Successful couples counseling depends on several factors: both parties must be willing to change, marital problems can’t be impossible, goals need to be realistic, your therapist must be effective, you can’t wait until it’s too late and both spouses must want the marriage to work.
Are You Willing to Change?
If your partner refuses to attend couples counseling or is unwilling to make any changes in his behavior, it’s difficult to fix your marriage. You may be able to change the dynamics of your relationship by attending individual counseling, but if your spouse is unwilling to make changes because she believes the problems are all your fault, you are not likely to be successful. Marital problems are rarely one-sided. Both parties usually contribute to a dysfunctional relationship. If only one partner is motivated to change, it’s nearly impossible to fix a broken marriage. However, individual counseling can help the motivated person decide if she wants a divorce or is in a destructive relationship.
How Difficult Are Your Problems?
Couples counseling won’t save every marriage. In fact, marriage counseling may lead to divorce if you discover you are not in a healthy relationship and you can’t change the destructive dynamics. About a quarter of couples find their relationship is worse after counseling and around forty percent of couples who enter counseling divorce within four years. Many couples who divorce following marriage counseling find that they developed a dysfunctional attachment to their own parents and carried those destructive patterns into their marriage. Individual counseling may repair the dysfunctional attachment relations and help the marriage. However, both spouses must be willing to change in order to save a marriage.
Do You Have Realistic Expectations?
Identifying and working toward realistic goals makes couples counseling more successful. For example, if your goal is to improve communications, that’s realistic and can be achieved. However, if you expect to develop a perfect relationship with no conflict, you will be disappointed. Studies show that couples that avoid conflict develop dysfunctional relationships and often divorce. Disagreement is a natural part of marriage. Learning how to handle disagreements through compromise is the foundation of a happy marriage.
Is Your Counselor Effective?
There are a lot of different therapies available for troubled couples. Only some are effective, because different techniques work better for different couples. A competent couples counselor will help spouses change the dynamics of their relationship, teach them how to handle conflict and show them the value of compromise. An effective couples counselor will define and maintain boundaries between the couples to help them differentiate and approach marriage realistically.
Is It Too Late?
One important fact to remember when evaluating whether couples counseling will work for you, is that many couples don’t enter counseling until their problems are really bad and it’s too late to fix the marriage. For counseling to be effective, their problems must be reasonable, both parties should accept responsibility for part of the problem and they need to be willing to change. If you have spent years trying to make your marriage work on your own, you and your spouse may not have the commitment to participate in couples counseling. For counseling to work, you must be willing to experience emotional pain and make significant changes in how you think and act toward your spouse. Success depends on both parties.
Is It Marriage or Divorce Counseling?
In a third of couples that enter counseling, one party is already considering divorce. In this situation, the counselor needs to discern whether the goal is to save the marriage or soften the blow of divorce. If one partner has already decided she wants a divorce, there is little point in trying to save the marriage. Only if both partners are committed to saving the marriage will couples counseling work. If your spouse wants a divorce, you are wasting your time going to couples counseling. You should call a collaborative divorce attorney and get on with dividing assets and developing a parenting plan.
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