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 Getting the Most Out of Marriage Counseling  

In the past two months I have written about how marriage counseling can be dangerous to a relationship and how to go about choosing an effective marriage counselor.  Now let’s look at the most important part of the equation, the couple who is getting the counseling.  How do you get the most benefit possible from marriage counseling?

One important factor is the attitude brought to counseling.  Often people come in with the idea that the problem is their partner’s issue and what is needed is for their partner to be “fixed.”  I have rarely, perhaps never, seen a relationship in trouble that didn’t have things both partners needed to do differently.  Most of the problems in a relationship come from differences rather than someone doing someone wrong.

Granted, there are wrong things done in relationships which one person needs to take responsibility for.   Abuse and infidelity are two of these.  But most problems are not such clear examples of betrayal.  And even in those instances where there is a clear wrong there are usually other issues that need to be addressed by both partners. 

The best attitude to bring to marriage counseling is to be more focused on yourself than on your partner.  You need to focus on what you like and don’t like but make it about your feelings and preferences rather than what is “wrong” with your partner.  Statements of blame tend to lead to defensiveness and conflict, whereas your partner can’t really argue with you if you share your own experience.

Of course, you need to be responsive to your partner and their feelings and experiences as well.  When both of you come to the table with such an attitude it is much easier to tease out the problems and differences in a way that allows them to be resolved.

It is also more useful for you to focus on what you need to do differently than it is to focus on what your partner needs to do differently.  Since you both need to be different it makes more sense to focus on the part that is under your control.  One person making change in a positive direction makes the whole relationship move forward.  Unfortunately, I have seen too many relationships fall apart while each person waits for the other to change first. The longer I do this work, the better I am at moving couples beyond this problem, but I am still not batting 100 %.

Finally, it is important to realize what happens outside the counseling office is much more important than what happens inside.  Counseling isn’t a magical experience that changes things, but rather a place where you can obtain new learning and insight to apply in your marriage in the real world.  If it doesn’t get applied in the real world, outside the office, it isn’t going to make much difference.  The real success from marriage counseling comes when you apply what is learned in the rest of your relationship and life.