Any experiences with marriage counseling?

I’m about to make an appointment with a marriage counselor and was wondering if anyone had any specific ideas on what to look for. Man? Woman? My husband says he doesn’t care either way. Specific questions to ask a counselor before making the appointment? I have a good idea, I think, of what to look for, but wanted to hear from people with experience as I’m sure I’m overlooking something. This sucks. Feel free to ask questions if more information would help.


I’m really glad to hear that you’ve decided to go ahead and do something about your situation.

(I’ve got zip experience with marriage counseling – when I did some therapy about 15 yrs. ago, I wanted a woman and got a recommendation from my sister’s therapist. If you’re going through an HMO, you may have some choices made for you – as far as going to a particular group or practice, e.g. – but I think it would be considered natural to want to meet with a potential therapist and check out the vibes before starting).

You’re in my thoughts and prayers – I hope this helps your situation. Good luck!

twickster, thank you so much for your support and encouragement. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate it right now. This needs to work one way or another. I need to have peace and contentment in my life and in my home, for myself and my kids and I guess it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t going to just happen.
I have a feeling I have a long road ahead, but hopefully it will be worth it in the end. Thanks again.

First of all, good for you guys for doing this. It isn’t easy.

Second, I would recommend that you find out something about the training and theoretical orientation of the person you are thinking of seeing. I have a bias toward those with a Ph.D. in psychology with special training in marriage counseling, but there are those with Ed.Ds and MSWs who are well-trained and good at what they do, too.

Also, don’t give up too soon. It is usually worse before it gets better. You have to hang in there.

If you find that you and your SO don’t “click” with the therapist, don’t give up on therapy. See if another therapist works better. Sometimes the fit just isn’t there.

Also, generally speaking, from half a dozen years with regular counselors and some with marriage, which sex your prefer seems to fall on how you like someone dealing with you. IME, most of the women I’ve seen have been more commiserate, touchy-feely and overall slow-paced. The men seemed to be more cut-to-the-chase, solution oriented and a bit more stand-offish. Now, not all of them, mind you. The very last female I visited was by far the most brusque and my all-time-favorite therapist was a very laid back male. So, just depends what you are mostly looking for.

Another thing that I seemed to notice had to do with relation to age. Counselors closer to my own seemed more in tune and sympathetic. Older ones either didn’t come across as understanding/interested or not as up-to-the-minute on latest techniques and approaches.

Not sure if that’s any help, but I do wish you both good luck.

Ouch! Marriage problems suck big time. I’m sorry for your troubles but glad that you’re taking steps to try to improve things. That’s a hard road.

Previous posters seem to have already given some good advice to you. But before I say anything else, I should 'fess up: I’m recently divorced, so some might think I’m the last person to give any advice.
Still, I’ve got some experience to share. My thinking is that you and your spouse both need to feel like you’re dealing with a competent person, that s/he listens to what each of you are saying, and that s/he appears to remain neutral and doesn’t take sides with one partner more than the other.
That said, the problem is that no particular degrees or educational backgrounds are likely to make it clear whether a counselor fits these criteria.
So my suggestion is to find out who’s on your insurance plan and then make appointments with a couple or few of them. Some might be backlogged on their calendars and take a month before they can see you, but go ahead and make the appointment, because you can always cancel it later if you find someone in the meantime.
After each initial visit, talk about them with your spouse. It tends to be a lot easier to talk about whether each of you liked the counselor than it is to talk about your marital problems. Sometimes you can even bond a bit over various idiosyncrasies you both see in the counselor.
When you find one with whom you both feel comfortable, then you know who to pick.
Good luck.

Thanks very much for all of the suggestions. The first person I spoke to, after going a bit into my situation, essentially told me to go directly to a lawyer, do not stop at go, do not collect $200. And don’t tell my husband. She did have reasons for her advice and did offer individual counseling support for me. But I decided that would not be a good route for me. The second person was a man, probably about my age ( a factor I wouldn’t have considered initially, but think is important to me, so thank you hopefool) and was more task-oriented. He didn’t really ask about our situation and I didn’t tell. He probably will be better for my husband than the touchy-feely let’s talk this to death approach. And given everything, this is probably best overall. We’ll give him a try.

Depending on how desperate things are, I’m inclined to solution based counselling myself. We’ve done a bit and what I found was that when things were basically sound underneath the touchy feely stuff was great but when the shit hit the fan last year, we needed a solution based therapist.

Well actually we went once, it was confirmed to me that I really was doing all the housework, childcare and bills and running the business while he sat around being Mr MiseryGuts and it was ultimatum time. He got his act together very fast, got on the right meds and things have been fine since.

The first thing I would ask is: do you write the stuff we are telling you down.

