If marriage counseling still carries a stigma, it shouldn’t.
Not only are a growing number of couples seeking out counseling to improve their relationships, but the success rates associated with counseling both before and during the marriage have reached some of the highest levels on record. The point is, there are many benefits associated with marriage counseling, and it can be a huge factor in defining which couples stay together and which do not.
If you’re new to marriage counseling, however, or even just considering it for the first time, chances are you have some questions (or, in the case of this article, a lack thereof). What questions should I ask my partner? What questions should will the counselor ask us? What should my partner and I expect to get out of the entire experience?
In the following article, we will address these marriage counseling questions so that you and your partner can properly prepare yourselves for the experience. Furthermore, we will suggest some questions that you might want to ask your therapist during sessions, as well as some questions you might want to ask your partner.
What is Marriage Counseling?
Also known as “couples therapy,” marriage counseling is a type of psychotherapy in which a Doctor or licensed counselor helps resolve conflicts between two or more individuals.
Though some couples turn to marriage counseling as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, others pursue marriage counseling pre-emotively in order to understand their partner better. In some cases, couples will sign up for counseling before they are even married to give themselves the best possible chance of success when they do tie the knot.
Though it can last months or even years in some cases, most couples therapy is short term and may either address specific problems or general issues in the relationship. Some of the most common problems include communication issues, sexual difficulties, infidelity, and issues problems caused by children or other family members.
Though each counselor or doctor will have their own approach to therapy, sessions are generally done as a group. In many cases, the couple will ask and answer and questions from both the therapist and each other.
The Keys to Successful Marriage Counseling
In all but the most extreme cases, the talent or experience of the therapist has little or no effect on the success rate of the counseling. Instead, success falls upon the couples’ willingness to participate, be honest, and try newer treatment options if and when suggested.
Other factors can aid in success as well, including the following:
Know the Types of Therapy Available
There are several different types of couples therapy. If you want to save money, save time, and maximize your results as fast as possible, you should give your counselor an idea of what kind of therapy you’re pursuing. Some common therapy types include:
Behavioral Couples Therapy – This type of treatment addresses learning how to listen to your partner and how to express your own needs without accusing them. It can deal with behavioral issues and help couples learn conflict resolution.
Emotional Couples Therapy – Rather than focusing directly on the behavior itself, this type of therapy focuses on the underlying emotions that cause that behavior.
Psychodynamic Couples Therapy – This type of therapy focuses on how childhood experiences can affect emotions and behavior in adulthood. It helps couples understand why their partner acts the way they do, as well as how to adapt to it.
Systemic Couples Therapy – This type of therapy addresses the roles and rules that couples have taken on and attempts to identify if they are the source of any dysfunction.
Seek Help Early
Couples that see the best results with marriage counseling are the ones who pursue help early. Those that keep counseling as a “last resort,” however, often have a much more difficult time trying to hold their marriages together. As we’ve mentioned, many couples seek pre-emptive therapy before marriage, or sometimes before moving in with each other.
Find the Right Counselor
One of the most significant factors affecting the success of marriage therapy is the counselor themselves. As you’ll see, there are many types of people that can perform marriage counseling, and each will have a unique approach to the process. You’ll also want to find someone that you both find pleasant to be around as a negative mediator will only worsen the overall process.
Identify Your Goals
One of the biggest marriage counseling questions is, “what do you want to accomplish in therapy?” In many cases, husbands and wives will give separate answers, which only ends up causing more conflict. Instead, you and your partner should have the same goal and work with your therapist to accomplish it.
Be Prepared to Change
It’s natural to assume that your significant other is the cause of all your marital woes. Once you get backed into this sort of defensive position, however, it can be tough to identify how you contribute to problems as well. If you want to be successful with marriage counseling, be prepared to work on yourself, even if it doesn’t seem fair.
NOTE: The suggestion to change behaviors can be particularly jarring when dealing with egregious problems like infidelity. Keep in mind that the therapist is not there to assign blame, but to work out a solution for both parties.
Be 100% Honest
Therapy is not easy for most people. The questions from the counselor can feel invasive and accusatory, and it’s not always easy to look back on one’s behavior and admit wrongdoing. One thing that will help you and your partner immensely is being candid with both each other and with your therapist.
Marriage Counseling Questions to Ask Your Spouse
In this section, we’ll address some of the questions that you should ask your partner before deciding to pursue couples therapy or during the therapy itself. As with the suggestions in the section above, these questions can help determine where both stand on the therapy issues, and help you identify what your main problems are.
