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Arguably, the biggest threat to a relationship is the lack of communication. If you can't talk to each other, then the situation is primed for breeding feelings of hurt, doubt, and a lack of trust. This can become dangerous when one or both parties feel the need to seek what they lack from parties outside of the marriage, i.e., an affair.
Maybe you just need to vent about how it seems like all your husband does nap when you could use a little help with the kids. Maybe it's not your wife that's the problem, but her overbearing mother-in-law. Getting an outsider's perspective can be incredibly helpful in dealing with issues like these.
When an individual or couple comes to a marriage therapist, it is the therapist's job to listen to what they are saying, but then try to read between the lines to see what's going on. Maybe the wife is complaining about things that seem like no big deal at first - her husband leaving the toilet seat up or leaving empty wrappers around the kitchen - but she may be irritated by these minor things because deep down, she has been unhappy with him for a while and she's looking for something to nitpick to drive him away so that he leaves her.
When the couple wants to save the marriage, the therapist's job is to mediate and help them agree to each other's rules and boundaries to remember their love and respect for each other so they can get back to having a happy marriage. However, if the couple has decided the marriage is over, the therapist can coach them on the actions and behaviors they should leave behind going forward, so as not to see future relationships meet the same unfortunate end.
A marriage therapist is responsible for, and - if licensed - is highly skilled in the ways of ensuring that each person fights fairly and is open to discussion. The therapist is there as a liaison to ensure that one person isn't steering the conversation and that no one is being bullied. The therapist is also skilled at helping the couple feel and cope with emotions like betrayal or frustration that can come out during a session.
It is important to remember that a marriage therapist is not a psychiatrist. He or she cannot diagnose, let alone treat, a mental illness that may be contributing to a couple's marital strife. What the therapist can do, however, is observe the situation and make suggestions based on those observations. For instance, if one party admits to a history of drug abuse, depression, or a traumatic life event, the therapist recognizes that such issues can certainly contribute to stress within the marriage.
If the therapist is made aware of issues such as these, then it is up to him or her to refer that party to a medical doctor who specializes in treating such a condition. This is, of course, up to the discretion of the therapist and is not always a step in saving a marriage. If the therapist decides to refer the person to a doctor and he or she begins a treatment program, then the therapist can continue with the counseling as normal insofar as coming up with ways to save the marriage.
Even if a marriage therapist believes that a couple would be better off separated than together, it is not a good idea for the therapist to tell the couple if s/he feels the couple would be better off getting a divorce and, as a rule, most therapists refrain from doing so. Instead, the therapist works to help the couple talk with each other openly in such a way as to not infuriate the other person.
For instance, the therapist may suggest that the wife not slam the cabinets in frustration while washing the dishes after asking her husband to do them when she still has to get the kids ready for school and then go to work. In place of this passive-aggressive behavior, the therapist may suggest that instead, the wife tell the husband something along the lines of: "Please respect my time in the morning and wash your breakfast dishes when you're done with them." In addition to teaching a couple how to better talk to each other, a therapist also teaches them how to listen.
It can be difficult to work on marriage in the face of everyday responsibilities. You tend to put each other last when you're focusing on the children, and when you do take the time out for anyone other than the kids, you may want to focus on achieving a personal goal of yours that is not on par with anything your spouse wants to do. A therapist can remind couples of the mutual goals they once set with each other and offer hope that not only are those goals not lost, but that there are still ways for the couple to reach them together.
The therapist is responsible for reminding couples of how considerate and thoughtful they once were of each other while they were still dating by reminding them of the unwritten "rules of marriage" that are so easy to forget amid the daily hustle-and-bustle. First and foremost, it is important for the couple to remember they are both parts of a team, and that they both suffer if one person isn't pulling his or her weight. It is crucial to remember how your behavior can affect the other person, and that you keep up positive greetings and good manners.
Life tends to boil down to the little things, and the same goes for marriages. It can be the little things that make a relationship, and it can be the little things that break it. Molehills can become mountains in no time, and it's up to the therapist to remind the couple to focus on what's important and let everything else fall by the wayside.
It can be taxing trying to find the right marriage therapist. Who do you trust with your most personal and private issues? How do you know the therapist you choose is going to have your best interests at heart, both individually and as a couple? It is important to screen a marriage therapist before scheduling a couples' therapy session. You can do this by scheduling an "interview" with the therapist before committing to receiving help from him or her.
