Benefiting from Couples Counseling You are about to Receive
Everett L. Worthington Jr., PhD
It has been my experience that each couple is unique in the problems they’re wrestling with. Nevertheless, certain roots seem to be at the base of almost all problems that couples have. Namely, troubled marriages usually show weaknesses in love. Love is being willing to value your partner and being unwilling to devalue your partner. A troubled marriage is one in which partners devalue each other and failed to take every opportunity to value each other. Generally as love has lessened people lose confidence that the marriage can ever improve, and their demoralization and loss of hope prevent them from working on changing the relationship.
If you’re going to improve the relationship you must do the following:
• Regain a willingness to work on improving your relationship and sustain that willingness long enough so that the marriage can bounce back. The worse off your marriage is now, the longer you must be willing to work to change it before you give up.
• Focus on the good things that you do. If you focus on the successes and try to ignore the failures for a period, you’ll regain a sense of faith in the relationship and a confidence that it can improve.
• Increase your efforts to value your partner in love at every opportunity, and increase your efforts to avoid devaluing your partner.
To improve, love your partner more by valuing him or her.
Adopt a Helpful Attitude
Marital problems focus our attention on ourselves. It is easy to see the ways we are hurt, the things that the partner is doing to hurt and devalue us, the ways the partner seems to be avoiding work or showing a lack of faith, or the unforgiveness the partner harbors. Yet you cannot change your partner. You can only change yourself. You must, therefore, stop looking at what your partner does and does not do, and start focusing intently on how you can change your own behavior to make things better in your relationship.
Change what you can:
Your own behavior, thoughts and (eventually) feelings. Don’t worry about what your partner is or isn’t doing. Be the first to change, don’t wait for your partner to change. Be patient. Changes will not occur overnight. Give your partner a break. Don’t expect perfection.
Take it as a given that 99% of all partners want their marriage to get better. Regardless of what you might think, your partner is trying to improve the marriage. He or she might not be going about it effectively. That’s one thing we’ll work on in counseling. But you partner’s motives are positive.
How to Benefit from Counseling
1. Realize that counseling is not a miracle cure for your marital ills. You will change your marriage, mostly outside the time you are with your counselor. The counselor will simply show you how to do that more effectively.
2. Be honest with your counselor.
3. Be honest with yourself. Try hard. Don’t sabotage counseling because your confidence is at a low ebb.
4. Do the activities at home that your counselor asks you to do.
5. Understand that your counselor is not a referee for your arguments. Nor is your counselor a decision-maker who will tell the two of you who was right or wrong. Instead, your counselor as a person who can show you how to resolve differences in a way that promotes valuing love and avoids devaluing. Your counselor will focus more on how you are communicating than on whether you arrive to a solution to all your differences. But if you learn a good method of resolving differences in valuing love, then you’ll be able to resolve your own differences for the next fifty or more years.
6. Your counselor is not a hunter who seeks out your problems and shoots them. Rather, your counselor is more like a hunting guide, who will help you root out your problems and develop solutions that work to promote love, work and faith.
Reprinted with permission from Hope-Focused Marriage Counseling: A Guide to Brief Therapy. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999.
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