Couples go through many ups and downs. We face difficulties in our lives that challenge us personally and challenge our relationships. We have different personalities, different needs and desires. Whether you have been in a relationship for 5 months or 5 years, you have likely found yourself at a crossroads, looking at your partner and thinking “what now?” Well, let’s have a look at marriage counselling.

Marriage counselling has a stereotype attached to it. Picture the following: A fed up wife drags her reluctant husband off to a marriage counsellor to find a magic fix to overcome their communication problems. The therapist gives bizarre advice, leading to the couple feeling even more despondent about their relationship.

We’ve seen this story play out in more than a few romantic comedy sitcoms or movies. As a marriage counsellor, I cringe at every one of these scenes. Counselling in general is given a bad rap. Unfortunately society has attached a stigma to counselling and enforces a belief that there must be something wrong with you if you attend therapy. Attending counselling is seen as weakness, not bravery, and unfortunately marriage counselling is painted with the same brush.

So putting the stereotypes aside, let’s look at marriage counselling. What is it, what it should be and how can it help you?

What is marriage counselling?

Ideally, marriage counselling is a decision made between you and your partner to find a third party to help resolve your conflicts and create healthy means of communicating. It is a safe space, where you as an individual have the right and freedom to express your hurts and your desires in a constructive way. Under the guidance of a marriage counsellor, this should facilitate a deeper understanding of your partner and your relationship. The counsellor would construct a therapeutic approach based on what your relationship needs after the first session and together, the three of you will walk a journey of self discovery and growth.

Sounds perfect, right? But it is never that easy. In reality, marriage counselling is often initiated by one partner in the relationship, leaving the other feeling apprehensive even before the first session. It is scary and you both don’t know what to expect. You search for a counsellor in your area, balk at the price of an hour session and nervously make the appointment. Once you sit in front of the counsellor, you may be completely overwhelmed by the professional in front of you, question if you have made the right decision and think about running out the door at least twice. Unfortunately, that is how many counselling sessions begin. But fortunately, they don’t stay that way.

What should marriage counselling be like?

Marriage counselling is a lot more than sitting in a room hoping that the expert in front of you will solve your problems. It is a journey of self and relationship discovery, but definitely not easy. A marriage counsellor is a facilitator. They are are not a referee and they are not there to tell you who is right or wrong. The role of a marriage counsellor is to encourage you and your partner to communicate and find strategies to resolve conflict. Marriage counselling is definitely not a “one size fits all” approach and counsellors do tailor their approach to suit the needs of your relationship.

However, in counselling you and your partner are the leaders and the experts. You know yourselves and each other best. Even though you may be feeling lost and hopeless, you are still the master of your destiny. The marriage counsellor should help you realise this. You might argue in counselling, you might cry and you might show hurts you have never expressed before. And that, is what it should be. The best counselling session is the one in which you can just vent, express all your emotions and realise where the pain is.

Sometimes couples come in with one reason and then leave the session after realising that there are other problems they need to face. After the first session, you may be feeling raw and vulnerable. That is normal and that is okay. You may even doubt your decision to attend counselling and feel that the problems you are facing is bigger than your relationship. Pushing through and committing to each other that you both want to try, is the very first step to achieving complete success.

How will marriage counselling help you?

At the very least, marriage counselling will make you think. It will make you question yourself and the way you interact with your partner and the people around you. At the very most, marriage counselling will provide you and your partner with a map to save your relationship. The counsellor will help you and your partner draw the map and you figure out the twists and turns together. It is important to remember that you are not at counselling to change each other, but rather the way you interact with each other – such as finding healthier ways to deal with conflict.

Counselling can help you get to who your partner is and why there are difficulties, it will not help you find ways to change the other person. Approach marriage counselling with an open mind and an open heart and a willingness to delve into things that make you uncomfortable. A lot of marital and relationship problems stem from childhood issues and beliefs that surface years later. Marriage counselling will help you realise this in yourself and in your partner and find ways to deal with them in a healthy manner. It may take time, and counselling is not something that should be rushed or that will fix your problems overnight.

Things to keep in mind when going to counselling:

Now that you and your partner (ideally) have made the decision to attend marriage counselling, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to make the experience slightly easier on yourselves.

  • Find a good therapist who you feel comfortable with. If you do not feel at ease with the counsellor, find someone else.
  • Choose the correct therapeutic approach with the counsellor and commit to it.
  • Understand how many sessions it is that you need and plan for it financially.
  • Attend the sessions together at a time that is suitable for both of you so that one partner does not miss a session because they are working – this can create resentment before therapy even begins.
  • Commit to the counselling process and don’t give up when things get hard for you – that is when most breakthroughs happen!
  • If your counsellor gives you “homework”, complete it before the next session so that you can give feedback and have specific things to discuss.

Marriage counselling can be a scary, wonderful, roller coaster experience. The goal is to save and improve your marriage. Trust yourself, trust your counsellor and commit to this goal. Even though it may not feel like it at first, by taking the first step towards counselling you are showing the utmost bravery and strength.