For one thing, is the therapist certified and qualified to offer couples counseling? Is he or she experienced in dealing with the kinds of issues that you want to bring to his or her attention? Does the therapist show compassion for both of you and remain impartial? Does the therapist allow both parties to speak openly and equally without allowing the other to interrupt or control the conversation? Is the therapist in control of the session? Does he or she work with you and your spouse to develop a therapy plan that works best for both of you?
It is worth establishing whether the therapist offers affordable fees or takes your insurance, as well as whether the therapist is easily accessible if one of or both of you require a last-minute session for any reason. Something else to look for is whether the therapist is encouraging you to tell him or her early on if you are comfortable with the services being offered. This shows genuine compassion on the therapist's part, rather than he or she just getting paid for time spent.
If, however, you have seen a marriage therapist, and things just don't seem to be working out, or if you feel like your relationship is taking a toll on your mental health because your spouse is abusive or otherwise neglectful or dismissive, please consider reaching out to one of our BetterHelp counselors for assistance. We're available 24/7 to listen and assist you in becoming the best possible version of you.
Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:
Can therapy really help marriage?
Is marriage counseling the same as therapy?
Is marriage counseling really worth it?
What is marriage therapy called?
What is emotional abandonment in marriage?
How do I know my marriage is over?
What a marriage counselor should not say?
Is marriage counseling covered by insurance?
What should I expect at my first marriage counseling session?
How do you fix a broken marriage?
Frequently Asked Question
What does a marriage therapist do?
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), marriage therapists are responsible for helping married or betrothed couples solve common relationship issues. They can provide advice, offer guidance, and give information to partners, spouses, and/or individuals facing divorce, separation, or everyday stress. Sometimes, they even conduct couples counseling sessions in a group setting or as part of an immersive exercise.
Marriage and family therapy focuses on restoring intimate relationships within the household, so therapists often customize sessions to suit the family’s unique needs. A marriage therapist will also review marriage history to determine key points of interest for later discussion. Then, they’re create a collaborative treatment plan for the couple to use regularly.
How effective is marriage counseling?
The effectiveness of marriage counseling depends on several factors, including the couple’s willingness to work on the relationship and the counselor’s compatibility with that couple. Different marital problems require different solutions, so it’s also important to find a therapist that’s familiar with your unique issue. A good match in a marriage therapist equals an 80% chance of saving your marriage, according to the latest statistics. Plus, couples who attended counseling on a regular basis enjoyed even more matrimonial security when compared to couples who used the service short term.
How many years does it take to be a marriage and family therapist?
Mental health professionals, especially those practicing marriage and family therapy, must go to an accredited school for 2-4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Some careers might also require a master’s or doctorate degree depending on the focus of the position. Licensed marriage counseling is built on a foundation of clinical hours and year-long internships as well. Therefore, a well-trained marriage counselor is considered one of the best mental health professionals in the field.
How much does marriage counseling usually cost?
The price of marriage counseling can vary widely depending on the therapist you choose. On average, however, marriage and family therapy costs between $75 and $250 per hour. Generally, couples seek therapeutic counseling appointments at least once per week for best results. Unfortunately, the cost of couple’s therapy isn’t always covered by insurance. That’s because most insurance companies view “marital distress” as something other than a mental health issue.
What questions are asked in marriage counseling?
Marriage and family therapy is always geared toward unlocking the hidden or lost potential of a relationship. Therefore, a marriage counselor uses problem solving tactics and asks emotionally focused questions to determine the primary issue(s) before trying to solve them. At times, their inquisition might feel invasive, but the inquiries can be life changing when they’re met with honesty and openness.
All marriage counseling sessions are different, and some focus primarily on family life as opposed to the intimacy between couples. Therefore, these are the most commonly asked questions in marriage and family therapy:
Your therapist will also ask questions to determine whether the issues are temporary or permanent. In some cases, they might request feedback from other members of the family as well.
When should you consider couples counseling?
It’s best to seek emotionally focused couples counseling when the following things are true about your relationship:
Seek counseling from mental health professionals if your issues are making it difficult to remain faithful or if the problems have negatively affected your emotional connection. Marriage and family therapy is designed to help you get things back on track before the relationship comes to an end.
Can therapy save a relationship?
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) suggests that marriage counseling is beneficial to all different types of family systems. Nearly 80% of the time, emotionally focused therapy helps to assuage marital distress before it ruins the relationship. Marriage and family therapy is, therefore, an effective technique for securing familial bonds.
Can you fix a broken relationship?
Broken relationships can be fixed, albeit not always quickly or easily, with the help of guided EFT therapy. Emotionally-focused therapies help rebuild trust through immersive and productive communication exercises, making couples counseling nearly 80% effective at repairing fractured connections. However, several factors can affect the outcome of marriage and family therapy. Therefore, the results are not guaranteed but rather dependent on the openness of those using it.
