We've all been there at some point: doors slamming, tears falling, feelings of anger, resentment, even despair.
With approximately 45% of marriages in North America ending in divorce, there’s no doubt that marriage or a long-term relationship can be one of the toughest journeys in life.
Factor in some of the more common reasons for dissatisfaction in a relationship—a new baby, money problems, work stress, and intimacy issues, and it’s almost impossible for a couple not to encounter conflict at some point. But at what point do we call it quits? Is couples therapy enough to hold a relationship together?
Seek Help Early On
The sooner the couple enters counseling, the higher the chance of successfully working through the issue. Issues in a relationship can be like a wound on the body that if left untreated can fester and infect other areas of the relationship. Often within a few sessions, the issue that may be keeping either partner awake at night can quickly be resolved.
For Rebecca and Dan Anderson, the decision to seek came early in their marriage. They were still adjusting to life as newlyweds when news came they’d soon need to focus on the greater adjustment of parenthood.
“There was so much going on in such a short space of time,” explains Rebecca. “I felt like Dan wasn’t listening to me and we weren’t communicating.” So, the couple decided to look outside their relationship for advice.
“Having a third person in the room to listen makes you feel like your voice is magnified,” says Rebecca.
For Dan, seeing a counselor was a more difficult step. “Men often prefer to deal with things alone and find their own solution to the problem,” he admits. “I went to counseling because I knew it was important to Rebecca, and in was equally effective for us both.”
Go it alone if necessary
But what if you’re unable to persuade your partner that counseling is the way to go? counseling. Systems Theory, a psychological phenomenon based on the belief that change in one area brings about change in another, can be nearly as effective as counseling both parties. According to systems theory, when one person in a relationship makes positive changes, this will directly affect all of their family relationships.
Still, for the Anderson's, counseling gave a voice to their feelings in an environment where each would be obliged to listen to the other without argument.
“Each time we left a session we felt a huge sense of both our feelings had been validated,” says Rebecca. “I learned that it was okay for me to be sensitive, but that it was also okay for Dan to be insensitive around the same issues.”
Choose the right counselor
A vital factor to a successful outcome in counseling therapy is choosing the right counselor. The Anderson’s were initially turned off the process because they didn’t connect with the first counselor they met.
“I didn’t feel I could talk to this person,” says Dan. “It’s so important to find someone you feel really comfortable with.”
Shortly after their initial experience, the two were fortunate enough to find Pastor Henson whom they not only but who also used solution-focused techniques that helped them focus on working through their issues in a practical way.
“He would give us homework,” laughs Dan. “I had to write loving notes for Rebecca and commit to doing ten nice things for her before the next session.”
And so far it’s worked…several years later, Dan and Rebecca are now parents of three. They spend much of their time racing from one soccer game to the next with their sons—but they still find time for each other.
“I think counseling should almost be compulsory in a marriage,” says Rebecca. “Of course, we still have our bad days, but because of that initial time we spent learning how to communicate our needs in a way the other would understand, we’re much more solid as a couple.”
Commit to change
Chances are, if you’ve made up your mind the marriage is over, couples therapy won’t work for you. There needs to be a willingness to change and to listen and to give one hundred percent of yourself. It’s those couples who have the greatest chance of making it.