Do You Want a Divorce?
If your relationship has reached the “point of no return,” therapy might be a waste of both time and money. Before deciding if therapy is the right course of action, it’s a good idea just to go ahead and ask whether your partner plans on divorcing you. Establishing where you and your partner stand is integral to the healing process and will help you identify whether or not your relationship is worth saving.
What Issues are Affecting You the Most?
Having an honest and frank discussion about what is bothering your partner will only help you when the time comes to sit down with a therapist. In many cases, there isn’t one big issue that’s affecting your marriage, but a variety of smaller problems. If you make a list of what your partner wants you to work on, you can create a template from which your therapist can develop an action plan.
What About Me Bothers You Most?
It’s hard to hear criticisms about yourself and your behavior, but many times partners can keep the things that bother them to themselves for fear of hurting their spouse. If you can have a frank discussion about what your partner does that bothers you, you can get a better idea of where your relationship stands and where you both need to make the most changes.
Do You Still Love Me? Do You Trust Me?
Love is not a constant – it wanes depending on how a relationship is going. Trust is the same way. To truly know whether or not you can salvage your marriage, it’s crucial to identify whether each partner still loves and trusts the other. Without these foundations or the means to get them back, therapy will be a hard road for both of you.
Are You Satisfied with Our Level of Intimacy?
Intimacy, including sexual intimacy, can be a big sticking point in a marriage. Sometimes one partner begins taking the other for granted, or – sometimes – a partner was never satisfied with the level of intimacy in the first place. Though it can be awkward and even heartbreaking to hear the answers to this question, it can help establish where the relationship is failing and where it is succeeding.
NOTE: It’s common for a married couple to have a perfectly satisfying sex life and still have poor communication or other problems. It is equally possible, however, for a lack of intimacy to be one of the main contributing factors to relationship dysfunction.
Are There Past Conflicts That Still Need Resolving?
When conflicts are not successfully resolved, they often end up causing one partner to become embittered of the other. These feelings are often withheld for months, years, or even decades. When this happens, the past conflicts end up intruding on current problems and causing much frustration for both parties. Identifying any “held grudges” is an essential step in the healing process.
Are You Willing to Change?
As with many of these questions, simply asking whether or not your partner is willing to work on themselves for the sake of the relationship can be an effective way to establish if therapy will be helpful. It’s not uncommon for both men and women to become entrenched in denial or to blame all the marriage’s problems on their partner.
What Do You Expect to Get Out of Counseling?
This question goes along with the “Identify Your Goals” section earlier. If you have established that both you and your partner are willing to do what it takes to improve your relationship, the next step is to establish what needs to be done. Are you trying to communicate better? Are you looking to improve your intimacy issues? Do you need to work through infidelity or another major incident?
If you want your counseling to be successful, you must first be completely honest with your partner. After that, you both need to be completely honest with your therapist.
Marriage Counseling Questions to Ask Your Therapist
Now that we’ve established the sort of questions you need to ask your partner, we must take a look at the questions that you’ll want to ask your counselor before or during sessions. As we’ve mentioned, being honest when communicating with your therapist is essential. Many couples come in with significant problems that they gloss over as soon as one introduces a third party.
Have You Worked with Couples Like Us?
It’s quite common to assume that your marriage problems are unique. After all, if everybody is different, the problems that result from a relationship must be unique as well? In reality, that’s not the case. Most professional therapists and counselors will have experience working with a variety of situations and personality types, as well as the conflicts that arise from them.
NOTE: If you have a pre-diagnosed mental condition, such as a personality disorder, depressions, or anxiety, you’ll want to make sure your therapist is aware of this. If they don’t have any experience treating someone with that condition, you might need to find someone else.
What Type of Therapy Will You Be Using?
Above, we suggested that you know the types of therapy before reaching out to a counselor so that you can find a therapist that will adapt to your needs. There are pros and cons to each type of therapy, as well as many different ways to “work” each system. If you have even the slightest inkling that a specific type of therapy is what you need, tell your counselor. Still, always defer to the professionals.
What Type of Professional Are You?
The reason why we’re using the terms “counselor” and “therapist” interchangeably is that there are many different types of professionals who work with married couples. From physiologists and psychiatrists to priests and social workers, anyone with a counseling license can legally treat couples. In some cases, bad experiences can be the result of a lack of “due diligence” before agreeing to therapy.
