OK, that might be a tad dramatic, and at the same time, if believing any of these myths is keeping you from seeking help for your relationship, it just might lead to divorce.
If I had one wish as a therapist, it would be that people would feel comfortable asking for help when they need it - or that they wouldn’t wait so long to ask for help. Ok, I guess, that’s two wishes. Those two things mean that many people end up going through a divorce when they really didn’t have to.
These are the most common myths that couples have told me…
7 myths about Marriage Counseling
1. Only couples who are on the brink of divorce need it
Remember when I said that one of my wishes was that people wouldn’t wait so long to get help? Research has found that couples wait on average 5-6 years too long before they get help.
Better late than never, right?
AND, at the same time, that is 5 or 6 years for old wounds and resentments to build up and poison the relationship - sometimes beyond repair.
One way to think about marriage counseling is to think of it more like “relationship coaching”. Instead of having a therapist fix problems, a coach helps you to do things in a new way or to try new skills that will make your good relationship even better - or a struggling relationship into a healthier one.
2. You are weak or a failure if you get marriage counseling
Would you say to someone who is drowning and needed a life guard to save their live that they were weak for not being able to do it on their own? Probably not. But isn’t that exactly what you are doing to yourself when you call yourself weak because you need some help?
Seeking help when you need it is actually a sign of strength and not weakness. Strength that you recognize that you have a problem in your relationship and wisdom to ask for guidance in solving that problem.
3. “We should be able to do this on our own”
While it is possible to make some changes on your own, let me ask you this... How long have you been doing this on your own? How many marriage self-help books have you bought, only to have things no different or even worse?
Having a marriage counselor can be extremely useful, beyond a self-help book. The therapist is a neutral coach or facilitator who there to help you communicate more effectively, listen differently, feel heard, and to practice new skills (ways of relating, etc).
Just like a baseball hitting coach will help a player make adjustments during batting practice, a marriage counselor will help you and your spouse to make adjustments right there in session.
4. The only thing marriage counseling will do is to tell me how bad of a husband or wife I am
Marriage counseling isn’t about shame or blame. We are are imperfect and struggling. Stress, traumatic events from our past, financial problems and so many more things make life difficult - which we then can sometimes take out on our spouse. We all can related to having a stressful day at work and coming home and being snarky or irritable when our spouse asks “how was your day?”
Again, even if your relationship is struggling because of infidelity, it isn’t about shaming or blaming anyone.
Marriage counseling is like looking at a recipe - each person in the couple contributes ingredients to a recipe called “marriage” - sometimes the dish turns out delicious, and sometimes it is a real stinker. The counselor will help you each to look at your contribution to the “recipe” and how you can change the ingredients you add, so that your dish becomes a gourmet meal.
A good marriage counselor will also help you look at your strengths and build upon those, along with mending what is broken or for fixing weaknesses. I find myself asking couples “what is going well in your relationship” and when they give me an answer, my response is usually, “Do more of that”.
5. Our friends tried it and marriage counseling didn’t help them, so it won’t help us
One reason why marriage counseling might not have worked is that not all couples counselors are created equal. Many psychotherapists say they work with couples, but they aren’t specifically trained to work with couples - which can actually do great damage to the relationship.
When looking for the right counseling for you, ask them the question “if we come to see you for marriage counseling, who is the client?”
A counselor trained to work with couples will answer “the relationship is my client” - meaning, that the therapist won’t take sides or lay blame on either person.
If the answer you get is anything other than “the relationship is my client”, then you should keep looking - that therapist is not right for your marriage.
It is also important to remember that marriage counseling isn’t a magic bullet. I don’t have a magic wand - but boy I sure wish I did!
For marriage counseling to work, you have to make the changes the counselor recommends - you have to do the homework you are assigned.
And, you have to be patient.
Some changes can happen quickly, and some can take more time. The key is to not give up and keep fighting for your marriage.
6. The therapist will take my spouse’s side and I’ll feel blamed & ganged up on
If you feel that way in marriage counseling, first mention how you are feeling to the therapist. If after talking about it during the session, and nothing changes, then it might be time to find a new marriage counselor.
A good therapist for your marriage will not take your side, or your spouse’s side. As I said before, they will take the side of the relationship and work toward what is best for the relationship.
7. Marriage counseling will “fix” my spouse
A good marriage therapist will help you look at how you may be contributing to the problem, and will also help your spouse to see how they might be contributing as well. (Remember the recipe analogy?)
The good thing, or bad thing, depending on how you look at it, is that you can only change your own behavior - you don’t get to change your spouse, or anyone else. That can be freeing because you don’t have to spend so much energy trying to change other people, but can focus on yourself and being a better spouse to your partner.
So many times, couples will get into negative patterns that don’t seem to change on their own - ever have the same argument over and over again? What is so cool about you only getting to control your own self, is that if you change your part in the pattern, the pattern is now changed - make sense?
If you don’t do the same thing that you always do in that same old argument, but do something different this time, such as respond without yelling, or asking clarifying questions, then that same old pattern is now different.
It is so much easier to change how you respond than to spend time and energy on yelling and nagging at your spouse to make them change. And then, the resentment builds while you wait, and wait, and wait for them to change.
Marriage counseling might help fix your marriage, but not because your spouse changed. Marriage counseling works because it helps you both to change.
Why these Myths matter
Long before I was a marriage and family therapist, I too used to believe these myths - and it cost me my marriage. I was too ashamed to admit that my marriage was struggling, too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it, and felt lost at where to go for help.
We waited way too long before getting help, and I didn’t know that going to a counselor who wasn’t trained specifically in marriage counseling would actually cause more damage.
I feel very sad now when I think about it.
My mission as a marriage therapist is so that nobody else has to needlessly experience the pain of divorce, if at all possible. And, I’m starting with getting rid of these marriage counseling myths.
What keeps you from asking for help? Do any of these myths sound familiar? What myths would you add?
Are you ready to get help for your marriage?
Contact me to set up an initial consultation.
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