It is common for couples to seek marital therapy when they are distressed, and perhaps, even contemplating divorce. When it feels like your marriage is “on the line,” the last thing you want to stress about is finding a marital therapist or what will happen in therapy. Here are five things to know about martial therapy that may help you ease into the process of working on your marriage with a professional.
1. Seek help from a therapist who makes you feel comfortable, and if possible, who is specialized. Finding the right “fit” with a therapist is essential, as the couple needs to feel at ease with the therapist. It is critical that couples who want to work specifically on their marriage see a mental health professional trained in addressing relationship issues. When couples seek therapy with a professional who is not properly trained or specialized in addressing marital issues, it may do more harm than good. Some signs that your therapist is qualified are that he/she has a degree in marriage/couple/family therapy, or is a mental health professional with special training/certifications in marital counseling, such as Gottman-based therapy, a PREP, Inc. certification, a PAIRS certification, or training in Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT). When in doubt, ask the therapist about his/her training and experience; you deserve to know with whom you will be investing your time, money, and relationship.
2. Marital therapists want to be fair and balanced. An experienced and well-trained marital therapist will not take sides, even though you may really want them to. Taking sides in marital therapy is detrimental for a few reasons. First, the therapist’s primary focus is enhancing the relationship. By taking sides, the therapist is splitting the relationship to “person A vs. person B.” The marital therapist should emphasize that, “We are all on the same team.” Second, by taking sides, the marital therapist may be reinforcing an existing dynamic of blaming in the relationship. Although the therapist may at times validate one person’s viewpoints, he/she should be making an effort to balance this for both individuals. Lastly, a therapist taking sides may discourage one partner from wanting to come to therapy. It is most ideal for both partners to be at the sessions and be willing to work on the couple’s issues.
3. The marital therapist will not try to change your partner. Therapists know that they cannot make someone change; individuals must want to change themselves. Furthermore, telling people they have to change translates into something being “wrong” with them. Individuals who feel like they are being “picked on” will not want to come to therapy. Furthermore, effective marital therapists do not see marital problems as the result of one person’s shortcomings or mistakes. Their view is, “Something in the way the couple interacts is not working for them. How can we get the couple to change that problem dynamic?” Simply put, the problem is not you or your partner; it is the way you and your partner interact. A marital therapist is invested in getting both individuals to find healthier ways at handling conflict, overcoming differences, and ultimately, seeing the relationship as more important than themselves.
4. It will take time and money. Working on marital issues takes time, as it is likely that the couple’s ineffective relationship patterns have been established over time. Change will not occur overnight. Therefore, it is important to be motivated in therapy, but also have patience in the process. Consequently, there may be a considerable financial investment for marital therapy. Even if a couple attends therapy for one time per week for an entire year, at $150 per session, that’s a total of $7800. If you compare the cost of therapy to the financial cost of the alternative (say, divorce), we know that the legal fees for a divorce often surpass that estimate. Furthermore, it is difficult to put a dollar amount on the psychological and emotional turmoil that many couples, children, and families face after a divorce. Consider the money spent as an investment in one of the most important relationships of your lives.
5. Seek help before there is a crisis. If you are having struggles or find yourself “spinning your wheels” with marital issues, therapy can be very helpful. If you are the individual bringing up the idea of therapy, try doing it from a positive perspective, such as, “We have been having some struggles lately, and I just want us to get some help so we can get these issues resolved.” That may be received better than, “If you don’t go to therapy with me, I am leaving you.” However, if you are in crisis, don’t be ashamed to reach out to a therapist. Marital therapists are passionate about encouraging and healing relationships.