Answers to Common Marriage Counseling Questions
I’ve been a marriage counselor for a very long time, so I get a lot of the same marriage counseling questions often. To give you a better understanding of marriage counseling, I compiled answers to the most common marriage counseling questions I’ve heard over the years. These are the real questions couples ask and the real answers I give.
Can you tell us if we are going to get divorced?
The short answer is no. Some people get better after working with a well-trained marriage counselor. Other couples separate or get divorced. Or, in other instances, some couples don’t change their relationship at all.
The outcome of marriage counseling depends on:
- How much you learn about yourself and your partner
- How motivated you are to grow and stretch out of your comfort zone
- How much your partner does the same
This is impossible to predict before you start marriage counseling. However, I can tell you what relationship things you do or don’t do that researchers say predicts divorce. Persistent interactions with anger, hurt, disconnection, or disengagement are nearly always a predictor of divorce. But, many people who work at it succeed in turning vicious cycles into virtuous ones.
What if we are really incompatible?
That question usually comes from people who are struggling to transition from one relationship stage to the next.
In the “power struggle stage,” couples have a hard time managing their differences. These can be differences in parenting style, money management, or sexual need (to name a few common challenges). Realizing that partners don’t always agree makes some people feel very uncomfortable, or even anxious. In turn, this can lead people to ask themselves, “Oh, no, did I marry the wrong person?”
If your relationship has a strong foundation of friendship and love, then it’s possible to manage your differences. With the guidance of an experienced relationship counselor, you can figure out how to work through your differences without resorting to bullying, acquiescing, or ignoring them.
What are successful marriages really like?
It’s common for people to not know what a successful relationship looks like. They may have few role models to look to. This makes it difficult to figure out how to be a good partner. And, if you think more about the partner you have rather than the partner you are, you will have some trouble with this answer.
In a nutshell, successful relationships require putting the relationship first. That means giving when it’s hard to give, paying attention to how we say things and when we say them, and standing up for ourselves with clarity and patience when necessary.
Successful relationships also require getting to know yourself and your partner as different, independent, and autonomous individuals. You need to find the right balance between individuality and togetherness. Finally, successful relationships require skills to manage conflict in a kind, courteous, and calm way.
We are so disconnected. Can we ever get back to where we were?
You can if you intentionally spend time doing three things:
- Increase positive interactions
- Understand the value of repair
- Establish rituals of connection
To fix a difficult relationship, it’s not enough to stop negative interactions. The couple also has to increase the positive interactions they have.
Ways to increase positive interactions
If a couple only stops negative interactions and does not increase the ratio of positive ones, reconnection will be difficult. Examples of positive interactions are all the times when couples enjoy an activity together without talking about relationship issues. This is similar to what they did when they first started to get to know each other.
The point is to spend time together in a mutually enjoyable activity without the presence of other people (and, especially today, without screens). Examples are going for walks in nature, sitting on the couch and talking, getting a couples massage, and having sex. These activities do not have to take a lot of time or cost a lot of money.
Reconnection and the importance of repair
The other aspect of reconnection has to do with understanding the value of repair. Couples who don’t have repair mechanisms find it hard to reconnect. Repair can come in the form of apologies, physical touch, and compensating behaviors (“I’ll make it up to you”), to name a few. We all make mistakes that impact our partners negatively in some way. Repairs are necessary to acknowledge the impact of our behavior on our partners. They heal the hurt and can help move the relationship forward.
Finally, to increase connection, couples need to find a way to regularly connect. A daily moment to connect, however brief, can strengthen your relationship. One simple, but effective, way to connect is to establish parting or returning rituals.
A parting ritual looks like this: On your way out, you can look your partner in the eye, offer a long hug or a longer kiss. Or, you can spend two minutes going over what your partner has going on that day and wishing them luck with a challenging situation.
A return ritual looks like this: When one partner gets home, the person who is home first drops everything for two minutes to look their partner in the eye, give a long relaxing hug, and ask about something important that happened that day.
If you have more marriage counseling questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re happy to answer them and connect with you!