Marriage counseling is one of those subjects that gets brought up in divorce almost as an afterthought. Have you tried counseling may be a question that you receive from a well-meaning but late-to-the-party friend who is only asking that question after you have had years of a bad marriage playing right in front of your eyes? It can be difficult to think about counseling after you and your spouse have tried unsuccessfully to resolve the marriage problems you are facing on your own. What more can a stranger do for your marriage that the two of you have been able to accomplish on your own?
The first thing that you ought to understand about marriage problems is that every marriage goes through rocky moments. Even the happiest married people get on each other’s nerves or do things to one another that they later regret. To err is human, as someone once said. However, to acknowledge those errors, apologize and then attempt to improve oneself is not human. What is human is to continue to engage in that bad behavior until it is too late, and your marriage cannot be salvaged.
Fortunately for you, this blog post, and others like it on the website for the Law Office of Bryan Fagan exist to help you be able to understand when you are at an inflection point in your marriage and learn how to respond to the challenges that come with the understanding you are at a crossroads type position in the relationship. What you and your spouse have built to that point is not indestructible. Your marriage can fail if you and your spouse allow it to. However, you both can commit to one another to look past those difficulties and hold each other accountable as a team.
Growing apart from one another can happen for a few reasons. You all may have had a child who is taking up more and more of your time. That time used to be devoted to one another but is now set aside for a little person who is both difficult and seemingly unappreciative of your love. Not that a baby can truly show appreciation but we as humans need to have our love reciprocated at times. If we are looking for that love from an infant who is constantly demanding our attention it can be quite difficult to look to our spouse with patience and kindness for the same affection.
This is where a good marriage counselor can come in and make a difference for you and your spouse. This counselor can provide you with guidance toward correcting the bad behavior in your marriage that is causing you strife and discord. At the same time, a marriage counselor can help you to identify tools and tricks to help you and your spouse communicate better with one another. Ultimately, if you and your spouse are good communicators with one another you will build up a level of trust. Trust is the bedrock of a relationship right up there with love and respect.
Finding that trust and the willingness to communicate with one another can be difficult in a situation where your spouse has betrayed you, or vice versa, due to infidelity or any other form of marital misdeed. We leave ourselves vulnerable to our spouses in many ways- that is how marriage is designed. We are vulnerable but we also allow ourselves to be trusted and to trust the other person. This forms a bond that is hard to break. If you feel like that bond is at its breaking point, then reaching out to a good marriage counselor may be exactly what you and your spouse need at this time.
How do you go about doing that, exactly? If you have never worked with a marriage or family therapist before then you may have questions about how best to interview and ultimately hire a counselor. There are different specialties and sub-specialties when it comes to handling problems in a marriage. The cost of these types of counselors as well as their location are all important elements to consider.
Another important factor that needs to be addressed in this space is how compatible both you and your spouse are with the counselor. Just like when you would go on a date with someone and you would feel no connection, the same can happen to a counselor. You can meet with a counselor with an impeccable resume and a nice personality but just not feel comfortable working with that person. It doesn't mean that the person isn't good at what they do or that you will never find the right therapist for you and your spouse. All it means is that you need to keep looking for the right therapist for you and your spouse.
What are some common situations that may lead to you and your spouse needing to bring in the advice and perspective of a counselor?
As we talked about earlier in today’s blog post it is not at all uncommon for even happily married people to go through difficulties in a relationship now and again. Major life events can bring about stressful situations that we are unprepared for. That stress can seep into your marriage and doom the relationship if you are not careful. As a result, here are some life situations that may arise in your family and therefore increase the need for you all to seek out an experienced marriage and family counselor.
Times of transition can be especially difficult for families. We as humans thrive on routine- as much as we would like to think otherwise. When our lives are thrown into temporary chaos that can be stressful. Stress may cause marital difficulties in the process. If you or your spouse are going back to school, if a baby is on the way or if you have experienced a death in your family then these are perfect examples of times of transition for your family.
Being able to make it through these transitionary times to see yourselves on the other side can be a challenge. From my experience married people need to be able to communicate with one another on a deep level to make it through transition time without bearing permanent scars from harming one another- not literally, but with our words. It can be easy to have a loose tongue after experiencing the death of a loved one and to have your spouse bear the brunt of some unkind words that you do not mean.
Inevitably, your marriage will return to equilibrium if you allow it to return there. It may take some time and patience, however. That is where the marriage counselor comes into play. The counselor can help you all identify the problems that are causing you both the biggest headaches and will focus on those problems. Along the way, you will be able to learn communication tools and techniques that will hopefully be able to help you avoid potential problems in the future.
None of us are born strong communicators. We need to learn those skills by watching others, practicing, and being patient as our skills develop. If we do not do each of those three things continuously, then we will not be able to communicate effectively with anyone- especially our spouse. Taking the time to learn these skills is what a marriage counselor can help us achieve. Focusing on our spouse, and not ourselves can be difficult but is what is needed during tough times of transition for our families.
