January 24, 2019
By Kensi Duszynski, MA, LMFT, CPC
“How do we know when we’re ready for marriage counseling?”
That’s a question I get asked often as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Our upbringing and the narratives we’ve formed around counseling affect the way we understand its purpose, as well as the way we perceive those who attend counseling. But anyone attending therapy in the 21st century can point to the benefits of it on their emotional, mental, and relational wellbeing. Counseling in the modern world is not just for use in extreme cases, as it primarily was in the early 20th century. Rather, counseling today is for the everyday individual or couple. Marriage counseling is for both the couple who’s experienced a betrayal of trust and for the couple that desires to make the most of their marriage. So no matter where you fall on the “readiness” spectrum, here are 10 reasons to help you identify when you’re ready for counseling.
You know you’re ready for marriage counseling if:
1. You want to stay happily married for life.
You vowed to love another human for the rest of your life. If that were an easy task, exchanging wedding vows would be obsolete. But the purpose of wedding vows is to consciously choose to commit to each other in lifelong marriage. Unfortunately, too many couples settle for simply staying married, assuming that the quality of their relationship is outside of their control…when nothing could be further from the truth! While none of us can control what life throws our way, all of us can choose how we respond to the situation, and to each other along the way. Counseling is the perfect place to develop the mindset and skillset needed to respond to life, and each other, in healthy ways. According to the research, that can make all the difference between couples who find themselves satisfied in their marriage 5 years later…and those who throw in the towel prematurely.
2. You have a growth mindset.
You value personal and relational growth. You believe there’s always room to grow. You know that the more you grow, the better off you’ll be, and the more certain, solid, and secure your marriage relationship will be. When couples are intentional about growing personally and relationally, they’re able to influence and impact others in unique, God-honoring ways, simply by demonstrating how abundant life and marriage can be when approached with a growth mindset.
3. You’re curious about your potential.
You have an inkling that your marriage was made for more, so much more. Maybe you have an idea of what that means for your marriage, or maybe you don’t exactly know what that looks like. Either way, marriage counseling can assist you two in both rising to new levels and going to new depths, as you move closer and closer to your potential, your truest self, and your God-given dreams.
4. You care about your spouse.
You married your spouse because you love your spouse. When you got married, you hoped to support one another, encourage each other, and be a part of your spouse’s journey. One sure way to show your spouse you care is to seek out marriage counseling to further strengthen your relationship. After all, marriage satisfaction is positively correlated with longer life, better health, and greater career, financial, and familial stability. Therefore, to care about your marriage is to care about your spouse.
5. You want the very best for your marriage.
You don’t want to settle for a fine or mediocre marriage. After all, why would you, when your marriage has every opportunity to be amazing? Your intentionality and proactivity have led you to read books on marriage, schedule date nights, and maybe even seek out marriage enrichment opportunities. The added benefit of marriage counseling is the personal relationship you develop with a trained professional who can guide you through the nuances of your unique relationship, to truly help you live into the best this life has to offer.
If you readily identify with any of these statements, share them with your spouse. Share your heart to make your marriage even better than it already is, and look for a qualified marriage therapist (LMFT) in your area to help you grow stronger and better together.
The next 5 reasons for seeking marriage counseling come with a bit more urgency. According to leading marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of 6 years too long to come to marriage counseling. In other words, from the time that couples begin to feel discontent or unhappy in their marriages, couples allow 6 years of dissatisfaction and resentment to build up before seeking help for what could have been easily fixed upfront.
Thus, you know you’re beyond ready for marriage counseling if:
6. You feel lost in transition and want help moving forward.
What every couple experiences, but hardly anyone expects, is transition. Because transitions happen everyday (and often times they’re good transitions), we often don’t anticipate how challenging they can be to adjust to. Any transition in marriage and family life can throw us off our normal rhythms. Thus, counseling is helpful during these seasons to remind us that the challenges we’re facing, in spite of all that’s good, is normal. Marriage counseling can also help you and your spouse adjust your communication style to accommodate the needs of your growing and changing family.
7. You don’t feel on the same page with your spouse.
The feelings of love and respect that were once there between you have gone missing. You can’t put a date on it, or point to a specific moment…all you know is that you’re not connecting the way you used to and you desperately want to. When you communicate, you seem to get nowhere. It’s like there’s an elephant in the room, that neither of you can see or address. Marriage counseling provides the perfect opportunity for you two to break out of your normal routine, gain a third party perspective, and have help correcting the habits and patterns that have broken down, causing you to feel disconnected.
8. You don’t feel mutually empowered in your marriage.
You can’t seem to put your finger on it, but something feels off. You fear your marriage is one-sided and you sense a power struggle between you. You wonder what it would feel like to have a mutually supportive relationship, one that feels healthy and interdependent. At the same time, you wonder if that’s even possible. Sometimes, when one spouse feels puzzled, confused, and unable to put words to their experience, there is some type of abuse, manipulation, or other dysfunction at play. In situations such as these, counseling is an extremely helpful first step in determining what’s actually happening in your marriage, and how to wisely approach the problem.
9. You’ve experienced a betrayal of trust.
When most people think of a betrayal in marriage, they think of sexual or emotional infidelity.
But breaches of trust can take many other forms, such as neglecting to communicate where you are or what you’re doing, not doing what you say you’re going to do, and telling little lies to avoid conflict. Any breach of trust is a big deal. In fact, no amount of working on communication or working to move forward will be effective if trust is not repaired first. Rebuilding trust takes time, and enlisting the help of a counselor can help you develop patience for the process, as well as other emotional disciplines that rebuilding trust requires.
10. You’re desperate for something to change and you don’t know what else to do.
At last, you’ve tried nearly everything, yet nothing has seemed to work. The changes you tried to make on your own didn’t yield the results you had hoped. And after months or years of putting your relational issues on the back-burner, you’ve realized that pushing things off is not a strategy. At this stage, it’s important to know just how much work will be required of you both to get your marriage back on track. Will it be hard? You bet. Will it be worth it in the end? Ten times over, as long as you both commit to the process of counseling.
If you immediately resonated with any of these statements, the time to seek help is NOW. Consider sharing this article with your spouse and see if he or she will agree to go to marriage counseling with you. Truth be told, the longer you allow feelings of distance from your spouse come between the two of you, the less and less motivation you’ll have to work on your marriage at all. On the bright side, now that you’re aware of what signs to pay attention to, you’re in the perfect position to do something about it!
Although counseling is now an accepted and normal part of life, making any sort of change can feel disruptive to your normal routine – even when you know things could be better. But can I let you in on a secret? The hardest step toward change and growth isn’t going counseling; it’s making the initial decision that you’re not only ready, but also willing. So whether you identified most with reason 1 or 10, my encouragement to you is to be brave. Decide now. Your future self and marriage won’t regret it.