Will marriage counseling help you? It depends on if you want to be helped.
Imagine you are in a situation where you have found that your husband cheated on you. When you two first discussed this, he temporarily moved out of the house. A few weeks go by and he says he would like for both of you to go to marriage counseling. Your first reaction is "no way" because he is still maintaining a "friendship" with the other woman. Should you follow your gut reaction or is there a possibility that marriage counseling could do some good?
Against Marriage Counseling: What is his level of commitment to making the counseling and your marriage work? As long as the continuing "friendship" is something that will get in the way of either of you being able to make the commitment to working with a marriage therapist, then you will not be putting the energy and dedication into it that is needed to make it work. In my practice, temporarily setting aside things like this that are barriers is an important part of the beginning of marriage counseling.
For Marriage Counseling: Are there any reasons for this friendship to have to continue? Can it have appropriate boundaries placed on it? If the other woman is a work colleague or there is something else that ties them together (such as a child they had together), having no contact with her might not be a feasible option. Especially if there is a connection that will continue into the future (such as a child together), you would want this to be able to continue in a friendly way, as long as that friendly way was appropriate and respectful of your marriage. Being able to see and accept this on either side often needs the help of a marriage therapist. I have found that couples often cannot do this on their own.
Against Marriage Counseling: A common response to this type of situation is "once a cheater, always a cheater." This is a message that has been ingrained in us through our society. If this is your belief, then you are likely to hold a certain degree of distrust into the rest of your marriage. If you are not at least willing to set aside this future possibility, or at least talk with the marriage therapist about how it may not happen, you are not likely to truly engage in trying to heal the present and prepare for a healthy future.
For Marriage Counseling: Did he understand that what he did was cheating? There are certain limits that everyone considers as cheating when they are crossed. For some people the limits are much earlier with other sexual acts, even at kissing, or even just in terms of certain levels of intimacy in conversations. Frequently, when I do premarital counseling, I find that the two people have different understanding of what constitutes as "cheating." If this conversation has not been had, is it possible that he did not know he had crossed the line?
Against Marriage Counseling: Are you (or he) past the point of really wanting to reconcile? Are you done with him? When a couple comes into my office and one of them says, "I'm here for three sessions and then I am going to go ahead and separate like I want to," then I ask them if there is anything that could go on that would change their mind during the next three sessions. If they are really set in how they will act, then marriage counseling does not really stand a chance. For the therapy to work, each party has to at least leave open the possibility that it will work.
For Marriage Counseling: Would it all be a waste if we still split? Even if your work with a marriage therapist does not result in your marriage continuing, there are possible benefits that can come from it. The first is that it can help you to gain closure by having a better understanding of what went on and what led to the cheating. While you may be blaming yourself for what took place, the marriage therapist should draw out his responsibility in it. The work you do in marriage counseling will also benefit you personally and allow you to be a stronger and more confident person as you claim your new life and future.
Against Marriage Counseling: Why not just talk about this with some of our friends? There are several good reasons why friends may not be the best people to help you. Some of your friends may have religious views that bias any sort of advice that they give you. Other friends may naturally favor one or the other of you. There is also the factor of whether you want your friends to know what was going on in your marriage? If you do, you might have people you know who can at least help you and him work out whether marriage counseling may have a chance. You may speak to your faith group leader (minister, priest, rabbi, etc) and have a few sessions with him or her.
For Marriage Counseling: Why would I want to pay the high price to go see a marriage therapist? Marriage counseling, like most of healthcare, is not cheap. Your insurance may or may not cover it. However, what you are paying for is someone who has advanced training (a masters or doctoral degree) and experience providing just the type of assistance that you need. Just as I could take my car to my uncle to tinker with, I am better to pay the high price for a decent mechanic to get the right help. If the marriage counseling results in your marriage staying together, the cost is clearly less than attorney and court fees in getting a divorce. Even if your marriage does come to an end, the work you did with a marriage therapist may make the divorce that follows easier which will also save you money. It may also help make things easier for others (such as the children you have with him) as principles around relationships with them may be easier to establish in marriage counseling than in lawyers' offices.
Regardless of whether your marriage continues or if it ends in divorce, there is hope available to you. Depending on where you are and whether you are willing to consider a continued relationship will determine whether or not marriage counseling is your right choice. If you are looking for it to perform miracles and change your husband into a new man, then it is probably not going to get you what you want. If you are simply avoiding it because of costs or because you will have to be honest to him about your feelings, then you might want to rethink and give marriage counseling a chance.
If you need help in finding peace and wholeness in your life and relationships, Christopher and his staff are available for sessions through Seeking Shalom in New York and Indiana. You can also explore his books.