Thursday, August 13, 2009

Marriage Counseling: What, Why, How

What is Marriage Counseling?

Any intervention in which a third party –, Marriage Counselor, Life Coach, Medical professional or clergy – provides types of ‘therapy’ for either a married couple or a partnership who tries to resolve problems in their relationship. Typically, the two attend the counseling sessions together, or in the case of Online Counseling - the same phone or computer conference call. There are however many cases in which only one partner may actively participate as each may have different agendas.

So what is ‘therapy’, in the context of marriage counseling? It is a systematic and structural process in which the marriage counselor, who must be trained in psychotherapy and family systems, focuses on understanding the clients' symptoms, underlying needs and expectations and the way their interactions contribute to problems in the relationship.

What is the difference between ‘good talk’ with a friend or a family member and the discussions with a professional Marriage Counselor?

Marriage counselors are trained in behavioral science models, psychotherapy processes and techniques and anonymity with no bias to one or the other. Most likely the professional also consults with colleagues or other experienced therapists regarding their cases.

How does it work? Marriage counseling is usually a short-term therapy that may take only a few sessions (1-12 sessions) to work out problems in the relationship. Typically at first I ask questions about the couples’ history and personal background, their past and current roles, dating, sexuality and communication patterns, personal or mutual goals, and their current value/belief system. I summarize my initial meeting with the couple, assessing the aspects of the relationship; thereafter we create a preliminary understanding about their issues, regarding sexuality, recognition, achievement orientation, etc. The process in most cases continues to zoom in on the ‘Identified Client’ - the partner who “appears” to contribute the most to the problems in the relationship. The talented professional will soon diffuse and reveal to both clients the fallacy of one being the sole responsible and help them see the reciprocal nature of the events.

Only with total acceptance of this, can the two explore ways to change their interacting. A well practiced tool is a ‘contract’ in which each partner describes and commits to remedial behavior he or she will try to achieve.
Does it work? I know that my marriage counseling processes help 70-75% of the couples who meet with me to deal more effectively with problems and alternately, years of agony and unhappiness could end within two or three months of working together. Case follow-ups after a year show that those problems with tendencies to reappear do not repeat themselves in most cases. My personal data is aligned with continuous academic research results: effective professional marriage counseling does improve the couples’ physical as well as mental health, while improving their satisfaction with the relationship.
Dr. Joseph Abraham, Director, Center for Human Growth and Business Insights, Mechanicsburg, PA Tel 717-943.0959 Online Psychologist and Life Coach: Marriage Counseling, Relationship Advice and Management Consulting. Online Counseling and Small Business Advice

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Do I Support Temporary Separation while the Marriage Counseling is in Process?

‘Short Separation’ as a Marriage Counseling Tactic

“Can a marital separation save a marriage?” Usually my opinion is: it depends…

Whether the separation will help or hurt the marriage is unknown, unless you know the couple, have listened to them and assessed their mental state. Needless to say, a professional marriage counselor should feed-back his or her gained impression to the couple. Since the outcome could go either way, depending on what each of them really wants, this tactic should be an important topic during the marriage counseling sessions.

As a Psychologist who practices as a Marriage Counselor as well as a Life Coach and professional Relationship Advice provider I may quickly support a separation, for example when one spouse is living in an intolerable situation in the marriage. Perhaps one partner is verbally abusive, chronically has affairs, or shows continued disrespect towards his or her spouse in some other way. A number of couples are miserable living together and can’t seem to co-exist without continuous arguing. Living apart can help each partner to better use their emotional strengths and problem solving skills. In situations like this, a separation can sometimes save the marriage.

But fortunately enough, these are not the majority of cases I have encountered; which result in more complexities for me, as the professional counselor. The main issue is the motivation and the attitude of each partner: does each spouse want the marriage to work? Is there a strong willingness to seek marriage counseling and work on the problems and issues while they are separated? Does the couple in this situation plan to use this separation period to “let the dust settle,” and reflect on the marriage but taking responsibility for their part, and work with me on their individual and joint issues?

Sometimes the serious problems that the couple present and share are only a cover-up for more deeper and underlying issues: unfulfilled desires and a lack of trust for a better future. When there is a hidden desire to split apart, or try living under an alternative roof and relationship, a split could be a one-way ticket from renewing the marriage. There is therefore a need to use this simple ‘test detector’ apparatus: Do both spouses agree not to date anyone else? Do both commit to improve their marriage only?

