For many people, the idea of going to counseling can be uncomfortable and even intimidating.  For some of us, going to counseling, whether it’s a therapist, psychologist, doctor, or other skilled professional makes us feel like failures because we couldn’t even manage our own lives.  For others letting some stranger in to our personal junk is unthinkable.  Then there’s the situation of a couple needing counseling, and now there are two people who have to be willing to open up and come together and be real with each other and a stranger.  The question remains, when should a couple seek couples counseling?

Premarital Counseling

One form of couples counseling that every couple should have is premarital counseling.  As the name implies, this is something the couple does in the weeks and months leading up to their marriage.  The purpose of this counseling is not to deal with problems, such as those that may need a rehab center, but to help the couple develop the skills to avoid them and think through the practical challenges of joining two lives together.  It helps a couple start talking about decisions they will have to make such as whose family they will spend each holiday with, how they will handle their finances, how to disagree constructively, if, when and how many children they want to have, what church they will attend, etc.

Young couples in love often don’t think about what a big and potentially difficult life change marriage will be.  They’re usually too busy picking out party bags, flowers, and other wedding essentials.  Premarital counseling helps them connect with the realities of marriage instead of the happily ever after dream.  We venture to guess that if every couple that planned on marrying would get premarital counseling that the prevalence of marital affairs would drop drastically.

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Counseling for Marriage Problems

Couples counseling after marriage usually arises because there is a stress in the marriage that the couple themselves cannot resolve in a healthy manner–such as an affair.  The philosophers among us will tell us that any two reasonable adults should be able to solve anything.  Those of us who actually have had to live life and deal with people know that there are things in life that it is impossible for anyone except a robot to deal with reasonably, because it’s so emotional and so personal.  Counseling can bring a couple together on neutral ground with an impartial third party who by virtue of his impartiality is able to map out the path of reasonable compromise.  The important thing to remember about counseling, however, is that both parties have to be willing to fight for their relationship and become better people.  A counselor can identify the causes and show people the way out, but they have to have the courage to walk the path for themselves.

Finding a Therapist

You can find a therapist a number of ways.  One way is by talking with friends and neighbors who may have used a particular therapist and found them to be helpful.  You may also find a good therapist by contacting the American Psychological Association or the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy for therapists in your area.  There are also counseling centers and hospital outpatient mental health centers in most communities.  Regardless of where you find a therapist, it is a good idea to contact the therapist to discuss why you are coming in and to inquire about their training in  general, particularly as it applies to marital infidelity.  This discussion should give you a feeling about whether or not you will be comfortable working with this person.

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During your first meeting with the therapist, he/she should give you an opportunity to interview them further.  This will give you the chance to ask more questions regarding their training, their type of therapy and their marital infidelity experience.  Don’t hold back here.  Ask all the questions you want and need answers for.

Here are a few more points to remember when considering a therapist for couples counseling after an affair:

  • You have entered therapy for help based on the therapist’s experience training, and caring — if any of these are missing, find another therapist.
  • Your therapist’s procedures should be explained to you clearly.
  • You are in collaboration with your therapist — the therapist is not your boss.
  • If you attend therapy together, you should each feel fairly heard and fairly treated.

Going to couples counseling, especially after an affair is an important step in the healing process and vital for rebuilding your marital relationship.  Don’t take it lightly.  Pick a good therapist that is marriage friendly and that is fair to both of you.  If the therapist doesn’t work out for whatever reason–find another one.

On a somewhat related note…We are happy to announce that we will be conducting a live interview Tuesday August 17 at 5:00 PM Eastern time with a good friend and contributor to this blog, Jeff Murrah, LPC, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.  He is also the author of “How to Cope With a Cheating Spouse.” Jeff is from the Houston area and has been a therapist at the Texas alcohol rehab for over 25 years.  He is active in the blog comments section on this site and has offered a lot of valuable advice and information as a result.  There is limited space for this call,  so please go to the registration page now before it fills up.

    3 replies to "Should You Go to Couples Counseling?"

    • Jeffrey Murrah

      Doug,

      Marriage counseling can be very beneficial. As with many professions, there is a wide range of counselors with a wide range of experience. Some of the things that couples need to consider:

      1. Experience: With counseling, you often get what you pay for. Making the choice based solely on price is a mistake some couples make. Yes, you will pay more for experience. When it is your marriage at stake, do you want a rookie, or someone with years of knowledge in dealing with couples? IF I had an high dollar Alfa-Romeo, I surely would not take it to the local Exxon station, whose experience is limited to oil changes.

      2. Style/Approach: The choice of counselor will also depend on the needs of the couple. Some want a touchy-feely counselor, others want teaching counselors, others want those who ‘tell it like it is’. Each type have their merits.

      3. Values: You will likely do better going to counseling with a counselor who shares similar values. The interventions and suggestions may be good, but if they go against your values, they are of limited use.

      4. Commitment: You will get out of counseling what you put into it. If you are only going to get your spouse off your back, that is about all you will get out of it. If you go into it with honesty, willingness to try new things, openness, willing to be vulnerable, courageously and with flexibility, you will get more out of it.

      There have also been many couples helped through Licensed Professional Counselors, Psychoanalysts, Social Workers, Coaches and Pastoral Counselors. Each of these groups also deal with couples and the issues they struggle with.

      That is just my 2cents worth.

      • Doug

        Good stuff Jeff. Thanks for your input as always.

    • surprised

      Jeff – is it of any benefit if I go to counseling by myself? My H has made it very clear he won’t go. I kind of feel like it would be a waste of time for me to go alone since the problem stem from H and his relationship with the OW. What has been your experience with women coming alone when they are the betrayed spouse?

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