How Marriage Counseling Can Help, Now! Too often couples wait to reach the breaking point of their marriage before seeking help. Why wait? Here's what counseling can do for you now. BY LISA BROOKES KIFT, MFT
Like a new car, your marriage wouldn't mind getting a tune-up or a little detailing once in a while.
“ The point is, marriage counseling is not just meant for couples in major distress. In fact, I believe it to be far more useful as a tool to help avoid major distress.”
If you’re like many, you may be hesitant about taking your marital woes to a counselor. This is incredibly common and the reasons people cite for avoiding counseling span from not wanting to air their "dirty laundry" to suspicion of the process itself. Unfortunately, couples often present to marriage counseling long after the initial strain and tension building shows itself in the relationship. If too much resentment and toxicity builds in the marriage, it can be a long climb back out of the abyss. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Marriage counseling has so much more to offer than a life saver for couples teetering on the edge of the proverbial cliff. People trained in relationship dynamics have a plethora of valuable tools in their toolboxes to help you learn to make minor tweaks and adjustments to your marriage before crisis hits.
Here are some valuable ways that marriage counseling can help:
Teach healthy patterns of communication. Whether you and your spouse have never communicated well—or you used to but mitigating factors have led to both of you forgetting what you know—marriage counseling can help identify how your communication style can be improved. Some ways a counselor could help might be through encouraging active listening; identifying hot spots or triggers that begin unhelpful cycles; or encouraging mindfulness of making incorrect assumptions about what the other means and speaking in ways both partners feel not only "heard," but validated and empathized with.
Help put the focus back on the marriage. It’s very easy to stop prioritizing your marriage, especially with young children, busy careers and the general hustle and bustle of life. This is a common issue for couples that often can be improved with a simple refocus of the lens in which you view your marriage—and attention paid to each other. Many couples who come in for counseling want to improve their relationships and be more connected. Sometimes a reminder of what they probably already know is all they need. Weekly check-ins via walks in the evening or date nights can help put the spotlight on the marriage. These behavior changes send both partners the message that, "Hey, you matter to me. We matter."
Work through resentment build-up on tougher issues. If you and your spouse have some resentment starting to block your connection, sometimes these emotionally-loaded conversations are better had in front of a marriage counselor who can contain the emotional reactivity in the room and facilitate working through it more productively and ideally—without more damage done. If you learn how to communicate well together even tough conversations like these can be managed on your own—in many cases, couples don’t know or lose sight of the basics of loving and healthy communication.
The aforementioned are just a few ways that marriage counseling can help, and of course there are many more, including working through a tough decision, looking at money issues, examining the roles and expectations of each other in marriage, and sexual intimacy. The point is, marriage counseling is not just meant for couples in major distress. In fact, I believe it to be far more useful as a tool to help avoid major distress. Some of my couples even check in with me occasionally as they would with their dentist or medical doctor to assess their relationship health. Seems like a great idea considering how integral our relationship health is to our emotional health.
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of Love and Life Toolbox, one of the original therapist-created resources for marriage, relationship and emotional health available on the web.