Does relationship counseling work?

Yes, counseling works very well. In an article published in The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, clients of 526 marriage counselors were surveyed, and 91.2% of the clients said they were satisfied with the amount of help they received.

You and your partner have learned many things during your lives. If you want to, you can also learn new ways of being with your partner, and there is an excellent chance that couples counseling will help you to get the changes you want in your relationship.

I’m not sure if we need relationship counseling or not. How can we know for certain?

My belief is that if you think you might need counseling, you probably do! Relationship counseling is under-utilized. Counselors should be consulted sooner, rather than later! Studies show that the average couple doesn’t seek professional help until six to seven years have passed since the relationship started to go downhill. Sometimes a couple is on the verge of divorce before they begin working with me, and they always wish that they had started counseling sooner.

My husband would prefer to see a male marriage counselor. But wouldn’t a male marriage counselor take my husband’s side, and/or not understand how a woman feels?

Counselors avoid taking sides because it is counterproductive to long-term success. That said, if I feel one partner needs to make a change in a particular area, I’ll say so. I have spent years as a counselor helping men and women from every imaginable background and I am capable of seeing things empathetically from both perspectives.

Why is counseling better than reading a self-help book, such as the one by Dr. Phil?

Relationship counseling books may help a few people, but they rarely motivate people to do the things necessary to achieve long-lasting improvements. Authors don’t know the details of your relationship, so they can only present general suggestions in a “one size fits all” manner. Another problem is that a person may incorrectly interpret things from a book in a way that favors his or her own position. On the other hand, marriage counselors are unbiased and insure that neither partner can claim an unfair advantage over the other.

Will counseling make us agree on everything?

That’s unlikely! Up to 70% of couple conflict, even in stable couples, is about “perpetual” issues. My goal in dealing with perpetual problems is not to decide who gets their way and who doesn’t, but instead to avoid gridlock by establishing healthy dialogue about the issue, in which each partner communicates acceptance of the other’s position. Amazingly, in a healthy couple, these perpetual issues can become a source of amusement! It’s safe to say that there is no relationship without at least one perpetual problem.

My husband (or wife) refuses to go to a counselor. Is there any benefit in me going alone?

Yes. When one partner makes some positive changes and shares what has been learned, the other partner frequently becomes motivated to make his/her own positive changes. Hopefully the reluctant partner then becomes willing to attend counseling.

Does infidelity mean the relationship is over?

No, infidelity doesn’t have to mean the end of the marriage. Many couples have survived infidelity. It’s traumatic, it hurts terribly, but you can get through it with professional help. I have found that the crisis brought on by a unfaithful spouse is frequently the trigger for the couple to seek the counseling they have needed for a long time.

Is a long distance relationship sustainable, particularly in regards to a major life change (i.e. choosing to continue education or accept employment at a great distance from one’s partner)?

Long-distance relationships can work depending on the couple. If the long-distance is for a “doable” amount of time (which will be different for everyone), couples will desire each another more. However, if the long-distance is for too long, you aren’t able to see each other and feel deprived, then desire dies. In order for any relationship to succeed, one must allow their partner to have the time and space to pursue his/her interests. Through this space or absence, we use our imagination and begin to long for our partner- two huge components of desire. One way that seems guaranteed to create absence and build desire, is distance. When we see our partner as independent, confident and self-sustaining, we become aroused and filled with desire for our partner. There’s nothing quite like wanting something and not being able to have it to stimulate the libido. However, it all depends on your circumstance. It all depends on your relationship. For some people, distance is less trial, more tyranny. Separation leads to insurmountable complication. Absence makes the heart weaker, not stronger.

How do young couples (referring to both age and length of commitment) maintain a healthy relationship after the initial spark of attraction has faded?

I believe that a healthy relationship is based on maintaining connections. When you form a connection with your partner, it means there is an implied understanding of values, a common frame of reference, a series of shared experience and a sense that you are both on the same page. These connections form the bonds that foster trust and promote intimacy.

Having a connection is like cooking a meal. All the parts combine to create something new and distinct. No different than all the flavors that make meal, all the traits two people share combine to build a connection. We long to connect with and to be recognized by another person; to feel that we are seen and heard. But too often we look for this need to be satisfied by only one person. Caretaking is powerful in a loving relationship, but it can be an anti-aphrodisiac. There is a big difference between neediness and desire. Being desired is great, but being needed shuts down romance. Love seeks closeness, but desire needs space to thrive.

Is the idea that people should “play the field” before settling down detrimental to collegiate/post-collegiate relationships?

If we want to get better at something, whether it is a relationship, a sport, a hobby, whatever – we need to invest more time, energy, attention and practice in the thing we want to improve. If you want to improve your culinary skills, you can’t do that by playing tennis. With something like a relationship, why do people think you make it better by doing the exact opposite? Staying faithful and committed require self-control, discipline and the ability to delay gratification. Maybe instant gratification satisfies people momentarily, but that’s what causes this ongoing unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Marriage isn’t this test of the waters with someone. That’s what dating before marriage is for.