Why do couples go to therapy?
Couples use marriage and family therapy for a wide variety of reasons. Most commonly, issues such as infidelity, lacking communication, money matters, and a general loss of the emotional bond are what drive couples into marriage counseling. Damaged or broken family systems, troubles balancing professional development with familial responsibilities, and problems with self-esteem are typical as well. Couples counseling is not always sought to help relationships stay intact either. In some cases, it’s used to help separating families transition into a new lifestyle without causing trauma.
Can a therapist tell you to leave your partner?
A licensed marriage and family therapist cannot and will not tell you to leave your partner unless your partner’s behaviors are perceived as a direct threat to your physical safety. Even then, most therapists will work to uncover the cause of that threat and then find ways to remove it from the picture. Thus, the main objective of any counseling session is to promote reciprocal sharing by remaining neutral, not establishing sides.
Marriage counseling is designed to help solve common yet complex marital or familial problems. Therefore, simply hearing the counselor say something unfavorable is not the same as hearing them suggest a breakup. The effectiveness of marriage counseling depends on a variety of factors, including honesty, openness, and a commitment to change. So, if the relationship comes to an end afterward, then that’s most likely the best option for everybody.
What should a couple look for in a therapist?
Primarily, couples should look for a marriage and family therapist who’s licensed and certified to practice mental health care in their state. Furthermore, that counselor should be familiar with the most recent publications from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Marriage counseling is an extremely personal matter, so professionals should also be flexible enough to create effective treatment plans for those in need.
Marriage and family therapy consists of personalized exercises and tailored timetables, which means it’s important to look for these qualities as well:
Also, keep in mind that each therapist uses different techniques to help couples. So, be sure to sign up with someone whose methods are agreeable.
How long should couples therapy last?
The ideal duration of emotionally-focused marriage and family therapy can depend on predicted and/or unexpected factors. As such, there is no specific length of time that a couple must attend counseling to see positive results. However, most couples start out with short term therapy before moving on to long-term sessions if/when they’re needed.
Meanwhile, the average marriage counseling session lasts anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Couples are asked to attend at least 12 to 20 sessions before deciding on the program’s effectiveness. Furthermore, those dealing with mental or physical health problems may require complementary services in addition to seeing a marriage and family therapist.
What should I not tell a marriage counselor?
Speaking with a marriage and family therapist can make anyone feel vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider what you’re comfortable sharing in each session. As a general rule, never tell your counselor anything that’s untrue or fabricated because it might impair the integrity of your treatment. Also, understand that most marriage counselors have heard just about everything, so your unique circumstances aren’t shocking at all.
Additionally, keep in mind that marriage and family therapy isn’t 100% confidential. While couples get the chance to review the parameters of confidentiality prior to signing paperwork, they need to realize that therapists are bound by law. Therefore, any mention of illegal activity, child abuse or neglect, domestic abuse or neglect, or the desire to hurt oneself or others may result in your private information being shared with authorities.
Each therapist and every state are different, however. So, talk to your counselor or review published articles on the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) website for more information. Usually, you can mention physical or mental health problems upfront to gain compassionate access to community resources through your marriage and family therapist. Meanwhile, you can use their expertise to enjoy the professional development of effective treatment options.
Does the Gottman method work?
The Gottman method is one of the most popular (and effective) techniques used in modern-day marriage counseling. It was developed by world-renowned marriage and family therapist, John Gottman - a man made famous by his ability to predict divorce with only a 10% margin of error. His approach uses a comprehensive assessment of the relationship then incorporates proven interventions from the Sound Relationship House Theory to prevent breakups and secure more substantial bonds.
The program has had tremendously positive results for people struggling with perpetual issues such as commitment insecurity, loss of intimacy, or common types of manipulation like gaslighting and stonewalling. The Gottman Institute is well-known for its development of successful EFT treatment options, therefore its used in marriage and family therapy sessions all over the world.
What is stonewalling in marriage?
Marriage and family therapy sees a lot of stonewalling because it’s a common defense tactic used by one or more partners in a troubled relationship. It’s defined as the outright dismissal of what’s considered productive or healthy, thus it creates a perpetual and often growing problem within. The act is sometimes referred to as “the silent treatment” and can be linked to passive and/or aggressive narcissism. Therefore, comprehensive marriage counseling is generally required to help uncover this issue and provide tools for more diplomatic discussions.