperately wants the counselor to validate their sadness or anger. The expectation is that the marriage counselor will take sides, specifically their side. It seems so obvious to you that you are right and your partner is wrong. Right? Not so fast. A marriage counselor should try to remain unbiased and view the relationship as the client. This perspective is different than individual therapy in which the individual is the client. Don't expect an "us" (me and my counselor) against him/her stance. If your counselor is doing her job, the session will not be biased. Being unbiased should not be confused with the marriage counselor accepting or condoning harmful or abusive behaviors.

  • Secrets.

It is not uncommon for a partner to come to a marriage counseling "holding a secret". The most common secret in my practice is undisclosed affairs. During an individual session the secret is disclosed. The disclosure puts the counselor in a tough position. You know and one partner knows a secret, but the other partner is still in the dark. What to do? Should the counselor break the confidentiality of the secret holder? Or continue doing therapy and try to dance around the elephant in the room? Most marriage counselors have a Secrets Policy. My policy is not to hold secrets. Despite reviewing my secret policy before every intake session, once or twice a year, a client will disclose a secret during an individual session. My policy, when this happens is to terminate with the couple. The partner who disclosed the secret is charged with telling her partner of the termination.

  • My marriage cant be saved.

Please don't make this assumption. I have seen couples do amazing work and repair marriages that by all counts seemed irreparable. I am not sure, exactly, why some couples are able to repair their marriages while others are not. But couples that turn a marriage around have a few common traits. One trait is that they are engaged. They put forth a good deal of effort to do their homework. An example of homework is to improve communications skills, or setting healthy boundaries. Another trait is a willingness to see your own flaws. Couples must accept that they may not be right about everything. A common "aha moment" in marriage counseling that really shifts the relationship is when a partner realizes that a core perception or belief that they had about their partner, themselves, or the relationship is wrong.

  • My marriage can be saved

Sometimes a marriage cannot be saved. If one partner has decided that they want a divorce or separation, they have the right to make this choice. Not always, but often, in this case the partner has secured other living arrangements. A marriage counselor can be helpful pre-separation, particularly when children are involved. You can like your partner or not. But if you have children with another person, you are locked in to their lives until "death do you part" to a greater or lesser extent. It is also important to know that your well being, and your spouse's well being is directly tied to your children's well being. The point being, there are good reasons why you and your partner should try to be the best of friends after a divorce.

The Framework of Marriage Counseling Rules

The rules and laws that frame your work with a marriage counselor originate from three sources. I always review the rules during the first intake session with couples. I think it is a good practice and it helps to ensure that there are no misconceptions on what to expect.

  • State government. State laws pertain to issues such as mandated reported, or under what conditions a marriage counselor must break confidentiality of the client to ensure safety of vulnerable populations such as children.

  • Licencing boards A second set of rules comes from the board that administers the rules/regulations of the counselor. In Georgia, the Composite Board of counselors, social workers and family therapist is the administrator.

  • Individual therapist also abide by specific rules that are formed by her training and theoretical perspective.

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