Marriage Counselling: How Does It Work and What to Expect
Marriage is a blessing. It is an opportunity to share your life with the one you love. However, as life transitions occur (e.g. parenting and career choices), difficulties in dealing with these commitments and making compromises may result in a marriage falling apart.
In order to help couples possibly regain commitment and rebuild the marriage, this article aims to explain to you why marriage counselling might be an option for you.
What is Marriage Counselling?
Marriage counselling, also known as couples’ counselling, is a short-term focused treatment (1 – 12 sessions) with a professional counsellor.
The purpose of marriage counselling is to focus on understanding issues and effectively resolving the conflicts within the couples’ married life.
Why Should I Consider Marriage Counselling?
Marriage counselling could help couples restore lost emotional intimacy (i.e. closeness in which both spouses feel secure and loved) through techniques that may improve their communication.
When couples are given a platform to openly converse with one another, this reduces the chances of there being unspoken resentment towards each other, and increases the likelihood of the partners understanding one another.
Thereby, resolving conflicts and bringing the couple closer.
How Long is a Marriage Counselling Session? Will We Need to Arrange for Multiple Sessions?
1 session may last approximately 90 minutes.
Depending on how long you and your spouse take to open up to one another and the counsellor, more sessions might be arranged to familiarise yourselves with the counselling process and help you work through your concerns.
This particular familiarity you gain (with the counselling process) will in turn overcome the communication barrier as trust and comfort levels (between you, your spouse and the counsellor) build up over time.
How Much Does a Marriage Counselling Session Cost?
The cost of a marriage counselling session may range from $190 to $220 per couple. The fee may also vary depending on the:
- Number of sessions you book (package prices may be available); or the
- Organisation you seek counselling services from.
What is the Role of a Marriage Counsellor?
The role of a marriage counsellor is to work with you and your spouse to find new approaches to overcome present challenges to the marriage.
For example, if you are a workaholic, your counsellor could suggest that you refrain from bringing work home and focus on spending more time with your spouse/family.
A marriage counsellor may help you and your spouse to:
Discover and Optimise Skills Within an Individual to Strengthen the Marriage
For example, in the event that discussions between you and your spouse become heated (during the counselling session), your counsellor may help you to discover skills to control your emotions.
Throughout the session, your counsellor may also work with you to calm your spouse down, and explore ways to express yourselves through a less confrontational approach.
Re-connect by Facilitating Communication
Some couples hardly communicate and tend to react to conflicts by avoiding them. Your counsellor will attempt to bridge this communication gap by encouraging you to speak openly and honestly with your spouse.
Communicate Effectively by Adopting an Organised Method of Communication
For example, your counsellor might set up a ground rule (that will take effect only during the counselling sessions) that allows each of you to speak without any interruption from one another.
This gives time and space for you and your spouse to listen actively to each other and respond with understanding.
Regain Trust in Your Marriage
For example, if you have cheated on your spouse, your spouse may experience anger or betrayal towards you. This is in turn likely to harm the trust your spouse initially had in you.
Your counsellor will attempt to assess and identify how the trust was broken and how it can be re-built.
Regain Commitment in Your Marriage
Trust issues may also lead to commitment anxiety. Meaning, when a trusted spouse in a committed relationship breaks that trust, the aggrieved spouse may develop a negative attitude towards the future of the relationship.
Hence, when pressed for commitment, the aggrieved spouse is likely to leave the relationship or avoid you.
Your counsellor may help you and your spouse discuss and understand the fears and concerns you or your spouse may have with regard to commitment.
Your counsellor could also assist you and your spouse to negotiate the responsibilities arising from making commitments.
For example, if one of you decides to take up full-time university degree studies, how will the responsibility of parenting or home maintenance be dealt with?
Your counsellor can help the both of you set clear and realistic goals in relation to compromising and carrying out these responsibilities.
Ultimately, the role of a counsellor is to mediate discussions between you and your spouse in a way that improves your marriage. That is, by addressing and working through the underlying issues to find solutions for the problems in your marriage.
When Should We Seek Marriage Counselling?
Couples should seek marriage counselling as soon as one of you feels that:
- Your arguments have been endless
- There is built-up resentment
- There is nothing in common to share or talk to your spouse about
- The relationship seems to have lost meaning
You should also consider going for counselling if you find yourself starting to imagine what your life would be like if you were unmarried.
How Do I Suggest Marriage Counselling to My Spouse?
Very often, when a spouse refuses to attend marriage counselling, it may be because they see it as a place to be blamed for everything wrong in the relationship.
Therefore, when suggesting marriage counselling to your spouse, it is important to broach the subject in a positive and collaborative way.
The following infographic summarises the steps to suggest marriage counselling to your spouse:
(Click on the image to download it in a new tab.)
- Allocate a suitable time to bring up the subject. Do not bring it up during an argument as your spouse may not take it seriously. It is best to approach the topic when he/she is alone and not distracted by everyday stress so both of you can talk about seeking counselling calmly. For example, ask if your spouse can talk after dinner. This way, they wouldn’t feel ambushed as you will be letting them know in advance that you wish to talk about an important topic.
- Let your spouse know that the counselling session is not going to be about finger-pointing. It may also be helpful for you to take responsibility for your contribution to the problems. This will take the burden/fear off your spouse of you wanting them to change or be blamed.
