How to Make the Most of Marriage Counseling Sessions

Counseling is not a magical solution to bring couples closer together. Discernment counseling is a short-term therapy that can help couples make an informed decision about their marriage. It usually lasts up to five sessions, during which the therapist meets with the couple and then individually with each partner. Susan Lager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship counselor, explains that couples find the format of joint and individual segments quite useful.

The therapist should set goals and make it clear that they are not an arbiter. It is important to emphasize that there is no “right” or “wrong” perspective and that the couple is there to learn new methods of communication. When couples are part of the military, they share the pride, benefits, and challenges of service. However, frequent movements can create stress and deployments can be difficult for a relationship.

If one or both partners have already “ended” the relationship, marriage counseling is not likely to be effective. There are numerous podcasts and books available to learn more about counseling and marriage therapy. Marriage therapy is a healthy way to resolve problems in your marriage, but it requires both partners to be actively involved. In addition to a couple's lack of trust or willingness to change in therapy, there are mistakes counselors can make that can affect the effectiveness of marriage counseling.

Instead of investing in counseling to try to change your partner, invest in recognizing your behaviors in the relationship and look for how you want to change to improve your marriage. Marriage therapy won't magically erase the past or fix any problem with little or no effort on your part. It is not recommended for couples struggling with domestic violence or for those who are already “detached” from the relationship. Marriage therapy is a great solution for moderating the difference between expectations and reality within a relationship.

Even if couples therapy doesn't result in a repaired marriage or couple, the tools and techniques you learn from counseling sessions can help you build a strong and healthy relationship with your next partner. Marriage therapy will provide you with the tools that will help you communicate better, but you and your partner should also do the necessary work between sessions. Most importantly, couples therapy isn't always a last-ditch effort to save a marriage or prevent a breakup. Discernment counseling is short-term therapy “designed to help couples who are about to divorce gain clarity and confidence in deciding the direction of their marriage”.

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