People often seem shocked when I tell them that all couples can benefit from counseling.
I think that response comes from the idea that marriage counseling is only for helping couples get through a crisis. It’s not. The research has shown us that couples tend to make the call for counseling, on the average, six years later than they should have. Think about that. Six years after the optimal moment. And that is the average! What that tells me is that couples in America are, for some reason, struggling along with each other and their difficulties instead of making the call to get the guidance they need.
What Couples Counseling Is and Isn’t
Couples counseling can benefit any significant relationship, because the process is ultimately more about guidance and the facilitation of healthy communication than it is about fixing a problem or crisis. Couples counseling works because in its most basic form, it consists of a trained third party helping the two members of a couple make sense of their issues and find the courage to talk through all those topics that, together, they have come to avoid. Imagine how much easier that process would be if a couple in crisis had come in years earlier, when things felt rough but not horrible. Think of the grief they could have saved themselves by getting into counseling earlier.
That being said, most couples do come in during a crisis. They often feel horrible about how they have been treating each other. They often wonder if their marriage can be saved. The truth is that any marriage can bring out the worst in people or the best in people, and I am often heard saying that the same marriage has the ability to bring out either. When a couple initially comes in for counseling, it is almost always true that their relationship has been bringing out the worst in them for some time. They usually look so relieved to hear that there is hope and that their marriage can, once again, become something that brings out the best in them.
Couples Counseling Can Help a Relationship “Level Up”
As we meet weekly and untangle their issues, each member of the couple learns to see their partner as a teammate. I often tell people in my office that it is the two of them against the world, and that is a true statement. As we uncover the assumptions and misconceptions that have contributed to the couple’s difficulties, the feeling of safety in the relationship grows. That newfound safety fosters openness and facilitates a deeper connection for the couple. There is nothing quite like watching this happen. It is truly a sacred experience.
Couples often come in for counseling in crisis; this is true. More often then not, however, they end therapy having gotten to a level in their relationship they never could have dreamed existed. When I say that all couples can benefit from counseling, what I am saying is that I firmly believe there is a “next level” for all couples and that counseling can help each couple achieve that.
Dave Thornsen, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist Dr. Dave Thornsen is a licensed psychologist in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He works individually with adult men and women and also specializes in marriage counseling. Dave received his doctorate degree in psychology in 2002 from Wheaton College. He has practiced in Grand Rapids ever since. Dave is able to participate with most insurances. Learn more…
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