*Question* – “Should we seek counseling or work it out on our own?“
Dr. Ronn: Both of us believe we are a good match with a whole lot in common. And we know that no relationship or marriage is going to be perfect. But right now we seem to be stuck and getting nowhere trying to work out some big disagreements. He swears that I am putting my mother and sisters above him and I have gotten very resentful because he constantly complains to me about everything. Talking about it usually leads to an argument. Then we shut down and don’t speak for days. I always thought that going to a counselor would be a waste of time and money, but we are just going around in circles by ourselves. We have never tried it before, but now I wonder if maybe we need to go. What do you think? – D.N.
Dear D.N.: As a longtime relationship therapist, I know how hard it can be for dating or married couples to seek professional help. But in my experience, those who do get therapy find that it’s well worth the effort. Counseling can help you two get past what’s keeping your relationship from progressing beyond your weak areas.
SEE THE BENEFITS
Here are a few reasons why reaching out for help is worth it:
- Counseling keeps problems from escalating. You’ve been stewing for days about something that ticked you off, yet he’s barely noticed. So when he makes an offhand comment that puts you over the edge, you lash out. Many couples replay these same scenes for years. Once these negative behavior patterns become habits, they’re nearly impossible to reverse. Seeking professional help sooner rather than later means fewer episodes of verbal sparring, non-communication, indifference and acting out.
- Counseling can remove the drama from interaction with each other. It gives you and your mate a regularly scheduled time and place to work out your issues so that you’re not so tense and guarded when you’re together. You’ll both be more willing to tolerate a few daily annoyances, knowing you’ve got an upcoming therapy session where you’ll get to your say.
- Counseling exposes your strengths. Your stint on the counseling couch will be intense at times. As you faithfully explore issues you’ve avoided for so long, you demonstrate your willingness to invest in the relationship, which can sustain you through any momentary bumps in your marriage.
START THE PROCESS
The right therapist for you is the one who has both the expertise to help, as well as the chemistry (personality, therapeutic style and values) that feels like a good match for you and your mate. Be prepared to shop around before making a final decision. The best starting place is not a Google search, but seeking recommendations from people you know and trust—a family physician, your minister, close friends who’ve had a positive experience in couples counseling.
Caution: in most cases, letting family members weigh in is a bad idea. It can invite them to take sides with you or your mate. Sadly, they often get stuck in their biases long after your issues have been resolved and your relationship has been reconciled.
Check with your health-insurance carrier or your employee assistance plan to see if your coverage provides counseling benefits. Professional organizations such as the Association of Black Psychologists (abpsi.org), The American Association of Christian Counselors (aacc.net) and The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (aamft.org) can provide helpful information.
- Contact the counselors on your referral list and be ready to give them a concise three sentence description of your specific concerns.
- Inquire about logistics like fees and schedules, as well as any other questions you may have.
- If you like what you hear, consider scheduling an initial session where you, your mate and the therapist can determine whether you’re a good fit.
- Arrange preliminary sessions with your top two or three candidates before making your final choice.
A final word: Expect results—but NOT instant ones. It takes time to notice your progress.