Marriage Counseling & Couples Therapy

What is Marriage Counseling?

Throughout life, our personal and family relationships give us both joy and challenges. The more we understand ourselves, our emotions, and behaviors, the better we can communicate, manage stress, and function effectively around the important people in our lives, including our spouse. A marital relationship between two people is one of the most significant relationships a person will have in their lives. Every marriage has its ups and downs, or periods of highs and lows. During the highs, a couple will feel connected, in love, and passionate about one another. During a low period, a couple may be cold, distant, argue frequently, and may even contemplate separating. These stages can be short-term, lasting a few weeks at a time, or can be long-term phases that last years.

Marriage counseling, also called couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that emphasizes improved relationship skills and conflict resolution. Sessions involved both partners, however, the therapist may also wish to see each person separately as well. The specific treatment plan will depend on the situation. But, whether it is marital problems, a tragedy in the family, or the effects of an illness (such as substance abuse or depression) on the couple or family unit, counseling sessions are designed to help individuals learn the tools they need to function effectively within their relationships. Marriage and Family counseling is a very active type of therapy, and members are often given assignments. For example: a couple may be given communication exercises to practice at home and be expected to discuss their experience at the next session.

Stages of Marriage

A marriage is not a stagnant relationship. Instead, they move through different phases that nearly all couples experience. Each couple moves through the stages differently; however, these are considered common marriage patterns:

Stage One: Passion

The passion stage of marriage happens at the beginning of the relationship as the couple meets and falls in love. In this stage, also known as the honeymoon phase, is characterized by intense romance and attraction. In a marriage, this stage marks the beginning of commitment, and you start to establish trust, intimacy, and respect for one another. This stage is relatively short-lived, lasting only for the very beginning of the relationship.

Stage Two: Realization

After the initial passion begins to fade, couples uncover what a more realistic vision of their life together will look like. In the realization phase, each person begins to see their partner as a human being, complete with flaws and shortcomings. As you begin to accept each other for who you really are, you deepen your respect for one another and delve into revealing your deepest needs and desires. This stage is not without its challenges, however. Disappointment and conflict start to build, and couples must learn to navigate these changes together.

Stage Three: Rebellion

The rebellion stage is a time where each partner’s self-interest come back in full force, often taking over the marriage and causing conflict. These conflicts are inevitable at this stage, and they are characterized by power struggles where each partner strongly believes that they are right. In this stage, a couple must learn to argue the right way; otherwise, anger and frustration can cause major rifts in the marriage and lead to destructive behaviors.

Stage Four: Cooperation

When growing careers, children, and mortgages begin to enter the picture, a couple finds themselves in the cooperation stage. This phase is a business-like arrangement where romance and intimacy are put on the back burner so couples can work on managing their lives and responsibilities. The cooperation stage can last up to 20 years, especially if a couple has children.

Stage Five: Reunion

After children have left the nest, a couple can begin to enjoy security and stability that comes from having fewer responsibilities. The couple rekindles their status as friends and lovers. During this reconciliation, they rediscover the happiness that has been dormant during the cooperation stage.

Stage Six: Explosion

In the explosion phase, a couple faces serious life situations, and they are challenged with dealing with them together. There may be a death in the family, job loss, a financial crisis, or life-threatening illness. During this time, the couple can become closer and find solace and comfort together, or the explosion phase may drive them apart. This stage can occur at any time in a marriage, and its unpredictability causes a major disruption of whatever other stage the couple was currently in.

Stage Seven: Completion

The completion stage happens when children are grown, and couples enter retirement and explore a new life together. The partners are very close in this phase and know each other inside and out. After having weathered the ups and downs of marriage after several decades together, couples in the completion stage can relax comfortably together and enjoy each other’s company and companionship.

Reasons for Needing Marriage Counseling

As marriages move through the various stages and experience life’s challenges together, there are many types of conflict that can occur. Some are minor arguments while others run deeper and can drive a couple apart. The more serious conflicts are troubling as the couple may face the uncertainty that they will find a resolution, or whether they even want to.

As a couple drifts apart, they may realize they want different things in life, one or more of the partners may be unfaithful, or they may feel stuck with no way out of the rut. Before seeking marriage counseling, one or more of the partners must identify that the marriage is in trouble and they must decide together that they want to attempt to repair their broken relationship. There are numerous benefits to marriage and family counseling, from improved communication among family members to resolving deep-rooted emotional hurt.

