Marital Counseling – FAQ
by Deanna R. Rasnic, MA, LPC
What if I want marriage counseling but my spouse is unwilling to come?
The first step is to come by yourself for an individual session. In this session, we can talk about your marital issues and discuss your options for counseling with your spouse. It is not uncommon for a spouse to join in on the sessions at a later time. However, even if he/she refuses to come, you can still change the dynamics of your relationship simply by making changes in the way you respond and react to your spouse. Thus, you will bring about changes in the relationship by addressing your own issues and making personal progress.
When is it too late (or too early) for marriage counseling?
Ideally, it would be great if every couple went through counseling to maintain the quality of their relationship. A marriage is like a garden; it requires regular tending, work, and attention to keep it growing in a healthy way. If it is not routinely maintained, the marital “weeds” will sneak up and spoil the garden of your marriage. It is best to come in even when things seem to be going well, in order to polish up your communication skills, work through unresolved issues, understand each other better, etc.
However, many people come into counseling just prior to divorce, when their garden is full of weeds with very little life left. Although coming in earlier is better, we can still work on the problems if you are willing to do the hard work. Marriage counseling is not miraculous; I can’t make everything all better in a few sessions. It took time for your marriage to get the way it is, and it will take time and effort to re-establish your relationship. If you are unsure if you want counseling or if it is worth it for your relationship, come in for an initial session, and I will help you diagnose the problems and determine a plan of action for you to consider.
Do you choose sides in marriage therapy?
Marriage counseling is not about sides. Many couples come into therapy wondering whose side the counselor will choose. I do not take on the role of a referee, making a call on who is right and wrong. Frankly, such referring is a waste of time in counseling. Who is right and wrong in an argument rarely matters much in the grand scheme of a marriage.
What matters is your communication style, understanding of each other, and taking personal responsibility for your own issues. The ultimate counseling goal is to move toward working on the “side” of the marriage relationship.
My spouse thinks I’m the one with the problem, but I see it the other way around. Is it even worth us coming?
Yes, it is worth it. Marriage counseling can provide an avenue of change for your relationship. Having a professional counselor involved in the issue can change the dynamic between the two of you and how you perceive the problems.
What is your role as a counselor in marriage therapy?
As your therapist, I take a direct role in marriage counseling. I am not there just to listen; I am there to listen and provide direction, reflection, and clarification. I will be an active participant in your sessions, which involves listening, interrupting, mediating, clarifying, confronting, and providing direction for the session.
There are things that I need to address in counseling, but I don’t want my spouse to know just yet what the specifics are. Will you keep it confidential, or will you tell him/her?
Since we are working on the marriage, confidentiality belongs primarily to the marriage rather than solely to the individual. However, if in an individual session there is something you want to keep confidential from your spouse, and you communicate that to me specifically, I will keep that information confidential until you are ready to share it with your spouse.
What can we expect our first session to be like?
In a first session my goal is to understand what brings you in for counseling and to decide with you on a plan of action. In the session, we will discuss some basic counseling “rules” like confidentiality, session times, goals, previous marriage counseling experiences, etc. I will ask you both to explain what concerns/problems you want to address as we meet together.
After I have heard from both of you, we will make a plan for counseling, including the frequency of sessions and whether or not individual counseling is necessary. At the end of the session, I will give you some specific feedback regarding your concerns and my thoughts on how we can achieve the progress you desire.
My spouse is controlling and can be dominating in conversation; I’m concerned that you won’t get to hear my side of things. How can I be sure you’ll hear my side?
Many times in counseling it is not uncommon for one spouse to be more verbal and/or “dominating” in a session. It is my responsibility as your therapist to make sure that I hear from both of you. I will interrupt you both from time to time, in order to make sure both of you are being heard and are able to communicate your concerns.