You would take it as read that all therapists do that, but unbelievably, some don’t, and you will spend hours (and therefore $$) reminding them of very basic details they supposedly memorised.

Age is also important for connections: don’t make the mistake I did of trying to tell a man in his 60s about my most intimate thoughts and feelings. It just didn’t feel right, to me.

Good luck!

Thank you for bringing up some more good points. I would probably be quite peeved if I had to repeat too many things because someone who is getting paid to listen, isn’t. I certainly wouldn’t expect him to remember every detail, but I would hope he would take notes and review them before a session.
And primaflora, your description of what you were able to accomplish is encouraging. It’s taken me a loooooong time to get the courage up to make this much of a move and I don’t want to be playing with puppets in a therapist’s office for the next hundred years. I have worked in human services a long time and will not have the patience for an expansive check in on how we feel about absolutely every minute detail of the last 17 years. List the problems, look at solutions, work it out. One way or another.

I just wanted to chime in with a good wish for you.

I wish I had garnered the courage to seek out counseling for my marriage, as well as myself, long ago.
(I’m in counseling now for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I hope this is the catalyst that will wake your husband up.

Even if it’s too late to save your marriage, I hope you can at least part on civil terms.

Stranger, thank you and best of luck to you, too. Good job reading between the lines. :slight_smile:

Salem, if I’m reading your last statement correctly, you are in the EXACT same position I was in 5 years ago.

My husband (at the time) and I went to a counselor a few times after I told him I was leaving (the things you are eluding to here suggest this is what you feel you should do, but are worried) and it helped a great deal…at the time.

The counselor was a female, and covered on his insurance. She was in her mid 40’s to early 50’s. She listened, was always ready for us when we arrived. She DID take notes, she did not ask us the same questions everytime we went in.

She didn’t talk a lot. That’s one thing I liked. She listened, guided our conversations and allowed the two of us to talk.

Eventually, I made it clear to the therapist that I did not have interest in continuing the relationship…as husband and wife…but I was concerned for his well being. We then began to focus on helping him accept the change I had to make, and helped him to move on to a certain extent. She advised that he seek counseling on his own after I left, unfortunately he didn’t take that advise.

IF you meant that you are still trying to salvage the relationship, I wish you luck and courage, for you shall need tons of both. Remember that only if BOTH people in a relationship are IN the relationship will it work. One person can’t do it alone.

Hey Salem I had some experience with marriage counsellors but the problem was I had already given up on the relationship before I went so it was rather useless because my mind was already made up… is yours?

My husband was a man of the ‘cloth’ so he wanted to go to a Christian one, but because the marriage had led me to have problems with the church I was a bit defensive. It was in front of the counsellor that I told him I wasn’t in love with him…(yes I know that was heartless). I used to counsellor as a scape-goat to get out.

Anyway, what was interesting was that I was also seeing a non-christian one supplied free at the University I was attending, she told me basically to leave him and the Christian one told me to stay!!

It was a horrible experience, and a waste of time for me.

If you want to make it work you will, with or without help.

But I do wish you all the best, don’t take my opinion as gospel.

Lots of people who come to couples therapy do so to break up. When I saw couples, that was something I was always looking for–was each person trying to make up or break up? If it was break up, helping them do that was a perfectly good goal for therapy.

superstar, sorry your expereince was bad. Maybe it is just my bias, but my guess is that a religiously-based counselor would be more likely to push for reconciliation than a non-religiously-based counselor would.

We went to counseling about 5-6 yrs ago. It’s the reason we’re together today. Finding one who will help you sort out the real issues and help you put together a plan for what each of you want out of the relationship is what I’d recommend. If you feel their style isn’t suited to what you want, find another immediately. If your mind is already made up when you go in there, counseling probably won’t help you much. A lawyer would be the better choice then.

I do not have much experience with marriage counselling, but I do family counseling around my adolescent clients. I just want to add to what has been already advised. Most of all that it is important to find a therapist that you like. If you are not feeling right with who you are seeing, please let them know, and see if they can refer you to someone else. Therapy is like a relationship and not everyone is going to be compatible. You will not be offending the person you are seeing if you say that you don’t feel it is working out.

Another important thing is what approach they are taking to therapy. There are about a million ways to do therapy, and each one is very different. It is good to ask what kind of theraputic base they do therapy under, and find out what it is. I can help you define some of the different approaches if you would like some help with it. There are definately approaches that will not look much at the last 17 years, and will be able to focus more on the problems of today. Or, you might find that you need to spend some time seeing where the problems originated.

Whatever happens, I wish you the best with this. It is hard to admit that you need someone elses help with a situation, and I am glad that you have the insight to ask for that help.

