Tips for Marriage Counseling

For many, the mere mention of marriage counseling sparks a complex mixture of hope, apprehension, and raw emotion that’s inevitably entwined with intimate relationships. If you’ve arrived at the doorstep of therapy, your journey together has encountered formidable twists and turns. Couples therapy can help you work through challenges you have faced to create a new path ahead together. 

As you prepare for your first counseling session, you may feel uncertain, anxious, and fearful. It can be very challenging to open up and talk about personal details of your life and relationship with a stranger. Remember that it’s a process that will begin slowly. 

To get the most from marriage counseling, here are some tips that will help you feel more prepared.

1. Be Honest

It’s very common for people in therapy to lie or not be completely truthful. A Columbia University survey found that 93% of psychotherapy clients purposefully lied to their therapist. In a follow-up survey, 84% said they were dishonest on a regular basis. 

It’s tempting to lie to avoid hurting your partner’s feelings or because you fear judgment, blame, or embarrassment. However, if you resist honesty, therapy may be ineffective. 

Challenges in marriage often stem from either a lack of or distorted communication. In therapy, honesty isn’t just a virtue; it’s the cornerstone. In the safety of the therapist’s office, truths can emerge and be addressed constructively. 

Do your best to express your real emotions, even when it’s painful or challenging. This is the best way to get to the root of issues in your marriage and identify real solutions.

This honesty should extend not only to your feelings in the relationship but also to any secrets that may be damaging. Commonly hidden issues include addiction, infidelity, divergence on major issues like a desire for children, and relationship doubts. 

According to a 2020 review of marriage counseling and interventions, infidelity was associated with a high divorce rate. The rate was highest when infidelity was not disclosed during treatment.

2. Create and Share Goals

Before your first session, it helps to sit down with your partner to discuss what you hope to accomplish through counseling. Work together to define shared goals to help you both stay focused and see your progress over time. 

Common goals for couples therapy include: 

  • Finding healthier ways to resolve conflicts
  • Improving communication
  • Rekindling intimacy
  • Navigating a specific conflict
  • Identifying the root cause of recurring disputes

Counseling sessions will involve structured conversations with the intent of finding tangible, practical solutions. Approaching therapy with a shared understanding of what you want to achieve is very helpful.

3. Listen Effectively

Poor communication is one of the biggest relationship issues that sends couples to counseling. As you go into your first session, remind yourself that listening is a critical component of communication and must be done actively. 

Effective communication is a two-way street. You speak, your partner listens; your partner speaks, you listen. While it sounds simple, ask yourself: do you truly listen? Or are you merely waiting for your turn to respond, knee-deep in crafting your rebuttal?

Listen to understand, not to reply. Mastering this art requires active participation in your partner’s narrative, empathetic resonance with their experiences, and a commitment to hearing perspectives that may differ from your own. In your therapist’s office, listening becomes a powerful tool, bridging the gap between your hearts and minds. 

During counseling, pay careful attention to what your partner is saying. They are likely only bringing up things that they consider very important.

4. Be Open To Change

Change is a constant, especially in relationships. Over time, the tides of life shift the sands beneath your feet, and it’s a natural progression to evolve. In therapy, change can be steered with the intention to improve your life and relationship. 

Embrace change as an opportunity to grow, both individually and as a couple. It might be uncomfortable, but it can lead to a healthier and more resilient union. 

To embrace changes, it helps to remind yourself that you will go into counseling with an open mind and be ready for a clean slate. Be willing to learn from knowledge and insights gained during counseling and adapt. 

5. Stop Keeping Score

The habit of mental tallying — who did what for whom, how many times one apologized versus the other — is toxic. It festers negative emotions and stagnates relationship progress. 

Instead, recalibrate your perspective. Focus on what each of you can contribute to the marriage moving forward. This approach shifts the emphasis from maintaining equilibrium to nurturing a relationship based on mutual support and positivity.

Remember that you are a team. Getting caught up in complaints, demands, and keeping score only holds both of you back from achieving what you want from life.

6. Don’t Be Dismissive or Defensive

When confronted with critique or conflicting viewpoints, it’s natural to become defensive. This instinct, however, is a roadblock, impeding the flow of honest communication. 

Similarly, dismissiveness — the act of belittling your partner’s concerns — acts as an eraser, wiping away their attempts to engage with you. In therapy, these behaviors should be dismantled, allowing space for vulnerability, validation, and, ultimately, the chance for genuine connection and healing.

7. Set Realistic Expectations

Finally, try to ensure that your expectations for counseling are realistic. Marriage counseling is not a silver bullet that magically mends all wounds. It’s a process, and like all processes, it takes time. Set realistic expectations for what you hope to achieve in each session and in the long term.

Realistic expectations may include: 

  • Learning how to effectively communicate with your partner
  • Identifying systemic issues in your relationship and addressing them
  • Finding a third party you are both comfortable with to listen, understand, and guide you toward your goals
  • Developing and implementing solutions to address major points of contention in your relationship

Overall, your expectations should revolve around effective communication, learning relationship skills, and attempting to resolve issues in your marriage.

Marriage Counseling Can Start a New Path Forward For You and Your Partner

Marriage counseling isn’t the last stop at the end of a failing marriage; it’s the first step in a new, redefined journey together. Entering couples therapy is the ultimate commitment to the health of your relationship. You are taking a courageous step to confront issues that have been chipping away at your union. 

If counseling is ultimately unsuccessful and your issues are insurmountable, do not view it as a failure. Not every relationship works, even with the best intentions and effort from both parties. Law Office of Afsana Chowdhury, PLC is here to help if you are ready to start down a new path. Schedule a consultation with a Fairfax divorce and family law attorney at (703) 271-6519 to discuss the best path forward, such as uncontested divorce or separation.