Going to see a marriage counselor is not a life sentence!
When a couple finally comes to Seeking Shalom (or anywhere else where they can see a marriage counselor) they often are at a stage where this is their last hope. They may be experiencing a lot of conflict between the two partners, one or both of them might have cheated, there might just be silence between them, and they may even have discussed separation or divorce. If these things are so unpleasant to experience, why do couples wait so long to seek help? There are many reasons, including shame that they are going through these problems, lack of wanting to admit it even to themselves, fear that there is no hope for their marriage or even concern that marriage counseling will be something they will never get out of. However, there is hope for them individually and as a couple. Seeing a marriage counselor can help them transform the situation. Doing so does not have to mean that couples counseling becomes a permanent appointment in their weekly calendar.
Couples counseling can help them address the issues that brought them into the office as well as lay a foundation to help them better deal with situations in the future. Once this is done, if there are not other things to work on, generally the need for couples counseling is over. When this is the case, neither I nor my staff want to have the couple keep coming in and we won't. No qualified marriage counselor would continue to work with a couple that doesn’t have goals that they are still working on. For some couples, there may be a time period when they come in less frequently just to make sure they are still doing what they have learned and to brush up on what is not so clear. Even so, there usually comes a time when the couple should stop coming to see a marriage counselor.
If the couple does not come to this conclusion, then ethically I need to raise this issue with them as their couples counselor. This conversation will go different ways. An example of this would be a married couple that has achieved their goals and are not working on anything. When I asked them why they were still coming to therapy, they stated that their marriage had been so much better ever since coming to marriage counseling. They expressed that they thought it was because they were seeing a marriage therapist, especially one that addressed issues of their faith. My response was to tell them that there was nothing magical about coming. We reviewed what they had learned in therapy and were now applying in their lives and in their marriage. I told them that they did not need to come anymore and to take the money that they had been paying me as a marriage counselor every other week and to go on a nice date. I also assured them that if something came back up or a new problem developed in their relationship then they would be welcome to come back into therapy. About six months later, I got an email from them saying how well things were going and how much they were enjoying the biweekly date night prescription.
This pattern repeats itself over and over in my experience. The real success for me as a marriage counselor (or even as a couples therapist if the couple is not married) is when they are able to experience wholeness and peace in their relationship and are able to sustain this without me being involved. If you have something going on in your relationship, know that you too can find a safe place to talk and address what is going on and that doing so does not have to mean permanently making a marriage counselor an additional part of your relationship.
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