The decision to seek marriage counseling is an important first step for a couple. When a couple can admit that their marriage is in trouble, they can also realize that they may need outside help from a third-party.

Types of Marriage Counseling

Marriage Counseling or Couples Therapy

Marriage counseling is not just for unhappy or struggling couples, couple’s therapy can be used proactively to strengthen bonds and to gain a better understanding of one another. In addition, before a marriage begins, premarital counseling can help couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and iron out differences before their wedding day. Couples that seek therapy to improve a troubled relationship may be dealing with issues such as:

  • communication problems
  • financial problems
  • sexual difficulties
  • parenting challenges
  • substance abuse
  • anger management
  • infidelity
  • divorce

Please note: If you are in a situation of domestic abuse or violence, please contact the police, a local shelter or a crisis center for emergency support.

Family Therapy

Family therapy can also be useful as a preventative technique to teach members how to handle adversity before it begins. For example, newly blended families that have children from previous marriages may benefit from family therapy to help all family members learn how to live together respectfully.

Because the family is such an important part of a person’s social support network, family therapy can be crucial for families in which there is illness or other similar problems. In general, the better a family functions, the lower the stress level for the person with health problems. Adults who grew up in poorly functioning families as children may benefit from individual therapy that uses family therapy concepts, especially as they begin to form their own nuclear families.

Parenting counseling is an important element of family therapy. Parenting is hard work and can bring out a whole range of emotions and changes in a family or marriage – many of which are positive and fulfilling while others can be very trying and challenging to deal with. A marriage and family therapist can help parents talk through important issues and learn the necessary skills to develop a healthy supportive relationship as a parent as well as a spouse.

Goals of Marriage Counseling

For many couples, the primary goal of marriage counseling is to save the marriage and stay together. For others, there are specific issues that lead them to seek therapy. Marriage counseling isn’t a quick-fix but is something that takes dedication and effort to achieve the desired goals that brought the couple to therapy to begin with. Marriage counselors can assist couples in:

Overcoming Infidelity

When one or both spouses are unfaithful, it may seem like an insurmountable challenge that the couple can never recover from. If both parties are willing to try, however, marriage counseling can assist couples in rebuilding trust and understanding the issues that led to infidelity.

Improving Communication

It’s common for couples to run into challenges in communicating with one another, especially when it comes to expressing emotions. Each person often assumes that the other should know what they’re thinking or feeling, and will feel slighted or hurt when their partner doesn’t respond the way they want.

Other times, one or both of the partners may feel ignored or that their partner isn’t attracted to them anymore and may place these assumptions on their partner’s shoulders to fix without communicating how they are feeling. When a person remains silent about their emotions, it can turn into a serious communication problem.

Dealing with Addiction

Many couples struggle when one or both partners have an addiction. Addiction comes in many forms, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, or even shopping or spending money. These are very serious challenges that can be extremely difficult to overcome, especially if the person with the addiction cannot admit they have a problem or that they need help. Couples counseling can help navigate these challenges within the marriage and can attempt to show the addict that failing to seek help can be detrimental to the marriage.

Dealing with Difficult Parenting Situations

Children can put a significant strain on a marriage, particularly when there are extraordinary circumstances, like behavioral problems, difficulties in school, illness, or mental health issues. Families with challenging parenting situations are often characterized by the couple putting all their effort into the well-being of the child while neglecting their marriage.

Rekindling Romance

Many couples seek marriage counseling simply because they want to become closer. Many couples long for the days of the passion phase, especially after years of marriage and the reality of the other stages of marriage. Marriage counseling can aid couples in seeing past daily responsibilities so that they can bring some of the romance and lightness of the honeymoon period back into their lives.

Resolving Conflicts and Resentment

Marriage and couple’s therapists can play an important role in helping couples get past significant conflicts in their relationship. Many conflicts go beyond arguments and can form deep roots that extend well beyond the surface of the marriage. When major conflicts go unresolved, resentment begins to grow. When each partner is not able to communicate their feelings of anger, bitterness, or resentment, the problems deepen.  The couple can easily grow further apart if they don’t take steps to address their issues and show a commitment to resolving conflicts in the marriage.

Find a Marriage Counselor

Marriage and family therapy is usually provided by a clinical social worker or a licensed marriage and family therapist.

When looking for a marriage counselor, work together with your spouse to ensure you’re both satisfied that you’ve found a good fit with a therapist you’re comfortable with.

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