HOW DOES COUPLES COUNSELING WORK?
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
ROBERT QUILLEN (1887-1948)
The aim of couples counseling is to improve communication and increase understanding between partners. As with individual talk therapy, when thoughts and feelings are brought into the light, ventilated and examined honestly, calmly and openly, then each member of the couple will be better heard, understood, sympathized with, and respected. From such enhanced understanding comes increased acceptance, tolerance and forbearance. When partners understand each other, they are better able to forgive, accept, appreciate, and ultimately love one another.
Couples counseling can often be of particular help after an infidelity or other trauma to the relationship. Often couples don’t know how to heal from such an event. They are unsure of how to move forward, how (or whether) to forgive and forget. Sometimes the healing after an infidelity takes much longer than either partner might expect.
My toughest fight was with my first wife.
MUHAMMAD ALI (1942-2016)
No relationship will ever be without its struggles, wrangles, and disputes. However, there are two basic kinds of fight or conflict in any marriage or relationship: unconstructive conflict and constructive conflict. Unconstructive conflict is usually charged with anger or even rage. In unconstructive conflicts people fight, get hurt and angry, say things they later regret, and things possibly even escalate into actions that damage each other or the relationship. Constructive conflict, on the other hand, is where differences are honestly examined, true thoughts and feelings are aired, and a new level of understanding and compromise or at least acceptance is arrived at.
How can you tell the difference between the two kinds of conflict? Simple. After unconstructive conflict, both parties tend to feel worse, and usually nothing has been positively addressed or changed. On the other hand, after constructive conflict, the issue has often been resolved or at least improved, and both parties feel better.
The main job of the marriage counselor is to provide a gentle, nonjudgmental, and protected space where each partner will feel safe, supported and assisted in making her or his thoughts, feelings and needs known and understood. Each member of the couple should feel secure, respected, heard, and understood. And each should be able to speak freely from the heart without being afraid or feeling negatively judged.
As one of my patients once said, “I speak in Ellie and he hears me in Matt.” (Don’t worry, I changed the names.) A counselor may act as interpreter, clarifier, mediator, translator, and intermediary. Counseling can help couples out of recurrent fights and seemingly irresolvable issues. Couples counseling can allow mates to move on after an affair, and it can help to really hear and see one another.
Marriage counseling can help couples to succeed at every stage of a relationship, beginning, middle and even at the end where a divorce mediation process may save a great deal of pain, heartache, anger, and even some attorney’s fees.