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Common marriage (couples/relationship) counseling myths

I have written this because sometimes people come to marriage counseling looking for something that marriage counseling can not give them. This is not intended to scare anyone away from marriage counseling. Rather, it is intended to help you recognize whether you have expectations that are unlikely to be met in marriage counseling. If you recognize yourself as having any of these expectations – even a little bit – please talk to me about it.

Marriage counseling will decide which of you is right.
Many couples expect me to be the all-knowing judge that will say once and for all who is right. In every situation I have encountered, both partners are right in some ways and wrong in others – and hearing from an “expert” when they are right or wrong usually changes very little. Therefore, I’m not going to try to tell you who is right; rather, I am going to try to understand with you the patterns and habits of interaction that create discord rather than harmony between you.

Marriage counseling will fix your partner.
Many people come to marriage counseling to get the counselor to “fix” their partner. If this is what you are expecting or hoping for, then you are about to spend money to be frustrated. There is no therapist magic wand that I can use to fix people.

The two of you created the relationship together, and you are both going to have to change to make the relationship change. Focusing on the changes your partner needs to make, rather than on the ones you need to make, will likely interfere with your own growth and probably make your partner feel defensive and resistant to changing.

Marriage counseling can fix your relationship without you having to work or change.
All too often people come to marriage counseling when they are so tired of trying to make the relationship work that they just can’t do it any more. I’m sorry, but marriage counseling doesn’t reduce the work you have to do. In fact, in the short term, marriage counseling increases the amount of time and effort you spend on your relationship. The goal of marriage counseling is to make that work more productive, so that it actually accomplishes something.

As a marriage counselor I’m like a coach or personal trainer who tells you what exercises and techniques will improve your performance and fitness – it’s up to you to actually practice them.

Marriage counseling is going to answer the “should I stay or should I go” question.
Many people want me to tell them whether the relationship is worth saving or if they should just give up. 99% of the time the truest answer I can give is “I don’t know”. Most of the time staying together will involve both difficulties and rewards, and ending the relationship would also involve both difficulties and rewards.

Most couples can have a good relationship if their expectations are realistic and they are both willing to put in as much work as is necessary. Since I can’t predict how much effort you and your partner are each willing to put in, I cannot predict whether your relationship can work or not.

Marriage counseling may help you get more clarity about what is going on in the relationship, and it may give you insight into your partner’s willingness and ability to work things through with you. But individual counseling is probably the better place to get help in working on the “stay or go” question, because that is your decision to make.

The Marriage counselor will end your relationship so that you don’t have to.
Sometimes people have actually already decided that their partner is hopeless, and they come to marriage counseling looking for confirmation of that. I have never looked at someone in marriage counseling and said, “Your partner is impossible. Just give it up.”

If you are ready to end your relationship or to make it into a different kind of relationship, you are going to have to make that decision, and you are going to have to say that to your partner. I will not (and can not) make the decision for you or say it for you, although I will support you and your partner as much as I can if you make that choice.

Note: if you are afraid to tell your partner the relationship is over because you are afraid of what he or she will do, tell me that right at the beginning so that I can help you deal with the situation appropriately.

Marriage counseling can fix your relationship even after you have already given up.
One of the biggest challenges I face in marriage counseling is people who have been angry with their partner and unhappy with their relationship for years and have decided that marriage counseling will be their last-ditch attempt before giving up.

People who are at this point sometimes don’t even remember liking and respecting their partner. Relationships at this point can be recovered, but it requires that both partners have very strong motivation to save the relationship, and usually requires a great deal of very challenging work.

If your reaction to that is, “I’ve already put enough time and effort into this relationship, I’m not going to put any more into it”, then you have already given up, and marriage counseling is not likely to change anything.

Marriage counseling can make you feel madly in love like you did in the beginning.
Many of the songs, movies, and books about romantic love make relationships sound like unending bliss. What they usually focus on is the infatuation phase or “honeymoon period”, which many people experience at the beginning of a romantic relationship.

For most people this phase is temporary, and transitions naturally into something less euphoric and intense. This is natural, and even in good relationships people’s feelings toward their partner go up and down. (It is important to remember that feeling anger, disappointment, or other uncomfortable feelings toward your partner at times doesn’t mean you no longer love him or her.)

Marriage counseling can help you develop your relationship skills, which in turn can help you get your realistic wants and needs met. This will help you feel good about yourself as well as about your relationship. With a little work, you and your partner can start feeling like you are on the same team, both working for yourself and each other. That may not feel as intoxicating as the infatuation phase, but it still feels awfully good – and you can make it last.

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