Plenty of people talk about how to have a dream wedding — the dream dress, the dream decor, the dream venue. But how to have a dream marriage isn’t quite as popular of a conversation topic. As the honeymoon phase fades and reality sets in, many married couples seek counseling as a way to deal with inevitable challenges and mend their relationship when necessary. In fact, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, over 1.8 million people are receiving marriage and family counseling at any given time. But marriage counseling isn’t the solution for every quarreling couple. Ross Grossman, Los Angeles-based therapist and founder of Affinity Therapy Services, let us in on the eight questions both partners should answer before Yelping “marriage therapist.”
1. What is my goal? If your goal is to repair the relationship, go for it, Grossman says. “Couples counseling can often get a couple that’s moved off track back on the rails and working together for the happiness of both individuals,” he explains. On the other hand, if you’re hoping to end the relationship, therapists can also be of help. “A good couples therapist will assist a couple in transitioning from ‘coupledom’ to separate lives with a minimum of damage,” he says.
2. Do I feel burned out on this relationship? Being “burned out” typically indicates a lack of motivation, energy, or interest, and it’s hard to muster the oomph to mend a relationship if a couple is in this state. “This is like when your car runs out of oil,” Grossman explains. “Keep driving it, and you will burn out the engine.” These relationships are salvageable, though it is important to know in advance that it might take more of a concerted effort on both parties’ parts. “You can get the spark back,” Grossman says, “but you’ll have to start remembering and reinitiating courtship-type behaviors.” These include being affectionate, sharing your good times, and appreciating your partner, he says.
3. Am I engaging in an affair that I don’t want to end? Marriage is no place for an affair, but neither is couples therapy. If an individual is actively engaging in adulterous behavior during therapy, then the therapy will be ineffective. “The illicit connection threatens to undermine the trust of the couple,” Grossman says. “It defeats the purpose of couples therapy.” He recommends the unfaithful individual seek individual counseling before pursuing counseling as a pair.
4. Am I willing to express my concerns to a therapist in my partner’s presence? This is obviously essential to couples counseling, but Grossman does caution against complete honesty at all times because thoughts can often be irrational, unproductive, or unkind. “If you are concerned that something you might talk about would cause too much emotional pain for your partner, see if the therapist will allow you to talk individually with them without revealing your conversation to your partner,” Grossman suggests.
5. Am I willing to express my concerns to a therapist in my partner’s absence? As stated above, certain circumstances make it necessary for you and your therapist to meet one-on-one. Depending on how upsetting or disturbing your thoughts are, Grossman says individual therapy, aside from marriage counseling, might need to be sought out.
6. Are we able to sit in the same room and discuss problems calmly? If your answer to this question is a yes or even a maybe, then Grossman is hopeful that counseling can help. “You are well on your way toward success in couples counseling,” he says. If your answer is a definitive no, then he recommends attending individual counseling with a focus on the relationship before heading to the couples couch.
7. Are both partners against using violence and intimidation tactics? In his own practice, Grossman has a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence. As a therapist, Grossman says it is not his job, or any couples therapist’s job, to deal with problems of physical abuse. “Ultimately, violence in a couple is a legal issue that must be dealt with through legal means,” Grossman explains.
8. How is my mental health? Again, based on the answer, Grossman advocates for additional counseling. Anxiety, mood disorders, and other life-altering mental illnesses are worth treating through individual therapy in conjunction with marriage counseling, he says.
Bonus Question: If you’ve honestly answered these questions and feel that marriage counseling is a fit for you and your spouse, seek out a therapist. But before you commit to one, Grossman suggests discussing with them whether they view divorce as a viable solution — as scary as that might sound. A “well-rounded, seasoned” therapist should care more about the long-term happiness of the individuals than about maintaining the nuptials.
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