Talk to me about marriage counseling.

My husband and I started the first of 8 sessions last night. While I don’t think we’re near divorce, we both knew we needed to make some changes and get some things out in the open, and an issue with our taxes last week sort of caused a giant rift.

Last night’s session was a good beginning, but I’m curious about what more to expect. We sort of jumped from subject to subject, so we had a lot of things identified, and we have a couple of things we’re working on this week before our next session.

I’d just like to hear about others’ experiences with marriage counseling.

I don’t have personal experience with marriage counseling, but my hubby’s best friend was on the verge of divorce, with papers already filed, living separately, everything, when his wife decided she wanted to give counseling another go (they’d tried it once, and it didn’t work, mainly because they were both interested in the counselor telling the other person why they were wrong). But this time, they were serious about fixing the problems instead of placing blame. They’ve been happily re-connected for almost two years now.

Best of luck!

Dammit, Elza, don’t scare me like that!

I would suggest as long as you both are willing to go and get things sorted out, things will go well. Good luck, and good on you guys for recognizing the problem and cracking on it right away.

When our marriage was crumbling, my ex-wife and I attended a marriage guidance counselling session. Both of us felt that we got a lot out of it, even though it was only an initial session primarily concerned with establishing the background, etc.

She refused to go to any further sessions, though, saying that she didn’t have time. We divorced about two years later. I still don’t understand why she wouldn’t continue the sessions (she wasn’t that short of time).

Marriage counseling was one of the best things that ever happened to us. We more than likely would not still be married right now had we not gone.

One thing we both agree helped us. We had a tendency to put bandaids on the little holes in the dam and never really fix anything. Just bandaid it up and move along.

Our counselor explained to us that in order for us to get the kind of marriage we wanted we needed to completely and utterly tear down the dam and rebuild it from scratch so it would be strong enough not to need bandaids.

Best thing we have ever done. Painful and emotional and draining but best thing we’ve ever done.

I assure you if our marriage came out stronger than ever after some of the stuff we experienced then anybody can if they really want it.

I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! :smack:

Seriously, we’re not on the verge of divorce or anything - we just have some major issues that need addressing and we’re not doing a very good job of it on our own. A lot of it boils down to his long period of unemployment several years ago, his passivity, and because of that, I’ve gotten to the point where my anxiety over money is terribly running my life and having a negative effect on us. I have generalized anxiety disorder to begin with, but I’m at the point where it is ruling every move I make, and I need help dealing with it. I’m on medication, but I don’t WANT to rely on medication.

We need to learn to communicate better and we want to nip things in the bud before they get worse. Our therapist last night even said that people usually see her about four main issues - communication, money, sex, and children. We need help with the first two, and connecting the first two, if that makes sense. The last two are good - we still have a decent sex life, and our son is the highlight of our lives. So we’re pretty sure we can get past the first two if we can learn different tools to handle them.

I appreciate the opinions and personal experiences. I expected an argument from him when I first brought up counseling, but he agreed immediately because he could also sense that there’s been a change in us and neither of us likes it. We know we’ll get past it, though - we’re both committed to it.

My husband and I got counseling shortly before we married (4 years into our relationship.) He had just graduated with a psychology degree and things were so bad employment-wise he was working as a waiter at Mongolian BBQ. I was working part-time and due to severe depression almost completely financially dependent on him and unable to attend school… I was verging on bankruptcy, but I couldn’t afford it. We were extremely resentful and angry toward one another, because our close relationship and dependency on one another was a little too close for comfort… I was losing myself, and he was tired of doing my shit for me. I had involved fantasies of leaving him just so I could strike out on my own and support myself and get my life together.

Just the act of agreeing to get counseling turned everything around. It was an act that showed our love for one another more clearly than words ever could. The first thing our counselor did was try to get us to understand how much our parents’ relationship strategies impacted the way we interacted as a couple. My mother was married four times and had rage issues, his parents had a horrendously difficult and bitter divorce after 17 years of verbal abuse. So we were both afraid of anger, unsure how to cope with it, and thus stopped all productive communication together. We just yelled at each other to the point that our housemates didn’t even want to be around us. Somehow we went from ‘‘the sickeningly adorable couple’’ to ‘‘the couple that hates each other.’’ Coming to that realization was one of the most sobering experiences of our lives.

Part of the solution 'for us was just having that time every week for counseling to come together… you’d be amazed what a difference it makes. We made a weekly routine out of going out after each session to spend some time together and discuss our thoughts. So much of the experience was learning not to feel alone in our problems. He went to work all day and stressed considerably about how to support us both, and he had no support. I had my own stuff to deal with, obviously. Realizing that it was something we faced together made such a huge difference for us. We weren’t alone any more – we were a team, facing adversaries like financial ruin and depression and fear instead of each other.
That was huge for us.