To make sure you get the treatment you need, you’ll want to establish what type of professional you’ll be seeing, as well as ask them about their experience, credentials, and success rates.
Do You Focus on the Couple or the Individuals or Both?
Here is one question that is crucial to have answered before starting therapy. Many couples expect to sit in a room together only to find out that their counselor prefers to see them one by one. Depending on the problems the couple is having, this can be helpful or hurtful to the overall process.
Marriage Counseling Questions to Expect from Your Therapist
The last marriage counseling questions that we need to go over are those that you can expect from your therapist or counselor.
Does Your Relationship Bring You Joy?
This is one of the most straightforward questions you will be asked during therapy, and often one of the first. By establishing whether or not there is any happiness in the relationship, the counselor can get a good idea of what type of road they’re about to walk down. As one might expect, this also gives the counselor some ideas about what is positive in the marriage, which can come in handy later.
What First Brought You and Your Partner Together?
As with the previous question, asking what first drew you to your partner will give your therapist positive aspects to touch on throughout the therapy. It will also help them identify how the dynamics of the relationship have changed over the years, and give them an idea as to why. These “establishing questions” are quite common in therapy, as they tend to frame the relationship for the counselor.
Are There Any Questions You’re Afraid to Be Asked?
Though it might seem invasive, this question is a smart way for a therapist to identify topics or incidents that they’ll have to probe more closely. While there isn’t any rule requiring that you tell your counselor anything you don’t want to, hiding things from your therapist will prevent you from getting their insight. Furthermore, if you’re hiding it from your therapist, you’re likely also shielding it from your partner.
What Things Has Your Partner Done to Disappoint You?
The problematic thing about relationships is that the closer you are to a person, the more they can do to hurt you. Therapists know this, but they prefer not to use words like “anger” to describe emotions, but words like “disappoint” or “dishearten.” You could answer by recalling specific events or discuss overarching problems that you encounter daily or weekly.
What Do You Wish Your Spouse Would Do More?
Here is another excellent example of a therapy question that takes a negative and phrases it more positively. With this question, each partner is free to express their needs and desires without judgment. This approach can be a big eye-opener for partners who didn’t previously realize they were failing at meeting their partner’s needs.
Is There Something You Can Do to Make Your Partner Trust You More?
Again, if you pay attention to the specific phrasing of this question, you’ll see that it avoids accusations while still getting the same results. What can “you” do to make your partner trust “you” more? This approach encourages self-reflection and allows each person to identify their flaws positively. It also works on the idea of “trust,” which is often one of the most significant breaches to repair.
The Facts About Marriage Counseling
Though we’ve outlined some fundamental but essential marriage counseling questions, there may be some who still want answers regarding marriage counseling. Below, we’ll attempt to provide that information in the best way possible, providing an effective summary of the topic.
Overall, Most Patients are Satisfied
Recent surveys by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists found that over 90% of couples reported that they received the help they need and that they feel more confident in their ability to deal with their partner. This fact holds especially true of those couples who identified problems early and sought help before things got past the breaking point.
It Often Doesn’t Take Very Long
Individual counseling can take years or decades. Marriage counseling, on the other hand, is usually much faster due to the “group dynamic.” Rather than a therapist digging into someone’s past to find the root of their issues, problems are usually quickly identified, and a plan put in place to current them. Though it’s not correct to assume it is a “quick fix,” it is often helpful to know the process won’t take forever.
Divorce is Still a Possibility
Divorce exists for a reason, and what most couples don’t understand is that divorce can be the right decision in some cases. Though it might be a “last resort” for both the couple and therapist, skilled counselors can usually identify quite quickly whether or not a relationship has a chance of making it.
It Is Usually Quite Affordable
Many struggling couples refuse to get help until it’s too late because they are afraid of incurring the costs of therapy. Luckily, marriage counseling is often much more affordable than other forms of treatment. Though many insurance carriers do cover marriage counseling, it is possible to find many non-PHD therapists that charge less and have stellar backgrounds.
Marriage Counseling in Conclusion
As you can see, marriage counseling is not nearly as complex a topic as it may seem. Though counseling, in general, can be intimidating, arming yourself with the proper marriage counseling questions can make the entire process much smoother and less frightening to both you and your spouse. It will also help demystify the treatment and help you build more reasonable goals for your marriage.
The most important take-away from this article should be: if you’re having problems, get help early. The sooner you and your spouse agree to therapy and begin asking each other the questions on this list, the sooner you can get the help you need to rebuild your relationship and rekindle your happiness.