I really appreciate everyone’s input. To clarify a few points: While I’m not 100% giving up, I’m honestly not hopeful that we will ever get to a place that I can live with. What I have lived with is not emotionally healthy for me or my children. I would love to see my husband put to rest some of the demons that haunt him. I would love to see him become a happier and healthier person. I know the goodness that lies within, but I can no longer live with the negativity and anger that so often hides it. And I can no longer be responsible for his happiness and everything else in our lives. It’s too much and it’s affecting our children. We’ve talked before, decided on changes, he never follows through for long, if at all. I’m not all that much better at it, frankly. What I’m hoping for is a way to be able to learn to communicate without anger and for a third party to tell him that some of his behaviors are unacceptable.
I also need an element of safety if I do decide not to continue our marriage and a way to come to an agreement about the kids that we can both live with. He will need support (as will I) and it would be nice if he already has a connection to someone. I am afraid of what he will do otherwise. We have 17 years and three children together. We are very enmeshed in many ways. But it is not a healthy relationship and never has been. I honestly don’t know if it ever could be and that’s what I guess I need to find out from someone else cause obviously my judgement has sucked for the last 17 years. And, as I said, if the answer is no, then I need a safe way out with my children. That would be a big hurdle that I can not tackle alone. Thank you all again for your input. It really helps me sort through some things that I’ve been avoiding for a long time.

Initially consulted with many, but have 3 different experiences (Same Ex-Husband {Me} / Same Ex-Wife {Peg}

#1 - Dominant Male - We discovered the following traits after the initial consult, about one negative per visit:

Over educated, superiority complex, divorced, dishonest, admitted to liking animals better than people, made several suggestive comments to my wife.

#2 - Non-Sectarian Religious Male - Nice guy, probably a little to old-fashioned. He was very biased toward me, the husband and rarely if ever saw things from my wife’s point-of-view.

#3 - New-Age Ethnic Female - She had a genuine caring about her, never got the impresson was in it for the money. Insisted after several sessions that we both see seperate counselors in conjunction with our meetings with her. The marriage was way past the point of repair, but I continued to see her after the divorce to ease my guilt about royally screwing thing up.

My advice, put as least as much effort into finding the “right one” as you would in hiring a contractor. Interview any prospective counselor in the initial consultation and keep in mind, “you’re the customer, they’re the merchant.” Find prospects via word of mouth / recommendations. The odds of finding a good one via random selection in the Yellow Pages are about as high as hitting a trifecta @ Belmont.


  1. Heed the old “they’re nuttier their patients” rule, it appeared to us it definitely has its basis in fact

  2. Be leary when money / fees / coverage are discussed even before an initial introduction. Any counselor who is outwardly shows more of an interest in their own finances as opposed to your marriage may not be the best type of person to see. Also be on the look out for clock-watchers and the ones who wrap up a 50 minute session saying, “OK, today we learned you like cutting the grass barefooted, haven’t we made alot of progress?”

  3. Too much sex talk. Now I’ll be the first to admit sex is a very important aspect of marriage, but if you get this indescribable uneasiness that the counselor is asking you sexual questions that have nothing to do with the problem at hand, perhaps they’re just out in search of cheap fantasy fodder for when they go home and wank.

  4. Inflexibility. Be cautious of those that very black and white. I recall one lady we consulted took great offense when I opined, “Psychology, though called the science of the mind, is as far from an exact science as you can imagine.” Now granted, I’m a layman, but I know when I’m being force fed.

  5. Over-Pliability: The opposite of the “inflexibles” where everything is gray and there are no rights, there are no wrongs. Sometimes people need to be told they’re mistaken. If you’re being counselled by a mush, you’ll never get that.

it’s ironic that I am adept at reading between the lines of other ppl’s stories…and I absolutely suck at reading even the plain text lines of my own…ah well.

I find it sad that you are in fear of your physical safety…and I hope you take steps to ensure your well being.

I don’t know if you are able to have a conversation on this physical danger topic with your husband…
But I will tell you I have had the same conversation with my soon to be ex-wife.
I was absolutely horrified when I learned she had been living in fear of ME. It had never occurred to me that I represented a physical danger to her. Given my Military and Martial arts background I should have seen this from her point of view, but truly, I had always seen myself as the “Great Protector”. (And for the record, let me state there has NEVER been physical abuse in our relationship)
When I realized she had been living in fear of her personal safety, and that I represented the threat, it was quite a crushing experience.

Does your husband realize you are living in fear of HIM? Can he take it if you broach the subject? Bear in mind that I am NOT advising you to do this, because I am not a qualified counselor, but I would ask a competent counselor to help you answer these questions!

as for myself…I find it to be most horrible and torturous to be finally awake to, and aware of the problems in my relationship… and it’s too late to fix them!

Stranger OUT