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Bad Advice

Does Marriage Counseling Really Work?

There are some things in life that can be difficult, but beautiful, like raising a child. The joys certainly outweigh the challenges in most cases, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

Chasing a dream or a goal is another example. Sometimes a person may feel like quitting, but if he keeps fighting, he may get what he wants -- or at least a smaller version of it.

Marriage falls into this category too. In many cases working through the difficulties can really be worth it. Most married couples will face a few troubles at some point, but clearly there are benefits to dealing with those difficulties instead of ignoring them or simply giving up on the relationship.

Bad Advice

Much of the advice people get about their marriage problems is wrong, even professional advice. It sounds good. It makes sense. The problem is: it usually doesn't work. Reconciling a broken marriage is tricky. The process is not intuitive. You really have to be careful that the advice you're following has proved to achieve the outcome you're looking for. William Doherty is a professor and director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota and author of several family counseling books including, Take Back Your Marriage, explains, “Couples therapy may be the hardest form of therapy and most therapists aren't good at it.” Clinical surveys support his comment in that about 80% of therapists in private practice do couple’s therapy, but have very limited experience beyond their coursework and their own personal experiences. Several studies show that 25% to 50% of couples that attended marriage counseling still ended up in divorce.

I have found that much of the advice couples get from therapists looks good on paper, but won't work in real life. When it comes to marriage counseling, one size therapy clearly doesn't fit all situations. A lot of the advice people get is logical, but it's not psychological. It's ineffective because it doesn't take into account the unique dynamics that occur both within and between a husband and wife who are emotionally disconnected. Couples become disconnected emotionally all the time as passion and excitement can easily creep out of a marriage while boredom and monotony creep in.

Mixed agenda

Of course, that's not to say it's always the therapist's fault if counseling doesn't work. It may simply be that one person in the relationship is “done” with the marriage. There are usually two reasons couples come to counseling: To mend the relationship or to end it. If both parties do not have the same goal in mind, the one who thinks they are there to mend the relationship will be further discouraged by the lack of compliance to the process their partner makes. In order for the relationship to heal, both parties have to be committed to the process and willing to change.

What to do

So what can married couples do if they're having some difficulties?

One person in the marriage doesn't have to wait for the other to start working on the union. Because of the POWER of ONE, it only takes ONE person to change the rhythm of your marriage dance. One person's efforts could initiate positive changes in the marriage, so don't wait. To break through the 'upper limit barriers' to love, you must TAKE CHARGE of your love and HOW you Love!

You need to ignore the saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

The saying might be true in junior high, when you often don't have a choice in being away from your mate -- but in a marriage, absence can cause a lot of problems.

Moreover, don't go gabbing to your friends and family and ask them for advice about your relationship and marital problems. If you do, you'll be breaking an unwritten code of privacy as well as feeding any perceived negativity toward your spouse, which can be harmful and undermine any future reconciliation attempts. One of the most important values in a marriage is trust, keeping the sacred space from being influenced by others and maintaining privacy. It is important to find non-biased counselors that will not choose sides but be on the side of relationship. Therefore, it's a mistake to talk negative about your marriage or your spouse to family or friends.

Additionally, you need to stop asking yourself if you've married the right person.

That's the wrong question. The key to succeeding in marriage is not finding the right person; it's learning to love the person you found. Just as there are physical laws of the universe -- like gravity, which governs flight -- there are also relationship laws that, depending on your behavior, dictate the outcome of your marriage. You don't have to be 'lucky in love.' It's not luck; it's choice.

Joe Whitcomb, M.A., LMFT, is a Christian Marriage and Relationship Counselor, Trainer, and Marriage Educator with Encouragers Counseling & Training Centers. He is the author of Reboot Your Relationship and the creator of the Reboot Your Relationship Intensives and the Relationship Fitness Tele-Boot Camp (Webinar and Telephone).

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