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We Are Already Married! Why Go To Marriage Counseling?

Dear CMR,

My wife and I have been happily married for four years now and have been encouraged to attend marriage retreats or counseling. We don't have any big issues going on, so what is the point of going to counseling or on a retreat?

One Happy Husband

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I become dismayed when I hear people talk about marriage counseling as a negative, final option.  “It got so awful they had to go to marriage counseling!” “I would never go to counseling – it’s not THAT bad!” It is truly unfortunate, but a lot of people think that marriage counseling is reserved for the worst-case scenario.  People attend counseling when there are no other options left, and they likely are a bit embarrassed or ashamed about it.  Drs. John and Julie Gottman, leading couples therapy researchers, have found that, on average, a couple will wait six years from when an issue surfaces until they go for marriage counseling.  Six years is a long time to wait, and suffer!  Waiting also allows hurtful interactions, thought patterns, and habits to become entrenched, thus making it so much more difficult to bring about needed change.  It still can be done, but it is a more challenging process.

Instead, I like to think of marriage counseling as a proactive tool.  It is a beneficial option to choose right away.  When couples attend counseling sooner rather than later, the issue will not be as ingrained or deep-rooted.  There will be less time and opportunity for resentment and bitterness to set in, take root, and grow.  There will not be as much collateral emotional damage and hurt to deal with. Couples will not be as discouraged.  They will have more emotional energy available to do the important work on their relationship.  The process will not necessarily need to be as long or difficult.  Consider all the pain that couples potentially can avoid by proactively working on their marriage, rather than waiting until the issues are deep and entrenched!

Counseling is also a proactive tool that can be used for marriage maintenance.  Just like we always need to do maintenance on our cars and our homes, we also need to do regular maintenance on our marriages.  Marriage counseling is a great way to have a marital checkup, and address any issues that come up right away so that they don’t grow to be bigger, destructive patterns.  It is just one more, advanced way to take good care of our marriage.

Bottom line, who couldn’t benefit from talking with a trained, objective third party? We all have blind spots, sensitivities, misunderstandings, and person-specific lenses through which we view and understand the world, which includes our spouse and our marriage.  Talking with a trained, objective counselor will give us the perspective and interpretation that we might not achieve on our own.  Having that perspective and interpretation will serve to increase our understanding, compassion, and patience with our spouse.  

Marriage counseling is a helpful, proactive tool for relationship maintenance.  How are you caring for your relationship and marriage?  Consider making marriage counseling one of your first options, rather than one of your last!