Couples counselling can be a positive way forward for many couples. However it is important to consider why you want to come to sessions. The following are some reasons not to come for counselling:
1. You want the Marriage Counsellor to decide who is right and who is wrong.
Specifically you want the therapist to tell your partner that they are the one causing the problem.
Your counsellor is not there to sit in judgement. A good relationship counsellor will never take sides or tell you what to do. They will, however, help you to look at how you can resolve your differences in a more positive way and help you to learn how to communicate better.
2. You want the Counsellor to change your partner.
It is not up to the counsellor to change anyone. A relationship is a partnership between two people. If change is needed, it is important that the couple each work on how they can change themselves for the benefit of the relationship.
3. You have already decided to separate/divorce and you want to prove that you did all you could to save the relationship.
A significant number of clients come to the first therapy session already having decided that they want a divorce. They want to be able to say to their friends and family that they did all they could. The truth is they didn’t want to fix or save this relationship.
If you already have your stuff packed and plan to move on no matter what happens in therapy going for marriage counselling is just one more trial that you will need to get over to start your new life.
Counselling can be helpful when both parties know that this is coming and they are trying to work out some end of relationship issues, like co-parenting.
Counsellors can and do work in the area of divorce counselling. But before you turn your marriage counselling session into negotiating a divorce, talk to the lawyer types first.
4. You are making your partner go so you can punish them for their misdeeds.
Couple show up for counselling often at the insistence of one partner who has demanded that they attend counselling as a condition of staying together. This can work if both parties are committed to changing themselves and things in their relationship.
What will not work is to inflict X sessions of therapy in which one partner beats the other up over the “guilty” person’s transgressions.
If there was an affair you can work on the reasons it happened in the first place or how to rebuild the relationship and trust. What is not helpful is just to use counselling as a way to flog the affair partner for their misdeeds.
An ordeal in the therapy room results in more resentments in the relationship and addition problems in the future.
5. You expect everything to happen in the sessions and are opposed to doing any “homework” outside of sessions.
Relationships need maintenance. Some times in sessions you can get some of the “rubbish” out. You can also learn some new ideal relationship skills.
What you are likely to hear in the couples counselling session is that relationships take work. You need to make repair efforts when things go wrong and there is work to do to maintain a relationship.
Expect that your convalescent period for an ailing relationship will include homework and skills practice you need to do outside the counselling session.
A good marriage counsellor will make suggestions and may well suggest some homework assignments outside of session. Do not expect your therapist to do all the work. You need to practice good relationship skills between sessions.
6. There are topics that are off-limits and you are unwilling to talk about.
Couples come to therapy saying they have poor “communication” and they want to learn to communicate better. The next part of this conversation is that there are topics they do not want to talk about.
Some topics probably should be off the table. You like coffee and your partner is a tea drinker. You can share and each try the others beverage or you can fight forever over who is right. Some disagreements have no resolution and it is a waste of time to continue to fight over things for which there is no solution.
The off the table topics that cause relationship counselling to be unproductive are the big issues that stand in the way of having a good relationship.
Addictions, drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling, pornography, those things undermine any relationship. So you come to couples counselling and say you want to communicate better, only he won’t talk about his drinking and she won’t discuss her affair.
Is this situation likely to get better? Not unless the unresolved issues get handled. Couples need to be honest with themselves and their therapist if they want things to change. This may involve touching on some slightly uncomfortable subjects. If you are unwilling to look at certain issues, even when they are having an effect on your lives together, then things are likely to stay exactly the way they are until you are prepared to be open.
7. You expect your partner to do all the work and make all the changes.
A relationship involves people, more than one, so any real change in your relationship will involve both of you making changes. If you think that your partner changing will solve all the problems consider that each year we see a great many people who divorce and remarry.
Before long those new relationships are fighting and there may be second, and third divorces.
Pick a partner and you get a set of problems. Learn problem solving in your relationship not problems switching.
8. Your relationship is not worth the cost of marriage counselling.
A lot of people who spend a great amount of time complaining about their relationship are unwilling to spend money to work through their conflicts.
Before you say you can’t afford couples counselling, consider that the average couples comes in about six times. The cost of six or even twelve sessions with most therapists would not equal the cost of the retainer for the divorce lawyer.
How much is it worth to you to end your relationship? How much might it be worth to transform the relationship you have into the one you would like?
9. You already have a replacement partner lined up.
Couples counselling cannot be effective if there is a third party involved. If there is an affair (whether your partner knows about it or not), the couples therapy will not stand a chance. The affair needs to be completely over before you can work on your existing relationship. If you have already decided you are leaving for another person and you are using the sessions to “let them down gently”, you are not being fair to them and you certainly not attending the sessions for the right reasons.
Marriage or relationship counselling can be very helpful in transforming a relationship into the one you want. But if you go into relationship counselling with any of the 9 problems listed above your are not likely to get much help from being in couples therapy and the therapy may well leave you with one extra “relationship trauma” to deal with after your relationship ends.