Do you wonder if your marriage can be saved? Have you been unhappy for so long that it’s hard to imagine rekindling the loving feelings you once cherished?
The average couple is unhappy for over six years before they seek help. That’s a long time for resentments to build and bad habits to develop. Couples gradually turn away from each other and seek sources of happiness outside of the marriage. Not only do affairs occur, but addictions to food, alcohol, drugs, video games, pornography and spending become unhealthy substitutes for genuine joy.
I love doing couples counseling because it’s such a wonderful feeling to see people fall back into love. Most couples are hopeful, but skeptical when they start. I’m always optimistic because I’ve seen hundreds of people learn to repair their relationship.
Here are the top ten lessons I’ve learned about what it takes for marriage counseling to succeed:
- You must be motivated to do the work. If you’ve already given up and flat-lined in your feelings toward your partner, it’s better to talk to an attorney. But if you both still have a hint of hope, then you can learn to think and act the way happy couples do. There is a very good chance those behaviors will work for you as well.
- It is not all your partner’s fault. In fact, their contributions to the problem will not be the main focus of your counseling. While you are undoubtedly correct in your assessment of your partner’s faults and failings, there is nothing you can do about them. You cannot control other people, as your past experience has surely taught you. It will be all you can handle to learn what you need to do to make a positive contribution to improving your marriage.
- It is not all your fault, either. Blaming others make you angry; but blaming yourself leads to depression. You have tried everything you know, and you may be feeling pretty helpless to improve your relationship. But you can learn new behaviors you can do to make your marriage better. And if you’re struggling to find the faith in yourself that you can do it, you can draw on your therapist’s belief in your capacity to learn until you rebuild your self-confidence.
- The therapist’s job is to be a teacher. That means knowing the research that has identified specific ways of thinking and behaving that have been proven to produce satisfying relationships. A great counselor will be providing instruction in each session, not allowing you to continue practicing your old dysfunction behaviors.
- The first new way of thinking that you will need to learn is to focus on the positive outcome you would like to achieve. You will have stop looking at the past and figure out what you want to happen in the future. What will it look like if your marriage was working well? What behaviors would be observed? How would each partner be feeling?
- It is the homework that makes the difference. Teachers are only as good as their students. Every session should end with something new for you to practice at home. You must engage in deliberate practice, which means setting aside time to intentionally work on developing your new skills.
- You have a part of you that’s likely to sabotage you. It has been doing that for years, which is one reason why you have been stuck in a miserable marriage. You will need to identify that part of you that is most likely to block you from implementing what you are learning. It is ok that you have that part; we all have something within us that’s scared, vulnerable, angry, etc. Acknowledging that part will enable you to recognize when it’s trying to derail you. Having a plan to deal with it will significantly improve your chances of success.
- You should expect to see progress. In fact, asking about progress is the first thing I want to know at the beginning of each session. If you have made an attempt to do your homework, there will likely be improvement. And if your partner has done the same, you must notice his or her efforts and be prepared to offer positive reinforcement.
- Because there is almost always progress, there are almost always positive emotions. Embrace them. Amplify them. Enjoy them.
- Because there are always conflicts, you will have negative feelings. Remain respectful and infuse affection and optimism into the discussion.