Friday, October 7, 2011

10 myths about marriage counseling

the secret’s out: no marriage is perfect. that said, if every marriage has its problems, why do we put off getting help when we need it? truth is, many couples don’t recognize the value of good marriage counseling. so we’ll cut right to the chase and take a look at [what we think are] ten of the most common misconceptions about marriage counseling:

myth # 1 - “counseling is too expensive. we can’t afford it.” it is true that private therapy can be pricey, but there are alternatives to private therapy. many churches offer some level of counseling that is either free, or provided at a minimal cost. in addition, there are a growing number of counselors who offer group and/or private sessions on a sliding scale (including “married for keeps”). consider the alternative: a divorce is very expensive. your first hour with a divorce attorney would cost about the same as several sessions with a marriage counselor.

myth # 2 - “it won’t do any good.” a good counselor is trained to help identify what is happening in your marriage, and to assist you to take the right steps toward resolving your issues. basically, it boils down to only one thing – are you willing to do what you need to do? regardless of what issues you and your spouse are facing, if you are both willing to get help, then a counselor will be able to help you.

myth # 3 – “it will be two against one, a counselor will take sides.” rarely, and we mean rarely, is a marriage struggling because of the fault of only one of the partners. usually, both spouses have contributed in some degree to the decline in the relationship. a counselor will help you to focus on your part, and help you to face up and deal with whatever that is. in the same way, that counselor will provide the same service for your mate.

myth # 4 – “a counselor will solve all my problems.” there’s an old cliché that works here. “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” the thought is that you can provide someone the help they need, even the sustenance they require, but there is no way you can force them to partake of it, unless they want to. in order to get the help you and your spouse need, you must be a willing participant. a counselor can help you identify your issues, and equip you with the tools you need to make it, but you will need to apply and practice what you learn. it is up to you to get help, and up to you to walk it out. nothing will happen if you are merely a spectator in the process.

myth # 5 – “we don’t need counseling; we can do this ourselves.” our western culture has taught us that we are independent creatures, completely self reliant and self sufficient. other cultures don’t seem to struggle as much with this roadblock as we do. around the world, it is a common belief that we were created to live in community; that we need each other. somewhere it says “there is wisdom in many counselors”, the thought being that we all need guidance from time to time. would you seek out the advice of an investment broker before you invest? do you get the aid of a real estate broker when you sell your home? what if your child is having trouble at school? would you talk to your child’s teacher or administrator? seems to us that your marriage is at least as important, if not more so.

it is also much more difficult for us to recognize our own blindspots. we all have them. the wisdom in looking to an unbiased third party is that they are not blind to our issues. they can more readily identify unhealthy practices and give us a different perspective on what is happening in our marriage relationship.

myth # 6 – “a counselor just listens, they don’t talk. i can get the same results if i talk to my friends.” some folks have the mental picture of the patient lying on the sofa, and the counselor writing on a pad while commenting “mm hmm” now and again. not so. a skilled counselor will ask you key questions, invite your input, discuss issues with you and present proposed solutions. a counselor will equip you with the tools you need to improve your marriage and assist you both as you gain skill in using those tools.

myth # 7 – “counseling will last forever.” the goal of a responsible counselor is always to bring a couple to health in their relationship so that they can finish the course. it’s true that the number of sessions may vary depending on your needs. when you need a marriage tune-up and some help overcoming your obstacles, you can probably expect to meet with a counselor for a pre-determined length of time, and then be released. your counselor can discuss this with you at the beginning. don’t be afraid to ask those questions.

myth # 8 – “our marriage isn’t that bad. we don’t need that kind of help” – see myth # 5. when is the best time to take your car in for servicing: before or after the engine light comes on? think about it. one characteristic of a healthy marriage is that the couple will occasionally visit a counselor for tune-ups. counseling isn’t just for those in crisis. we encourage couples to take advantage of every marriage conference and seminar they can, whether or not they are in trouble. we do. it keeps us on track. reminds us of what it takes to stay healthy. we consider it an investment. it has been said “the more you invest in your marriage, the more valuable it becomes”.

myth # 9 – “i don’t need the help, my partner does.” we tell couples “if your mate has a problem, then you have a problem”. as we mentioned in myth # 3, it is very rare that both spouses have not contributed in some manner to the problems in the marriage. but, for the sake of argument, if your partner were sick, would you refuse to take him or her to the doctor? in the same way, if it would be helpful to your spouse that you attend counseling together, then in the interest of a healthy relationship, wouldn’t it seem reasonable to do that? frankly, in our experience, this is mostly a male issue. very few women refuse to attend counseling when their husbands request it. so men, perhaps it’s time to demonstrate your love in a practical way and just say yes.

myth # 10 – “if we get counseling, everyone will know that we’re seeing a counselor.” an ethical marriage counselor would never disclose the issues of your sessions, let alone that you are even a client. in addition, there are privacy laws that prevent those kinds of disclosures. you can rest assured that the only people who will know you are going to counseling, are the people you tell.