Should You Try Marriage Counseling? You Must When You See These 4 Things Happening
“This allows couples to be more open and honest about what they want.”
Being in a relationship is not a walk in the park, and being in a healthy one takes much more work. Both parties would need to be committed, honest, and able to meet halfway, despite each other’s imperfections. However, there are times in a marriage when miscommunication and problems can be too much for two people to solve by themselves. When this happens, it’s best we reach out to experts and counselors to help us understand the situation.
When it gets too complicated, marriage counseling is the way to go.
What is marriage counseling?
Marriage counseling, also known as couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that helps both parties in a marriage see, understand, and resolve conflicts from their everyday lives. It may help strengthen and improve their relationship or recognize when they need to make an honest decision about going their separate ways.
When is it advisable for couples to seek marriage counseling?
“I would say, any time,” says Nathaniel Chua, a counselor at One Life Only Counseling Services and a member of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science.
“A lot of things can happen unnoticed by the couple. Given this, however, you may want to consider if any of these factors are already going on in your relationship: criticisms, rejections, cumulative annoyance, unfair demands.”
Chua says that criticism happens when partners start to see each other’s differences as defects, while rejections happen when couples become less sensitive to the other’s emotional sensitivities.
“Cumulative annoyance can happen when the qualities that endeared them to each other have now turned into negatives. Unfair demands are like telling a blind person to walk as fast as yourself who has perfect vision,” he says. “Partners come in packages, and many times couples forget that their partners will never be able to fulfill every desire.”
What happens during marriage counseling sessions?
While there are several approaches to couples therapy, Chua follows a set of four sessions dedicated for assessing the relationship.
“Assessment can be disappointing to some couples as they mostly want to get started right away. What I inform them about is that assessment will help me know if the approach that I use will be helpful to them,” he says. “There are certain criteria that need to be present without which my approach will not be as helpful.”
After the assessment comes intervention. “We then move to intervention by targeting their core issues that are teased from the assessment sessions. However, it can be very flexible since I would normally deal with a couple's biggest concerns during each session of intervention.”
Every couple is different, which means that the number of sessions cannot be determined until they actually try it. However, Chua says that the number of therapy sessions can range from four to 24, depending on the state of the relationship and how far the couple wants to work on it, among others.
What are the benefits of marriage counselling?
“The approach that I use comes from an assumption based on evolutionary principles. We are a cooperative species. In couples therapy, this evolutionarily programmed instinct can be put to good use by bringing these cooperative intentions to the surface,” explains Chua.
“Most couples are stuck in a cycle of ineffective interactions. If they begin to see through the actions of each one, they can develop more empathy and objectivity towards their partner. These are two key abilities that my approach to counseling wants to develop in the couple.”
Counseling helps couples determine how they can behave more effectively, and which characteristics of their relationship are accepted or open to change.
Forty-eight-year-old Aida and her partner went through 16 marriage counseling sessions in 2019. They decided to seek expert advice because she and her partner would fight almost daily.
“Sobrang iritang-irita kami sa isa’t isa,” shares Aida. “Siguro factor na rin ‘yung pareho kaming stressed sa work. Pero alam naming pareho na hindi ganu’n yung treatment ng dalawang taong love ang isa’t isa.”
Her partner did not agree to seek therapy at first, thinking about the expenses and time that they had to allot for it. “S’yempre nu’ng una, puro technicalities talaga ang naisip namin. May pambayad ba kami dito? May oras ba kami? Kailangan ba talaga namin ‘to? Pero buti na lang at ginawa talaga namin,” she says.
Attending their therapy sessions consistently, as well as taking notes and being committed to bettering their relationship, made them come back stronger than ever. “It was an avenue for us to improve our communication. Naging honest talaga kami sa isa’t isa, at marami kaming natutunan,” she adds.
Chua adds, “There is also an emphasis on contingency rather than a rules-based approach. The drawback of having a rules-based approach is this can eventually develop into an issue that the couple can fight about,” he says.
An example of this drawback is when a partner criticizes the other for not following the rules learned in therapy. “Contingency is more about understanding the process and being clear about what goals are important to achieve in each interaction. This allows couples to be more open and honest about what they want from their everyday communications,” Chua adds.