For most couples, the decision to enter marriage counseling is a positive step. It represents an acknowledgement from both partners that their relationship is broken, and they can't fix it on their own. Getting outside help is usually seen as a good thing, especially if the marriage has been in decline for a while, or the problems have gotten severe or dramatic.
But it's also a decision that comes with some risk. Chances are there will be surprises in the therapeutic process, and not all of them will be pleasant. Some will be small ones that can be anticipated to some degree, but catastrophic surprises can be part of the process as well.
In general, the risks in marriage counseling tend to fall into two major categories. One is potential issues surrounding the therapist, which can be further broken down into experience, skill set, values and and the belief system of that person. Allowing a third party to shine a light on the inner workings of a marriage is risky business under the best of circumstances, even if that person is a qualified, experienced professional.
The other major category can be summed up in a single word: revelations. Going into couples counseling, both spouses will learn things about themselves, some good, others not so much. And sometimes a sudden epiphany can reveal a flaw or crack in the foundation of a marriage that can be difficult or even impossible to repair.
While quality counseling can help put a marriage on the road to recovery, horror stories abound about couples that either chose the wrong therapist or had the counseling process take a wrong turn in mid-stream, with the therapist unable to engineer a course correction.
Many of these stories revolve around the experience level of the therapist. Within the field, therapists readily acknowledge that couples counseling is one of the most difficult forms of therapy to perform well, one that takes years of experience to learn and master. And some couples sabotage themselves by choosing someone close to their own age if they're younger, or by selecting someone charismatic, thinking these advantages will outweigh the experience factor.
But experience in and of itself is no guarantee of excellence. Even an experienced therapist can mishandle a marriage counseling situation, whether it's due to the belief system and values of the therapists not being in line with those of the couple, or situations in which the therapist is either trying to be too neutral or inadvertently favoring one partner.
All of this should lead to care and caution when it comes to making out a question list to evaluate potential therapists. Is the therapist committed to making the marriage work, or is this someone who will readily recommend divorce before exhausting all possibilities? Will the therapist be prone to favoritism due to values or a previous experience that colored his or her judgment?
The bottom line is that you should look carefully at the track record of the therapist, and interview this person carefully. Don't just search for success stories; peek behind the curtain to see if the problems this person has solved mirror your own, and quiz the therapist thoroughly about any issue involving values and beliefs that you think might interfere with the counseling process.
What You Don't Know Can Hurt You
The second major risk in couples counseling is the possibility that therapy will reveal hidden problems, beliefs or issues that can cause serious turmoil and upheaval. To some extent this is what's supposed to happen during therapy, but many couples discover that what they don't know can indeed hurt them, especially if the therapist can't adequately manage these epiphanies.
There are numerous reasons why this occurs. One of the most common issues is that partners form images of each other that are flawed or outdated. And in some instances, couples bring very different agendas to the counseling process.
To wit: One spouse may be entering counseling just to please the other, so that all possibilities are exhausted when it comes to saving the marriage. Or a partner may be withholding information or not giving his or her full story, or perhaps even lying or misrepresenting themselves.
The best way to circumvent these issues is to seek out the advice of an expert with a comprehensive system. At Strong Marriage Now, for instance, Dr. Dana Fillmore has helped thousands of married couples who are struggling to make their marriage healthy and strong.
She also has a system that offers a comprehensive approach to counseling, whether its online counseling, the decision to enter into the therapy process (together or alone), or explanations of how it works and what to expect. These options are outlined at StrongMarriageNow, and deciding to consider and look into them represents a choice that could save your marriage.
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, watch the video below today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com