Politicians use a phrase a lot these days, conflict resolution. Whatever happened to the good, old ‘solving a problem’ line? It’s fine to get fancy with terminology as long as we’re not paying mere lip service to whatever it is that needs to be resolved.
Conflict resolution has passed from the cold walls of Congress and Parliament into the bedrooms of North America. It is now also employed when two people, who used to love each other passionately, are in conflict and heading towards the direction of a point of no return and are seeking help.
Rather than act impulsively and make decisions that they will regret later on, couples would like to give their marriage a final kick in the can, so to speak, to see if a once satisfying relationship could be mended even re-tooled through marriage counseling.
In 99% of marriages, divorce should always be a last recourse. Attempts at dialoguing with one’s spouse, eliciting help from close family members, marriage retreats, and marriage counseling are good avenues to explore before getting to the big D. Our argument is that divorce, no matter how friendly, has long term consequences not only on the husband and wife but more especially on the children.
Since divorce must be avoided at all costs if possible, couples should look to marriage counseling as a last ditch effort as a final attempt at conflict resolution.
Here we are trying to save countries and the ozone layer and nuclear bombs from exploding, surely, we can can try to save our marriages. It’s not as if we’re lacking in methods.
Take marriage counseling as an example.
Marriage Counseling – What is it Exactly?
When two people agree with each other that their relationship could be improved they go into marriage counseling. The other name for it is marriage therapy.
In deciding that seeking marriage counseling is the best option, couples should expect to be provided with the tools to communicate better so they can flesh out their differences, negotiate a potential compromise, or just argue in a constructive manner.
A licensed marriage counselor or therapist runs marriage counseling sessions who offer mental health services as well, but for marriages in trouble, they focus on the relationship aspect. It is generally a short term exercise, but much will depend on the nature of the conflict. Couples will learn, as they work with their counselor, that they need only a few weeks to get back on track; some couples with certain irreconcilable differences may need months of counseling. How much damage needs to be repaired is often a key factor in how long the sessions will last.
The trend nowadays is to go for marriage counseling once a week.
In seeking marriage counseling, couples have acknowledged and accepted that their marriage needs overhauling and that their relationships are far from perfect. Not having the perfect marriage does not mean that it’s doomed to disaster. We know that personalities are formed from experiences acquired in childhood, in school, in the workplace, and some traits trace their origins from our parents and grandparents. So naturally when two personalities come together, their personality differences can put their marriage out of ‘sync.’
The first benefit therefore is that couples are made to understand what these differences are and how they can re-directed so that they serve the marriage, not destroy it. When people are having a bad day and stress levels go beyond what they can handle, they have a tendency to magnify such differences. It will take time and effort to accept the fact that clashes and disagreements will always be part and parcel of the ‘package.’ The idea is to rise above them. An appreciation for these differences will enable individuals to cultivate respect for the other person’s views.
The second benefit to seeking marriage counseling is the avoidance of bigger psychological problems later. One logical outcome of frequent fighting and emotional upheaval is depression. Marital conflict weighs down on everyone fights with our spouse distract us; over time, we lose our ability to concentrate on our work and on the upbringing of our children, not to mention the domestic chores that need our attention.
Marriage counseling can benefit couples who have opposing views on any of the following stress inducers:
- Sexual problems
- Communication problems
- Angry reactions to even the smallest detail
- Alcohol or drug dependency
- Cultural gap
- ‘ Infidelity‘
- Behavioral patterns that annoy the other spouse: flirting, spending too much money, spending too much time with one’s own family, exaggerated work habits, and other issues
- Physical or mental handicaps
- Health problems
- Changing life situations (retirement, moving into a smaller place, scaling back on lifestyle, absentee children who forget to call or visit, boomerang kids)
A third benefit of marriage counseling is how it can help prevent the escalation of physical or verbal abuse. If there is any risk to life and the abuse gets worse, then this is where the marriage counselor will immediately advise the abused spouse to seek police help or intervention.
Your personal safety is paramount. Marriage counseling may save relationships but it will not save your life if it is in danger. The only evidence you need are the newspaper accounts of how the women, in particular, were murdered by abusive husbands or boyfriends after a domestic rift.
Another benefit of marriage counseling is its ‘maintenance’ role. You don’t have to be in crisis mode when you’re seeking marriage counseling. You attend sessions not because you need therapy, but because you want to maintain the love and harmony inherent in your marriage. You want to discover ways of strengthening your bonds with your loved one, and learn techniques of making your spouse happy and content in the marriage.
So spread the word around. Marriage counseling does not necessarily equate with therapy or conflict resolution.
And for couples who plan to marry and are seeking marriage counseling, this is a manifestation of their most sincere need to find out ‘what makes the other tick’ so that any future arguments can be avoided. It demonstrates a high degree of emotional maturity when couples don’t wait for accidents happen. They roll up their sleeves before getting married and define the parameters that their relationship should take. For instance, marrying couples can agree, beforehand, on matters like:
- Squander the family budget by not buying things they don’t need,
- That they keep a joint account for household expenses, but separate individual accounts for their own material needs,
- That each spouse will strive to pay outstanding debts they incurred before the marriage,
- That their wedding will NOT be a grand, wasteful ceremony,
- That they won’t take expensive vacations until after the 50% of the mortgage and car payments are made,
- That they won’t go to bed without resolving an argument,
- That they will raise children equally, share their upbringing, and be consistent in what they teach their children.
The above represent only a small sampling of issues that can potentially provoke arguments. People who are getting married think that such issues will sort themselves out in time.
Wake up and smell the coffee. These are the very issues that have to be clarified well before the union takes place. You don’t want to leave any stones unturned unless you’re prepared to hurl stones at one another five years later.
Marriage counselors report that a good percentage of couple’s quarrels stem from’ money matters, so this is one department that has to be cleared before you walk down the aisle or make your pledge before a Justice of the Peace.
You know the saying money doesn’t buy happiness. It never did. It never will.
What to Look For in a Counselor
The role of a marriage counselor is to help couples nurse their marriage back to health, not to aggravate the ills that threaten a separation or divorce. This makes it important for a counselor to be knowledgeable not only about marriage, but also about relationships, the strengths and limitations of an individual, the psychology and dynamics of conflict resolution and the resources available to couples who are dealing with a problematic marriage. Thus, a certified and licensed marriage counselor is imperative. Ask for their LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist) designation when choosing from among those recommended. Note that states impose different requirements, but the majority of LMFTs should have advanced training like a Master’s or Doctoral degree. If they carry credentials from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), this is an added bonus since these credentials imply higher eligibility criteria. Canada and other countries will also have their own licensing boards.
While many marriage counselors have their own private practice, they are also found in clinics, hospitals, health centers, and government/educational agencies.
What kind of questions can we ask a counselor to help us decide whether he/she is the right one for us?
Begin with the qualifications. You can ask questions about their licence and other credentials, their education, training and experience. Some counselors specialize in one aspect of counseling, while others deal with general issues. Don’t be shy to ask about fees. You want to make sure that you’re 100% financially comfortable with the charges. Find out where their office is located and their office hours (you’re not exactly prepared to travel out of town for counseling).
Then you can ask the marriage counselor about the sessions: how many times a week, how long each session lasts, whether there are timelines, the total number of sessions, what you can expect, and the policy on missing a session. One point that should not be overlooked is if the counselor can provide an emergency number where he or she can be called.
Once you’ve dotted the Is and crossed the Ts, you may want to ask your health insurer or HMO if marriage counseling sessions are covered by your insurance policy.
Seeking marriage counseling could mean the difference between enjoying scotch on the rocks and watching your marriage fall on the rocks.