How Do I Know If Couples Counseling Will Help?
Making the decision to pick up the phone and call in a third party to help with your marriage is a pretty big step, and a weird one for many of us. It can feel like defeat. It’s as though asking for help is admitting that you failed. But if you feel like you’re drowning, isn’t it better to call for a life raft and a swim coach rather than to risk drowning?
I think a lot of what we would call failure is really caused by trying not to LOOK like a failure.
But enough about failure! I want to focus on success. And there are some definite ways that come up over and over again in counseling that tell me that a couple is ready, willing and able to make the most out of the experience and grow a wonderful marriage. What are these signs?
Think Back To Better Times
1. One sign is that you can remember a time when you were excited about your partner. This is kind of important. If you can think back on a time when you felt good about the friendship, or excited about the chemistry, or secure in the feeling of planning for the future, you have a distinct advantage. Because knowing what you want is the best way to get what you want. If you can envision a better future, however far fetched, with the person you are in a relationship with, then you have one of the main ingredients for success. Even if you’re fighting now, you can remember when it wasn’t always this way.
2. Another sign: you are not allergic to hearing about your own faults. It can be very uncomfortable and painful to hear negative feedback when we feel hurt or betrayed or unloved. Working for a great relationship is not for the faint of heart. If you are someone who can risk hearing why your partner is unhappy, who can consider that you have the power to do something about it, then you are very likely going to be a hard worker in counseling. The good news is that a counselor is there, in part, to make sure the “feedback” is just that — constructive information and not just character assassination. This may be the best thing about having a referee. When we play by some basic rules, we get things done.
Know Your Worth
3. A good sign is when you can believe it’s possible that your partner could love you. Yes, this one sounds strange. Of course I believe it, right? But no. Many of us, deep down, have such a strong fear of not being loved that we have incredibly sensitive, hair-trigger defenses that make it hard to let anybody in. Very often, we get exactly what we fear by sending out signals that we don’t even know we’re sending. Knowing that we are lovable allows us to make changes that feel risky but which can actually bring all kind of positive energy into a relationship.
But Be Humble
4. This is a good sign that can be mistaken for a bad one: you hate the idea of counseling, you hate talking about your feelings, you’d rather let it blow over, but you love your partner. Many people get pretty defeated and scared when their partner is reluctant to come to therapy. “If you really loved me, you would want to work as hard as I do for this relationship!.” This is a common error in perception that can trip people up before they ever get to counseling. But the truth is, if you are WILLING to come, despite being skeptical, it shows commitment. It also shows something equally important: a willingness to admit you just might not know it all yet, and are open to learning, which is a skill that translates very well into growing a great relationship.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
5. A final sign: you are willing to prioritize your relationship as much as you prioritize your job, your children, your friends, hobbies, or whatever else is on your list. A marriage is like a house. If you don’t maintain it, if you don’t work with what you have and add to it, furnish it, spend time and money on it, and tend it regularly, you just might not want to live in it. Couples who do best in counseling are those who are carrying the task of improving the relationship home with them between sessions, doing homework, reading up, and taking it to heart. If you can do this, it will make a big difference in your odds of success.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.