Has your spouse ever brought up counseling as an option?
Counseling does not have to be seen as a negative for your family. Many times, a family like yours will go through a difficult period only to find that counseling would have been beneficial to you all. If nothing else, learning better communication skills and developing strategies to handle disagreements can be worth it when it comes to attending counseling. However, counseling should not be seen as something that your family could engage in only when times are rough in your marriage.
You and your spouse may be able to benefit from counseling when times are strong in your marriage. If your spouse brings up the topic of marriage therapy or counseling, then you shouldn't necessarily think about that as a negative. You can talk to your spouse about things but in general, it shows that your spouse is being proactive about your relationship. Maybe he or she sees a situation that could develop into a problem down the road but would prefer to nip the issue in the bud now rather than see it develop into a problem. This is a possibility that you should consider before jumping to conclusions about there being an acute problem in the relationship.
On the other hand, if you have had problems in the marriage previously but have not seen much improvement in those areas without outside intervention then you may want to consider the option of counseling. Many times, it can feel like you are treading water or even swimming upstream. While you are not necessarily in a situation where things are getting worse, the relationship is not trending better. Biologists will tell you that organisms do not stay in a neutral state. We are either degrading or improving. I think the same can be said for your relationship. Are you and your spouse taking steps every day, even small steps, to improve the quality of your relationship? If not, then counseling can help you avoid that feeling of being stuck in neutral.
Finally, it can be interesting, if nothing else, to be involved with a few therapy visits. Many of us have never attended therapy or have had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, there are still negative stigmas attached to attending marriage and family counseling. However, it is up to you and your spouse to look past those negative stigmas and see marriage and family therapy for what it is: an opportunity for you and your spouse to improve the quality of your marriage. The downside to attending counseling is minimal, as well.
What do we know about divorce?
Divorce is a tricky subject to discuss in terms of statistics, rates, and trends because ultimately your relationship is so unique that you can't infer much about it based solely on statistics. However, I think that it is useful to discuss divorce rates and statistics only to give us some perspective on what others are experiencing.
We hear statistics about how half of all marriages end in divorce. This may have been true in some situations and contexts previously, but fewer marriages end up divorcing now and the rate continues to drop. From one source, 40% of marriages end in divorce. Of course, this statistic must be viewed in the context of the overall marriage rate has decreased in recent decades, as well. Fewer people are married now as a percentage of the overall population than had been married in any prior period in American history.
Who files the divorce more frequently: husbands or wives? One source that I came across found that 2/3 of all divorces are filed by wives as opposed to husbands. What inferences we can draw from this is anyone's guess. Maybe women feel more confident in stepping out on their own and filing for divorce more frequently. Or could it be that women are fewer procrastinators than men and identify when a marriage is failing and beyond the point where it can be salvaged?
We all know that it costs money to get divorced. Attorney's fees, court costs, filing fees, and time away from work are all concerns that you and your family probably have to head into a divorce. As costs across the economy have increased the same is likely true in divorce cases as well. For that reason, you need to be efficient with how you spend your dollars in a divorce. Just because you are going through a divorce does not mean that your other costs are just going to magically vanish. Rent, mortgage, utilities, school tuition, and the list goes on and on. These costs are still going to be in effect during a divorce. As a result, you should think long and hard about how to spend money efficiently during your divorce.
Preparing for marriage counseling
If you and your spouse are serious about handling the problems of your marriage in therapy, then you should prepare as best you can for counseling. Do not expect to wander into counseling and get everything that you can out of the experience. Rather, you should consider these tips before engaging in therapy to extract the most amount of value possible from the experience.
The first thing that I would mention to you is that marriage counseling is not something that will fix your relationship overnight. Many of the issues that you could be facing in your marriage may have developed over many years. You should not expect those issues to fix themselves quickly. Rather, it takes a commitment to the therapy process as well as a concerted effort to work on those problems with your spouse in your home.
First, I would recommend approaching therapy with the big picture in mind. Think about your relationship in terms of where it was, where it is now, and where you want it to go. The more of an expanded worldview you can possess the better you and your spouse can take advantage of the process. Focusing on the small stuff, like petty arguments, can take your focus away from the major issues in your relationship that have impacted you for years. This is otherwise known as missing the forest for the trees.
Next, you can think about your marriage difficulties in terms of short-term and long-term goals. If all you can focus on is fixing all the problems in your marriage and creating a perfect relationship, then you will be disappointed and frustrated throughout the counseling process. The reason being is that nobody has a perfect relationship and focusing only on huge goals at the beginning of a counseling relationship can be a self-defeating situation.
Rather, it is a good idea to focus on small, achievable goals that you can accomplish quickly. Whether those goals have to do with communication, problem-solving, self-reflection or simply becoming more patient with one another there are always small goals that can be worked on during this time that are readily achievable. The smaller goals you accomplish, the more you start to feel the wind at your back. That positive momentum can be enough to help you and your spouse work through the bigger problems in your marriage and accomplish your goals in the marriage counseling that you engage in.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family's circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.