Clearly, one of the most important concerns anyone involved in a relationship may face is the relationship we have with our mate. Yet, most people have not learned what is needed in order to sustain a solid, healthy, joyful partnership. That’s not really your fault, but rather a lack of awareness on the part of our society. Somehow, for years, it was assumed that people would just know how to be in love, or that love would be enough to make things work. Little did we know.
So, without much of a reference point, many turned to the only sources available: movies, books and songs. Even the Beatles sang, "Love is All Ya’ Need." Sadly, these resources turned out to not really provide the answers couples needed, and many marriages ended up suffering.
Today, there’s a great deal more information available to assist couples in helping them with their relationship snags. Among them are relationship books, workshops and CDs all promising to offer solutions. And many times these are quite useful. Sadly, for some, it’s just not enough. And then, it’s time to seek the help of a marriage professional.
In some religions, marital education is required before a couple is allowed to marry. It’s now known that this practice is a really good one. Other couples actually do go for premarital education. Kudos to them! It does not mean that something is wrong with your relationship; rather, it indicates you realize that there are skills to be learned in order for your partnership to be successful.
So, when most couples call me, their marriage is at death’s door, so to speak. And like other situations when people are desperate, the decisions you make may not be in your best interests. Let me offer some pointers for things to look for when you choose a counselor to work with:
1. Is the individual a specialist in relationships? Though many therapists will offer marriage counseling, there is a difference in the type of work that is done in individual therapy and marital therapy.
2. Is the person pro-marriage? If you are going into marital counseling, you are attempting to save your marriage. Though going through the process does not guarantee that your marriage will be saved, you want to work with someone who has the attitude and skills to move you in that direction. There are some therapists who believe that your individual personal happiness is more important than the end result of the union.
3. Does the person use an educationally, skills-based model? Again, marital work is different than therapy. The latter is to explore your feelings and gain insight as to your personal dynamics. When going for marital work, what is needed is to learn the skills to work together as a couple.
The newest research has also shown that work on attachment theory (ala Sue Johnson’s model) is also very profound. But this material is still presented more in a skills-based approach than a therapeutic model.
4. If you are going for marital work, is it as a result of infidelity? If so, ask if the individual has had experience working with this type of situation. First of all, there are many types of infidelities, but it is important to know that not only can couples heal from them, but often their relationships become stronger. However, the therapist must have experience in this area—there are even specific models that can be employed to help couples heal.
5. Is the person aware that insurance companies do not pay for marital counseling? What other arrangements is he or she willing to work out with you?
6. Be willing to shop around. The age or gender of the person you work with does not matter as to the outcome. However, your comfort with the person does! Meet with the person and get a feel for who they are and how long they have been doing this. Ask what he or she sees as the "game plan" (different professionals may have varying styles of how they meet with you as individuals or as a couple). Don’t forget to make an inquiry about the business side of the practice, e.g. cancellation policy, methods of payment, return of phone calls, etc.
If you aren’t totally comfortable, consider meeting with another one or two people in order to decide who will best meet your needs.
7. Once you’ve made your decision, do your part of the work! Sure, finding the right professional is very important. But, as I often tell my clients: I can take you to the gym and I can show you how to work the machines, but unless you get on the machines and exercise, you won’t see the results.
Marriages take a while to become undone. And so, they will take a while to come back together. But with the right help and your commitment, you absolutely can enjoy the partnership you once dreamed of!
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com