- Tell them what you hope to accomplish. Think of specific things you wish to learn as a result of counselling. For example, “I wish for us to communicate better.”
- Let your spouse know what it would mean to you if he/she attended the counselling session with you. Tell them how much better it might make you feel, hopeful or encouraged that you’re doing this together.
- Discuss what would make your spouse comfortable. Ask your spouse what location would be best for him/her. What time and day would be most convenient for an appointment?
My Spouse and I have Decided to Attend Marriage Counselling. What can We Expect in a Marriage Counselling Session?
It is normal for couples to feel anxious before attending counselling sessions as they may not know what to expect. Hence, it can be helpful to understand:
- What happens prior to a marriage counselling session;
- What will happen during the first and subsequent marriage counselling sessions (i.e. how a marriage counselling session may be conducted, and the types of questions you may be asked during counselling sessions)
Note that the type of method and questions a counsellor may use or ask may vary, depending on your needs and the counsellor’s own approach.
What to Expect Prior to Your First Marriage Counselling Session
Prior to your first marriage counselling session, you may be asked to fill in:
- A terms and conditions form;
- A personal particulars form; and/or
- A questionnaire
Depending on the organisation you seek counselling services from, you may be asked to fill in the forms either online or in the waiting room.
After you have filled in these forms, you will proceed to the counselling room where the contents of these forms will be discussed with your counsellor.
What to Expect During Your First Marriage Counselling Session
Discussing the Terms and Conditions Form
During your first marriage counselling session, you can expect to discuss with your counsellor about:
- Confidentiality (if the information you discuss with the counsellor will be disclosed to third-parties);
- The organisation’s policies regarding cancellation of counselling sessions and fees;
- The counsellor’s duty to report on you or your spouse, whoever has the intention to harm or is deemed harmful, to the rightful authorities. For example, if you or your spouse threaten to harm yourselves or another person, your counsellor may have to refer the case to the rightful authorities for intervention; and
- The anticipated course of counselling. For example, the methodologies (see below) your counsellor uses when working with married couples.
Although counselling policies may vary across different counselling organisations, it is a general rule that counsellors must not discuss any information or materials (documents, photographs, etc.) that contain a client’s information without the client’s consent.
This is unless the information is required by law.
Discussing the Personal Particulars Form
The first session is usually about information gathering. This is so that your counsellor will be able to assess the situation and provide the best intervention plan for you and your spouse.
Hence, the personal particulars form and/or questionnaire will help your counsellor to gather as much information as he/she can, on you, your spouse and your marital relationship.
In the personal particulars form, you may be asked to fill in your:
- Contact details
- Background (e.g. religion, occupation, duration of marriage)
- Your experience in marriage counselling (e.g. if you have attended marriage counselling before)
- Brief description of the issue
Discussing the Questionnaire
The questionnaire, if provided, is an extension of the personal particulars form. It may contain questions on:
- Why you have booked the session
- What you expect from or hope to get out of the session
- Your personal history
- Your current marital issues and situation
- What you and your spouse have done to resolve these issues
During the session, your counsellor will discuss these questions further with you and your spouse. He/she will also make the effort to allow and ensure that both of you get the opportunity to tell your side of the issue.
What to Expect in Subsequent Marriage Counselling Sessions
Your counsellor will understand if you are not as comfortable to open up or share your thoughts yet in the first counselling session. Hence, he/she may utilise a few methods to help married couples through the counselling process, in subsequent sessions.
What are Some Marriage Counselling Methods?
Role-playing is the acting out of a set of behaviours as he/she is or wishes to become. For example, if Spouse A and Spouse B often argue or talk over one another, Spouse A could role play with the counsellor (who will take on the role of Spouse B) using the “I feel” language.
This means that during the role-play, the counsellor would raise a marital issue with “I feel” and Spouse A should respond with “I hear you saying…” This gives Spouse A the opportunity to discharge held-in emotions, and for Spouse B to deeply listen and feel where Spouse A is coming from.
It also reduces the risk of blaming or belittling one another as Spouse A will not be speaking to his/her spouse directly but the counsellor who will remain impartial and attempt to practice the method with Spouse A in a calm manner.
2. Asking You About Your Childhood and Family History
Another method to get married couples through the counselling process is by asking you about your childhood and family history. The types of relationships you witnessed while growing up may influence your current marital relationship.
For example, if you grew up watching your parents fight constantly (violence or hostility), you may have experienced depression or low self-esteem. This might have been carried into and affected your ability to form future relationships.
For instance, you may be the type to react to conflicts by avoiding them. Thereby, leaving problems unresolved and eroding the quality of interactions with your spouse.
Analysing your family history will help you become aware of the childhood wounds or traumas that you might have experienced on a conscious level. This means that now that the cause of your interactions have been known, you will be able to make conscious choices when responding.
At the end of the counselling session, you may be tasked with homework. For example, your counsellor may assign you the task of jotting down your thoughts on the session or any arguments you may have with your spouse in the following days.
Your counsellor will then review these notes with you during the next session.
Marriage counselling gives married couples the opportunity to re-discover each other’s needs and concerns through effective methodologies.
It helps to bridge the marriage by confronting and validating one another’s fears, built up from the past or from new commitments, that maybe standing between you and your spouse.
If you feel that you and your spouse need help in communicating and/or resolving issues, consider seeking assistance from a professional counsellor as soon as possible.