Our relationship started to improve pretty much the day we started counseling (I know that’s rare), and after about three months we had a bond even deeper and more loving and wise than the one we’d started with. We actually have a little trauma over how bad we allowed things to get – when you take pride in your relationship, it can be shaming to have it fall apart. But I think that pain is necessary because it reminds us how important all the little details of our relationship are and how we should never take each other for granted.

I can’t speak for couples or marriage counseling in particular, but I can talk about counseling in general.

IMNSHO the biggest single factor in how effective the counseling will be is the attitudes that the people going in for counseling bring to the sessions. If one or both members of the couple are seriously and honestly interested in working with the counseling to improve their relationship, it can be a great boon. Having someone to act as a moderator to direct and channel the frustrations and stresses of living with someone else can really bring festering issues up in ways that minimize the hurt for the other person in the relationship, and allow healing and changes to begin.

But if one of the partnership is just there due to some external compulsion, I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the counseling to do much good. In general I think it’s fair to say that any time a couple goes in for counseling both parties have to go in expecting to be told that in fairness some of their behavior should at least be considered for change. It’s not easy - in fact I tend to think that counseling is some of the most emotionally painful and stressful times one can spend outside of surgery. If both parties are willing to commit to it, it can do a lot of good.

But, for it to work, it has to be a joint resolution to work at it.

Did some pre-marriage counselling with my former wife, at her insistence.

However, it soon became apparent that he was not going to take her side and make me the root of all evil, that he actually thought she was severely damaged and needed more help than she was getting from her own therapist. (He straight out told me not to marry her because she was too damaged and would make my life a living hell. I wish I’d listened to him!)

Two months after getting married, she refused to see him anymore. Somehow she tried to make it out like it was all my fault (like everything else). That he took my side because he was a man and that ‘next time’ (if there was one), SHE would pick the person, and that it would be a woman. Conveniently forgetting that she had pretty much forced me to go and had chosen the person in the first place.

Then when the final blows of our marraige came about nine months later, just before we separated, she attempted to tell me that the marriage counselor had told her that I was unstable and violent and that she should keep a bag packed at all times because one day she’d need to run away from me before I killed her. Obviously, no such thing ever happened. Our private sessions were always about how delusional he thought she was and how much more help she needed than she was getting. How I was treading on dangerous ground continuing the relationship with her.

But such was her twisted mentality that she honestly expected that I would collapse in shame and horror and do everything she asked in order to prove that I wasn’t like that.

She guessed wrong.

I filed an Order for Protection against her (she was the one beating me, not the other way around) and she responded by filing for divorce, filing false charges against me, then lying to everyone about the whole thing, claiming that I had abandoned her for no reason, filed for divorce and was trying to steal her house.
So my only suggestion for marriage counseling would be, if your spouse tries to force you to go; to pay very close attention to how you are painted in these sessions and listen very closely to what the counselor tells you. I wish I had.

Chimera’s horrible experience aside (OMG, that sounds awful! It also sounds like it wasn’t the counselor’s fault)…

One of the very most important things I’ve learned about counseling was to make sure you both feel the counselor is a good fit. My wife and I damned near split up after a few sessions of counseling. We switched to someone else, and our relationship improved dramatically. Why, I can’t say, but it doesn’t matter.

If the sessions aren’t going anywhere, if you both leave more frustrated than before, it may be you have serious and unresolvable problems. Or it may be you need to try someone else who can work with you more effectively. Keep it in mind. Every counselor’s style is different, and like any profession, some are more effective than others.

About 10 years ago a good buddy of mine and his wife went to marriage counseling. (He now lives in Colorado.)

I knew both of them very well. My buddy was very calm, rational, level-headed, non-violent, etc. His wife was an alcoholic that would explode and go on rampages with the slightest provocation. Being at his house was a painful and embarrassing experience… we would be talking and his wife would come in and start screaming at his face. He would just sit there and say nothing. This happened all the time.

So they went to counseling. According to my buddy, the counselor made it all his fault. The counselor said he needed to listen more, he needed to be more understanding, etc. When he pointed out his wife’s crazy behavior, the counselor just shrugged it off. In the counselor’s eyes, she was the victim and he was the perpetrator regardless of the facts.

He refused to go to any more sessions. (Who can blame him?) And they later got divorced. He’s now married to a sane person.