Couples: Is there any point to marriage counselling….
When your spouse says that he/she is thinking seriously about divorce?
Research into relationships, marriage and couples counselling has found that couples wait too long to come for relationship counselling – on average six years after the first major problems in the relationship start to occur.
My own experience of seeing unhappy couples in my psychology practice over twenty years has born this out. The couples I see invariably report that they their relationship has been limping along for a long time. Some couples report that they tend to have intermittent explosive rows while others report that following disagreements there might be lengthy periods – sometimes lasting as long as two weeks to a month – when there is a stony silence between the couple. It is common that one partner inevitably becomes the one to initiate a resumption of communication. Their attempts, however, are often met, initially with stonewalling. In either case, when couples become chronically unhappy and dissatisfied, intimacy is an early casualty. This is a dangerous situation, of course, as partners tend to retreat into themselves and their own thoughts. Often one or both start toying with the idea of divorce and eventually the “d” word is brought up in their conversation.
Is it too late, at this stage, for a couple to benefit from couple counselling?
I would say that the answer to this question is definitely “no, it is never too late” for a number of reasons:
First, the partner who mentions divorce is often extremely ambivalent and afraid of the consequences should divorce occur. It is important for each spouse to be able to work through their often confused feelings about their marriage and their thoughts about the future in a containing and non-judgemental context. This is especially important if there are children involved.
[I have found that ambivalent couples, when faced with the choice to continue with counselling or to go ahead with terminating the relationship, usually opt of couple counselling first – for four to six months, because they want to be sure that they are making the right decision].
Secondly – often one partner is leaning towards the divorce option whilst the other one wants to keep the marriage together. Each spouse needs to have the opportunity to explore their options and be fully heard by their partner. This is often difficult to achieve at home where emotions will tend to escalate and there are often other members of the household within earshot.
Thirdly – even if a couple decide ultimately that they opt for divorce, they then need then to initiate a conversation about “what happens next?”. It is often at this stage that discussions regarding mediation or collaborative practice options versus litigation tend to take place. A couple counselling context is a good place for this to happen as the psychotherapist or counsellor they see (especially if they are FAMAC accredited) will be able to fully explore all the possible options with them.
So to reiterate: Yes, I believe strongly that choosing to come for couple counselling when your relationship is in serious trouble is a good idea, even at the point when you may feel that you are on the brink of divorce. By doing so you may be able to save your marriage, but even if this proves not to be possible, you will nonetheless be in a much better position to find a mutually acceptable and considerate way to make decisions about the way forward.
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