Marital Counseling: 7 Myths Couples Should Know
Research tells us couples often prolong -- sometimes for years -- getting professional help for their relationship. Couples often tell me they delayed seeking marital counseling because of a number of fears and concerns -- all of which are understandable.
To help you learn more about couples counseling, I'm discussing the most common myths below, and giving you some details I hope you'll find helpful. I realize that talking to a "stranger" about your most important relationship can feel intimidating. My hope is you'll understand that your concerns are not uncommon and that seeking help professional help can be a positive experience.
Myth #1: The counselor will take sides.
First, the model I use, the acclaimed Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), prevents any type of bias. This method, well grounded in research and theory, helps the couple reach a new level of understanding of their difficulties while at the same time offering an opportunity to understand yourself and your partner on a deeper, important level.
The advantage of seeing an EFT-trained therapist is that we have a roadmap for the journey we take with our couples. The model is sensitive to the different concerns of each partner as we gently explore each of your concerns in the relationship.
Second, as a licensed professional, I take ethics seriously. I recognize that you come to marital therapy with some trepidation and my goal is to allow you to be heard and understood both as an individual and as part of a couple.
Myth #2: We will be judged.
This is a very-understandable concern. However, I approach each couple from a position of curiosity -- why have you grown apart, what deeper emotions seem to feed your arguing (if you argue) or have cause you to feel less connected. I also want to discover the unique strengths that are inherent in your relationship.
If you argue or have become increasingly distant, we in the EFT world call this a "negative cycle." These patterns emerge when there are hurts in the relationship that you did not know how to talk about and heal. Even smaller misunderstandings can contribute to negative cycles.
We see the "bad guy" as the negative cycle -- not either of you. And, neither of you intends for the cycle to continue; but you feel stuck in the arguing or distancing and don't yet know how to reconnect. Unfortunately, the negative cycle is extremely powerful: All the good parts of your relationship seem to have disappeared and given way to the unhappy feelings between you.
In EFT, you'll learn to understand the negative cycle, exit the cycle and then to come back and discuss the issue calmly and to resolve problems.
Myth #3: We've been having difficulties for a long time. Is there hope?
When both partners come to counseling wanting to work on the relationship, there is the best chance for positive results. As mentioned above, many couples delay coming for marital or relationship therapy. In the meantime, hurt feelings have accumulated and one or both of you can feel hopeless.
You may have tried on your own to improve your relationship, maybe by scheduling date nights and other ways of trying to regain closeness. So, it's understandable that you're doubtful counseling can make a difference.
And, there are no guarantees with counseling of any type. Yet, EFT has the highest success rate and also provides you with the tools you'll need to stay close after counseling has completed. You can learn more at the "My Approach" page on my web site.
When you both enter the counseling process (even with considerable doubts) with a willingness to work on regaining the loving bond you developed in your early years, you have the opportunity for an experience of personal growth and learning, to forgive past hurts and to understand yourself and your partner on a deeper level that allows you to see each other in a new, positive light.
Myth #4: Counseling takes years. We need relief now!
Many couples find improvement in even the first phase of counseling, as they discover early in the process how they've become more disconnected and that the "negative cycle" is their true enemy.
EFT is a brief model, with the number of sessions averaging between 10 and 20 for most couples. Also, there's some reading and "homework" to help you move through the process more quickly.
Counseling does require a commitment of both time and money. However, when couples dedicate themselves to this process, they have the potential to find relief from the arguing and disconnection as well as rekindling the closeness they experienced in their early years together.
Myth #5: We tried counseling in the past, so it may not work this time either.
A number of reasons can contribute to counseling being less effective than hoped. Working with a therapist with solid training and an effective model is essential. My only focus is on couples and relationships, and that's the focus as well for my continuing training and study. Also, if you were not with a therapist who used EFT, your chances of success may be greater this time.
Also, couples may be more "ready" and open to counseling at different times in the relationship. Obviously, if you're willing to try therapy again, you truly want to discover how you can regain closeness and get to the heart of the causes of issues in your relationship.
Myth #6: Couples therapy is only for those who are married.
Not at all! Many of the couples I work with have been together for some time and want to improve their relationship. Some are headed toward marriage and know they need to resolve ongoing concerns before taking that next step.
Some couples may have separated; however, they want to see whether they can work through the problems that drove them apart.
Myth #7: People don't change. So, nothing can improve.
I have had the privilege of watching couples learn to reconnect, to understand their partner's relationship struggles as well as their own and to understand the importance of their partner's needs.
Sometimes there's a fear on the part of one or both partners that "I have to change everything about me in order for this relationship to work." Rather, change occurs in the dynamic of relationship between you by learning how to respond to your partner's needs for closeness; his or her desire to feel special and important to you; and to value each other's strengths and uniqueness.
When we learn to deeply understand each other, we can tune in to our partner's desires for connection. At the same time, as we learn to recognize how we relate to our partner, we can bring to the surface and be able to discuss and work through the issues that may cause us to stay distant and more removed.
We may not have had good role models for positive, loving relationships when we were growing up. We may have witnessed arguing, a lack of affection, and had to struggle with our parent's divorce and all the changes it brought into our lives. As we learn to understand how these early impressions carry over into our adult relationships, we can grow toward enriching our own relationships.
Linda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection, to learn to resolve issues through deepening their understanding of each other's needs and to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at 602-882-0533 or Linda@awarecounseling.com.