When is the right time for professional help for your marriage?

When is the right time for professional help for your marriage?

By The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

The Counseling Corner from the American Counseling Association

No one gets married with the expectation that the relationship will not last. Yet, roughly 50 percent of marriages in this nation do fall apart and end in divorce. An important question is whether there is help available that could change those numbers.

A marriage, of course, is simply another form of relationship, but a much more serious one because of the weight given to it by society. In point of fact, marriage is really a relationship in which there are three parties: each individual, plus the relationship itself. All three need nourishment to survive. The two people remain two individuals who, no matter how much they love and care about one another, will still have differences of opinion from time to time. And the third party, the marriage itself, carries with it a wide range of responsibilities and legal and social implications.

A good starting point for seeking professional help in regard to a marriage is actually before the marriage begins. Pre-marital counseling can offer a couple the means for building a solid foundation for their relationship. It can help a couple explore each other’s feelings and thoughts, while offering a structured approach to examining a relationship through the guidance of a trained professional. It also provides an opportunity to explore areas of potential difficulty and to plan for handling difficulties when they do occur.

In other words, pre-marital counseling helps a couple better understand each other beyond the current glow of their “love,” while also providing an opportunity to anticipate potential problems and to plan for dealing with such problems.

Many, though not all, clergy are trained to do this. Another choice is a professional counselor who has had specialized training in marriage and couples counseling. While such services will cost some money, it can be a worthwhile investment in terms of future happiness and in helping the marriage during the difficult periods.

But even with pre-marital counseling, it’s also a certainty there will be problems at some future time. All marriages hit rough spots. It is a rare marriage, indeed, that treats both partners fairly and sensitively on every issue. Most marriages will face situations that cannot be easily resolved in a manner that will treat both partners equally or where each partner gets exactly what he or she wants. This does not mean that they are bad people or selfish or self-centered, or that the marriage should end. It can mean, however, that outside counseling is needed before the situation deteriorates too far for the marriage to be saved.

It is important, therefore, to look for early signs that might indicate help is needed. For example, when one partner feels he or she giving more than he or she is receiving over an extended period of time, it is often an indicator that help is needed. Professional counselors are trained to help “level the playing field” without one team always losing.

Another indicator would be persistent and severe disagreements, coupled with an inability or unwillingness to resolve these disagreements. This is another case where a trained professional counselor can help the marriage partners learn how to disagree without being disagreeable–without causing severe and permanent damage to the marriage.

It’s important to remember that no counseling is going to be able to save every marriage. Nor should it. Sometimes a couple is better off apart for any of a variety of reasons. But for a couple that truly cares for each other and that has been trying to communicate on a regular basis, professional counseling can be an important step before things begin to get out of hand.

What counseling can help couples see is the reality of their situation and ways to work more intelligently at the problems they’re facing. It isn’t possible for each partner to be happy all the time. A good relationship means learning to spread around both the joy and the disappointments. We, all too often, plunge into disagreements as a win-lose situation in which the winner takes all. Professional counselors are trained to help the partners sort out the long-lasting disagreements and to find ways to avoid getting into the win-lose situations in the first place. And even if only one partner is willing to seek help, a counseling professional can assist that person in finding ways to learn how to cope in a more healthy way.

Seeking help does not signal the end of a marriage. Instead, it may well be only the beginning of building a strong, healthy and long-lasting relationship.

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