A separation can be a time of healing, gaining strength and adding social resources to build new ties. Conversely living apart will allow each to pursue alternative relationships in which distance detachment and distance prevails while this period of ‘trial for a better luck’ continues.

Does it mean that a ‘free zone’ arrangement is the beginning of the end of the relationship? NO.

Human behavior is often as you see on the dance floor: two steps forward, one back, and then turn. It could be that one spouse or even both want to use the separation to build new relationships. Once they are on their own, they grow emotionally stronger, more independent but at the same time more in touch with their weaknesses. Each can now have a clearer perspective about their past negative contributions. Reconciliation in such cases is quick, meaningful and usually long lasting.

To summarize my Marriage Counseling approach regarding temporary separation: once you use a temporary split as a tool to heal your marriage:
1. Set a tentative time period for the separation; three, six, nine or twelve months, but no longer.
2. At three month intervals, set a time to meet and re-evaluate the decision to separate.
3. Agree to seek individual and joint counseling during the separation.
4. Set clear guidelines about how much contact you’ll have with each other during the separation; the less the better.

Dr. Joseph Abraham, Director, Center for Human Growth and Business Insights, Mechanicsburg, PA. Tel 717-943.0959 Online Psychologist and Life Coach: Marriage Counseling, Relationship Advice and Management Consulting. Online Counseling and Small Business Advice

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Do You Fit For Marriage Counseling?

The ‘Yes’ and “No’ as a Pre-requisite for a Marriage Counseling Success

Almost every relationship encounters rough waters. Some will need professional involvement. If you decide to start professional Marriage Counseling with a marriage counselor, psychologist, or life coach, please know that a pre-requisite is not only the fee but the beneficial process of all parties.
Here are five questions you should ask yourself prior to this process; be sure you put your 4 ‘yes’ answers and the 1‘no’ at the right places.

Question # 1: Is there a problem or you only agree to the process because your spouse wants to? ‘Yes’ is required; your definition of the problem must be well defined. Do not begin if you deny there’s a problem. The practitioner’s office is not where one should learn about the marriage conflict. It is most beneficial that both parties consent to the counseling process.

Question # 2: Do you contribute to the problem? Unless you view a marriage as a system – where there are certain homeostasis or balance occurring between the two elements of the system (the partners), there is no point seeking marriage counseling. You will find no real practitioner who will not relate to you both as two parts of one system. This means that you both can’t help but to impact and interrelate with each other. Your behavior will cause a reaction by your mate, and vice versa. It is highly unlikely that one person is solely responsible for the entire problem in a marriage. “It takes two to tango.”

Question # 3: Are you having positive expectations? A self fulfilling prophecy is a powerful force that motivates and creates reality, and this is a pre-requisite most crucial in the marriage counseling. If not, one partner would most likely be passive or expect the therapist to perform miracles to make positive things happen. The “You fix me” or “You fix my spouse” message or expecting problem solving style from the marriage counselor is absolutely unacceptable. Each partner must engage and participate. My role as a marriage counseling professional is to explore, analyze and understand behaviors or chain of behaviors. Then I help to re-engineer the relationship. So you better expect to see powerful changes occurring between you and your spouse.

Question # 4: Are you ready to accept and adopt changes in behavior? Before considering your answer, be aware that most people declare that they would expect to see their partner change, or at least change first… Without a willingness to make your own adjustments in the marriage, there is no point in beginning the marriage counseling process. The ‘yes’ attitude in essence gives a strong message that you are going to be an active partner in the ‘renewed’ marriage.

Question # 5: Is it O.K to dedicate an entire week-end (only) to the marriage counseling process? Your busy agenda… The amount of time marriage counseling takes is dependent on a number of factors; the amount of resentment, period length of unhappiness and willingness to change are just a few. It’s definitely an investment of time, effort and money which can be stressful for some people. You must accept the ‘NO’ answer, since there is no “quick fix”.

Dr. Joseph Abraham, Director, Center for Human Growth and Business Insights, Mechanicsburg, PA Tel 717-943.0959 A Psychologist, Online Life Coach, Marriage Counselor and Relationship Advice provider. Psychologist and Relationship Advice and Life Coach and Marriage Counseling and Small Business Advice