This is a guest post from my friend Emily at Pax Family Counseling. She’s got some great thoughts here. I’ve added my commentary in italics.
If you have never been to couples therapy or marriage counseling, it can be hard to know what to expect. It is common to feel anxious or unsure on how to proceed with marriage counseling and I assure you, you are not the only one! Below are some common myths and truths to help clarify what really goes on in couples therapy:
Myth: Couples counseling is only for people who have serious issues.
Truth: Couples counseling is for people who want to better their relationship.
Why wait until there is a serious issue at hand and in the meantime suffer miserably before seeking help? Many couples attend counseling when issues are brewing and they are unsure on how to proceed. There is a spectrum in couples counseling. On one end couples attend for preventative maintenance, or preparation on how to work with future difficulties. On the other end there are couples who engage due to drastic events that have occurred and they are devastated with what has happened. The truth is, the majority of couples are somewhere in between.
The best time to do couples counseling is before you’re even married. Premarital counseling allows the counselor to be a fire inspector instead of a fireman or firewoman. Once you’re already married, it’s great marriage maintenance, even when there’s not a problem.
Myth: The therapist will only see his/her side.
Truth: Therapists believe it takes two to tango.
Sometimes one partner or their decisions may look like the issue, though a couples therapist believes there is a root to why things have or are occurring in the system. In couples counseling, the therapist will often switch back and forth between partners to understand perspectives and to get to the root of each occurrence. The therapist and the couple will look at the interactions, what led up to where they are today, the responsibilities on each side, the emotions involved and they will work to establish a healthy way of breaking negative cycles and moving forward together.
Taking sides doesn’t help anyone. Even with major catastrophes, like an affair, both parties contribute to the marital conditions that made the affair possible and desirable. Even in the rare case that one person “caused” the problem, both people need to solve the problem.
Myth: Marriage counseling takes ____ many sessions.
Truth: Every couple is different.
There are a few factors that influence the length of time in couples counseling. Some include the issues at hand, the dedication of the couple, consistency in keeping appointments and the therapist’s theoretical orientation. For some couples 5-6 sessions seems to get them to a better place, for others 6 months to 1 year may be more realistic. As a therapist who practices Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT), the research shows that generally 10-12 sessions will get us to solid place and sessions after that tend to maximize the benefit. Stopping therapy pre-maturely can inhibit the growth occurring for the couple. Discussing with your therapist on what is realistic for your particular situation and maintaining conversation about this will be good way to gage about how long therapy may be.
The bigger the problem, the longer therapy takes. The less mature the individuals in the couple, the longer therapy takes. The less mature the couple is as a couple, the longer therapy takes. Sometimes the immaturity is the problem, sometimes the problem is so big that it forces maturity to happen.
Myth: Once the big issues are worked through, we should never need counseling again.
Truth: Many couples choose to go to counseling periodically after initial difficulties are worked through.
Some couples engage what we call “maintenance sessions.” These sessions tend to occur when the main struggles are at bay and they want to check in once a month or so. One of my clients referred to it like an oil change, saying “I think of you like the mechanic of our marriage…here to help us run smoothly.”
Perfect metaphor for this myth. If this were true, I would never have to change the oil or put air in my tires “because I replaced the transmission.”
Myth: Couples counseling is a waste of time and money.
Truth: Couple’s counseling is an investment in your relationship and overall happiness.
If you want progress in any endeavor you choose, it takes work, time and commitment. Couples counseling can bring the love, ease and happiness back into the relationship. Couples counseling is not for those who are “half in-half out.” It takes a 100% commitment to better your relationship. Trusting the process, understanding the course of therapy and finding a qualified couples therapist is really the key.
The typical divorce costs $15,000 in the first year. Housing, transportation, and childcare costs go up. Your credit is shot. Your productivity drops at work, which may cost you the job, and costs your employer money even if they don’t fire you. 10-12 counseling sessions will cost you $2,500 on the absolute high end (Neither Emily or I cost that much, by the way).
Financial costs aside, the emotional toll of a divorce will nearly always be higher than the emotional toll of the personal growth that happens in counseling.
Engaging in counseling is an empowering decision that can transform relationships and literally change lives.
Originally published on Pax Family Counseling on May 17th, 2016.