DOES MARRIAGE COUNSELLING HELP OR HINDER?
Almost everyone experiences marital challenges at some time or other. Different people have different ways of handling those challenges. Some folks experience the stress and distress of such periods alone, keeping their thoughts and feelings to themselves. They may or may not open up to friends or even professionals, but they do not openly communicate with their spouse. When the crisis passes, they tuck their wounds inside and carry on. This process can go on for years and sometimes even decades. When a couple cannot take up their issues and feelings with each other, they build walls around themselves that keep them distant from each other. They never really get to know, understand or love each other fully because so much is hidden. Of even more concern, however, is that storing layers and layers of pain inside is like slowly acquiring the materials for a bomb; one day, the partner will poke his or her spouse and – BOOM! All the stored material will explode, wreaking havoc on husband and wife and on the marriage itself.
Other people do not keep marital pain and dissatisfaction to themselves. They let it all out! Every time they are displeased, they express it to their partner. They offer criticism and complaint liberally. A sub-group of this group is more than vocal – they are physical as well, expressing displeasure and rage non-verbally through door slamming, speed driving, throwing or smashing things, launching a physical attack, yelling and or crying. They keep nothing to themselves! Despite the fact that these people are trying to express themselves, there is no actual communication going on in such marriages. Spouses become quite deaf to an overload of criticism, nagging, lecturing and correction. And when there is “drama” going on, they can’t hear the actual message because of all of the distracting and upsetting fanfare. Consequently, couples who fight and argue never really get to know each other, never grow closer and never feel really safe. Worse yet, they actually hurt each other badly, often putting their marriage at risk.
Some people are afraid that marriage counselling might make their marriage worse. If they expose the vulnerabilities of the union to the light of day, they think that the marriage may not be strong enough to take it. And yet, this is rarely the case. Spouses can actually become closer through listening to the thoughts and feelings of their partner. At home intimate listening may never occur for a variety of reasons (the couple fights instead of listening, they have no private time, they don’t know how to communicate without hurting each other and so on). Most spouses do love each other or at least want to rekindle their flame. They just need help in discovering a way to be close again.
Other people are afraid of being judged by the marriage counsellor. They don’t want to expose themselves. Professional marriage counsellors are highly trained professionals who know how to not judge the people they’re trying to help. Marriage counsellors have heard everything there is to hear about the way people behave in marriage. They will never be shocked or even surprised by what is revealed in counselling. They’ve met people from all walks of life and they’ve almost always lived through their own marriage with all its own problems and human fallibilities. Choosing an experienced counsellor helps.
Some people think that there is nothing that a counsellor can tell them or do for them that will help. In fact, marriage counselling helps people to prevent serious problems from developing in their relationships (when they seek help early!) and it helps repair serious rifts and injuries. Marriage counsellors are, for the most part, “pro-marriage.” They want your marriage to succeed. They will help you and your partner to discover and repair the impediments to happiness and intimacy in your relationship. They use specialized techniques to do this work. If it is important to you that your counsellor be “pro-marriage,” you can check the marital philosophy of a particular therapist before you make an appointment. (There are some counsellors who are more focused on the individual rather than the marriage.)
A well-designed marital therapy helps those who are committed to the journey of marriage with all of its ups and downs and twists and turns. However, it is possible for marriage therapy to be destructive at times. An untrained or unqualified therapist may harm the marriage by using unprofessional and harmful interventions. Always make sure you are consulting a licensed professional! A perfectly well-trained professional may inadvertently cause harm too, by giving advice or using interventions that are not appropriate for you. Like doctors, dentists, accountants and all other human beings, therapists can make errors in judgement and execution. Damage can be prevented if you are vocal about any concerns you have about your therapist’s actions. However, for the most part, marital therapists do a good job doing what they were trained to do.
Failing to seek counselling when it is needed brings with it more serious risks. Today, many couples use divorce as a solution to their marital distress. This has enormous consequences for children and also for the adults involved. Many other couples stay married even though they are miserable together. Again, the children and the adults are adversely affected by such “togetherness.” Not tending to marital problems is like not tending to a bacterial infection: things fester until they become toxic.
In the vast majority of cases, marital therapy helps marriages survive and thrive. So, in answer to our original question – does marital therapy help or hinder? – marital therapy helps. It really helps.