If you are feeling anxious about the idea of going to couples counseling, you are not alone. Fear of opening up about their problems to a stranger has prompted many couples to work on them in private, without intervention, and some can. But for those who do choose to seek professional therapy, there is no shame in asking for help to shape a new perspective on the relationship. Barbara Wyer, a clinician offering marriage and family counseling in Franklin TN, recently sat down to answer a few questions about marriage counseling.
Q: In your experience, why do most couples decide to go to marriage counseling?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: I’ve found that couples tend to seek marital therapy during some type of a crisis. Perhaps they have felt very disconnected for a long period of time, or they begin to experience high levels of conflict or distress. Sometimes a couple comes for marital therapy when they realize their kids are being negatively affected by tension in the home. Other times, the discovery of an affair may be the trigger for the call seeking marriage counseling.
Q: What should I look for in a therapist and where can I find one?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: There are a number of wonderful resources for couples seeking counseling. GoodTherapy.org and PsychologyToday.com are two of the most expansive websites for information on therapists.
Q: How can we know for sure that counseling will work to save our marriage?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: Counseling is not a “quick fix” for marriages in trouble. However, a skilled therapist can assist you in exploring the ways in which you have each contributed to the dynamic that’s causing the current distress, and advocate for resolution throughout the entire process. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has been validated by in-depth empirical research to help 70-75% of couples to move from distress to recovery.
Q: What exactly is EFT – I’ve heard this is a new form of couples counseling that really works.
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: EFT isn’t what I would call “new.” It was actually developed in the 1980s and has been used successfully by therapists for more than 20 years. Studies have validated that 90% of couples who attend EFT sessions together experience significant improvements in their relationships. Most couples are able to move into a place of recovery during their time with an EFT therapist.
Q: Do both of us need to go to counseling for it to be successful? My husband doesn’t want to go.
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: Ideally, both partners attend together. However, it is not uncommon for one spouse to initiate individual therapy in the hopes of finding some form of clarity or insight that might strengthen the relationship.
Q: I feel like I’m going crazy with all the wedding planning but my best friend says we should go to premarital counseling. Is it really that important?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: Simply stated, all marriages can benefit from premarital counseling. There are so many issues that couples, young couples especially, don’t consider that should be discussed before tying the knot. Couples of varying faiths, for instance, should discuss beforehand which religion their future children will be brought up in. Counseling can also help the couple learn more about each other and open up conversations about challenging topics like finances, sexual expectations, or how to handle interference by in-laws.
Q: Why does counseling work for some couples and not others?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: While marriage counseling is highly effective, there are times when the relationship has deteriorated to the point that there is nothing left to use as a foundation to rebuild the love that has been lost. If both partners are not “in” the relationship and committed to doing the work, it’s probably not going to work. It’s a possibility that a therapist might give bad advice, although hopefully that is unlikely. Still, it’s important to seek the help of someone who has experience working with couples.
Q: How can I convince our therapist that I’m in the right?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: When you seek relationship therapy, your therapist will likely explain that he/she is going to be an advocate for the marital relationship as a whole and not favor either one of you as individuals. A good therapist won’t take sides but will take time to hear each of your perspectives and work to find common ground.
Q: Is it ever too late?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: I don’t think that it is ever too late to try. I have seen couples on the brink of dissolution recover from years of neglect and even infidelity. If the relationship was worth having, it is worth trying to save – excepting factors like domestic violence or child abuse where someone is in danger.
Q: What is the primary goal of marriage counseling?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: Marriage counseling can help give partners in a distressed relationship the tools they need to successfully resolve conflicts and solve problems together. It provides a safe place to come and share honest feelings with a neutral third party present to diffuse conflict and make sure that both partners feel heard. It allows partners to learn new ways of communicating, and to practice empathy with each other – either as a last-ditch intervention, or simply as a tune up when the relationship is already a happy, satisfied one.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to couples before they get married?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: I think it is important to understand that your partner is not a mind reader. If you need something or are unhappy, speak up. It is so easy for pent up feelings about one small thing to snowball into withdrawing from or bitterness toward your spouse. Open communication is one of the most important pieces to the puzzle that is your future marriage.
Q: My wife and I have been unhappy for the last five years. Can marriage counseling really make it better in just a few sessions?
Barbara Wyer Counseling Franklin TN: If it took that long to seek help, chances are it will take more than a few hours to work things out. There is bound to be some deep-seeded hurt and resentment that has to be acknowledged and resolved before the relationship will begin to be mended. With that said, Emotionally Focused Therapy is usually considered to be a short term therapy option (8-20 sessions).