When your marriage is in distress and you’re contemplating divorce, it can be difficult to figure out what to do next. You know you can’t live in this state of turmoil forever, but you have no idea what comes after and the unknown can seem pretty daunting. Or you may be on the other side, feeling like your partner has become more distant and you’re questioning if they are still content in the marriage but don’t know how to approach the topic.
Many couples have walked in to my office over the years, feeling some version of either scenario above. Marriage counseling is an ideal forum to figure out how to move forward if you feel like your relationship is in distress. But if you’ve never been to counseling or have had a bad experience in the past, most people are unaware of the benefits.
As you or your partner may have already attempted unsuccessfully and realized, it is not possible to diagnose your own marital problems. You each have your own perspectives on the issues but it is impossible for those perspectives not to be free from bias. In marriage counseling sessions, I talk to my couples about the concept of the “3rd Story.” You see the issues in the marriage through your eyes, your partner sees the issues through their eyes but the 3rd Story is the story I, a neutral, trained listener, put together after hearing both versions. It is closer to the truth because I am not an involved party and am on the outside looking in. You and your partner have been immersed in the problems for too long to be able to look at the marriage from the neutral perspective in which it needs to be analyzed. It is best to explore the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage and discuss possibilities for repairing it with a therapist in a marriage counseling setting.
In my work over the years, I’m always surprised by the number of couples I’ve met that haven’t done much communicating at all, but are ready to throw in the towel because they aren’t happy in the marriage. If you have no idea what your spouse is thinking or feeling, how can you know that your marriage is truly over?
Marriage counseling creates space to have adult conversations about the marriage, something most discontent spouses cannot do at home on their own. It’s an environment where both partners can talk openly about all the options, including divorce.
I have found over the years I’ve been practicing that there are generally three reasons why couples seek out marriage counseling.
Both have determined their marriage is trouble and they want to work to save it.
They don’t know if it can be repaired and want to explore options
One person wants to exit the marriage and needs help with that process.
In certain cases, even after thorough consideration and discussion in therapy, the best option for some couples may be divorce. If that is the final decision, marriage counseling is also the best forum for that discussion. There’s a better chance because of counseling that it will go smoothly because both spouses have gotten an opportunity, through the sessions, to see that the marriage will not work out. Since the options have been explored together in a safe, neutral environment it helps each spouse feel that they have had a hand in that decision. It can lessen the chance that they feel like the other is asking for divorce against their will. It’s been discussed vs. just being announced.
When people contact me to inquire about marriage counseling I often get asked “If I’m already contemplating divorce, why do we need a marriage counselor?” Divorce is not a decision to be made quickly. It takes a lot of thought, discussion and effort for it to go smoothly. The best place to have these discussions and make these decisions is with a trained, neutral professional in a marriage counseling session.
Marriage and family, for most, are the highest priorities in their life. It is best not to give up on your marriage without seeking professional guidance. Marriage counseling gives both individuals the satisfaction that all stones have been turned and every effort has been made to save the marriage.