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Does Counseling Help Unhappy Marriages

If you are asking the question, “Does counseling help unhappy marriages?” chances are your marriage has been unhappy for a while. Couples wait an average of six years before deciding to pursue marriage counseling.

This is a LONG time to wait – to keep having the same disagreements, to become more and more disconnected…and to build resentment.

Yet, even when couples enter counseling after a long wait, counseling can and does help unhappy marriages.

When you enter couples counseling, you can expect the counselor(s) to ask you each to explain what is making your marriage unhappy. Your answers set the stage for how the counseling will proceed. They will also ask you what you hope to achieve through counseling. Your answers to this question will set the trajectory of counseling.

You have options when it comes to pursuing couples counseling.

Many couples choose to work with a counselor weekly. Sessions typically last an hour. You can accomplish a lot this way. However, there is a drawback to weekly sessions. It usually takes a significant length of time to make the desired progress – sometimes years – when you choose just weekly counseling sessions.

Another option is to do a private marriage counseling retreat – ideally with 2 counselors (one female and one male) so you each feel you have someone who can easily understand your perspective. This type of counseling also helps couples in unhappy marriages to move forward. The big difference between weekly couples therapy and a retreat is that the timeline is compressed. In just one retreat, it is possible to completely change your life.

Regardless of the type of counseling you choose to address the challenges in your marriage, as mentioned previously, one of the first questions the counselor(s) will ask you both is “What’s making your marriage unhappy?”

Common answers to this question are:

  • Infidelity
  • On the brink of divorce
  • Love each other, but can’t get along
  • Mid-life crisis
  • Empty nest
  • Addiction
  • Yearn for a deeper connection
  • Just don’t know how to make the marriage work

It is only by understanding what you are each struggling with and what you would each like to accomplish that the counselor(s) can help your marriage.

Now that you know counseling can help unhappy marriages and the options you have for marriage counseling, it is time to determine if your marriage would benefit from counseling.

Several markers can let you know your marriage needs the support of marriage counseling. Ten of the most common are

  1. You want to learn more about yourself and your partner.
  2. You want to understand how your relationship deteriorated.
  3. You want to repair, refocus, reframe, and revitalize your relationship.
  4. You want to let go of anger, guilt, hurt, and resentment.
  5. You suffer from couple envy.
  6. You want to leave the past where it belongs – in the past – without sweeping it under the rug.
  7. You need an objective opinion and a fresh perspective.
  8. You want solutions rather than endless talking in circles.
  9. You want to work with someone who has the expertise to bring you long-term solutions.
  10. You want a custom roadmap to move forward to a better relationship.

However, this is not an exhaustive list. If you are not sure whether counseling will help your unhappy marriage, the best thing you can do is ask a counselor with whom you are interested in working. Most will be able to offer guidance regarding whether they believe they can help you.

And yet, the truth is that it can take time to find a counselor or counselors with whom you will be comfortable. You will want to learn as much as you can about your prospective counselor(s) before deciding to engage them. You might want to explore their website, blog, and YouTube videos to get a feel for your compatibility.

However, just because you spend the time to find the right counselor(s) for you, that does not mean that the therapy itself will be easy. In fact, it will be hard – at least at times.

Why is marriage counseling so hard?

In a nutshell, embarking on marriage counseling takes courage and lots of it because vulnerability is necessary to receive the greatest benefit. And many people struggle with finding the necessary courage.

One of the most challenging things counseling will ask you to be courageous about is learning to trust each other again.

Trust either erodes for couples over the years of things not being great that have built into unhappiness or in an instant when infidelity is discovered or disclosed. This erosion of trust within the marriage is accompanied by the erection of defenses that foster disconnection.

If you and your spouse are courageous enough, counseling can help you learn to trust each other again with your truest selves. It is from this place of vulnerability that you can foster the intimacy necessary to make your marriage better.

However, that does not mean that marriage counseling is always successful. It does not work for all couples. Yet success can be somewhat predicted.

The key predictor of the success of marriage counseling is that you both have a strong and determined willingness to make your marriage work. Although most couples are courageous enough to work through their issues in counseling, sadly, not all are successful in healing their marriages.

And then some couples are not interested in making their marriages work. Instead, they enter marriage counseling to work on divorcing well.

So, as with anything, the definition of success with counseling depends upon each couple’s goals. Counseling can absolutely help unhappy marriages.

If you choose to enter marriage counseling, it might be one of the most challenging things you have ever done together. However, the reward of meeting the challenge could be living happily ever after.

Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.

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Mary Ellen Goggin

Mary Ellen is a highly skilled and intuitive relationship guide. She brings over 35 years’ experience with individuals and businesses as a lawyer, mediator, personal coach and educator. She received her J.D. at University of New Hampshire Law School and a Master’s Degree at Harvard University. Mary Ellen co-authored Relationship Transformation: How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too with Jerry Duberstein — and they were married by chapter 3. Mary Ellen brings a unique blend of problem-solving, practicality, and warmth to her work. She’s a highly analytic person, with geeky and monkish tendencies. She’s a daredevil skydiver, a voracious seeker of knowledge, and an indulgent grandmother. Her revolution: helping people become the unapologetic rulers of their inner + outer realms. Read more about the retreats