An Experience of Marriage Counselling
Many couples attend marriage counselling in an effort to reestablish their relationship and to reconnect with each other. Such efforts are important, as the majority of divorces are caused by common issues like growing apart and lack of communication (1). In the following example, a couple who has been married for 10 years has fallen into the habit of focusing their attention on other aspects of their lives.
HAMISH AND CAROLYN’S EXPERIENCE OF MARRIAGE COUNSELLING
Hamish and Carolyn have been married for 10 years and have two children, ages 8 and 6. Although they married in their mid-20s after finishing university, they dated for three years before they got married, so they have been together for many years.
After 10 years of marriage, they are both feeling bored in their relationship and are losing interest in one another. They rarely have sex and they often fight about what seems like minor issues. They still enjoy each other’s company, but they do not spend a great deal of time together even when they have free time. Both Hamish and Carolyn work full time and their days revolve around their jobs and scheduling time for their children’s activities. They feel saddened by what they feel is a lack of connection in their marriage and agree to see a marriage counsellor in an attempt to recapture the love that they both know they really feel for each other. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
When Hamish and Carolyn arrive for their first marriage counselling appointment they are a bit anxious. However, as they meet their marriage counsellor, Rachel, they begin to feel comfortable talking to her.
Rachel carefully and thoroughly explained her background, education and training. She also explained that she had been practicing for 10 years and was a registered member of the Australian Counsellor’s Association (NB: all of the marriage counsellors at Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney are professionally registered and insured to practice). She explained about confidentiality and other issues like mandatory reporting in respect of children.
Rachel also explained that a marriage counselling session lasted 50-55 minutes and that she required 24 hour notice of a cancellation unless it was an absolute emergency.
Rachel then asked Hamish and Carolyn to complete some simple questionnaires which included questions about their values and beliefs, relationship history, religious beliefs, health and sexual history.
When Carolyn and Hamish began talking about their marriage, Rachel was careful to allow each of them to speak without being interrupted by the other. She explained that this was their time to talk and that this would be a standard ground rule for all their marriage sessions. Special emphasis was placed on the importance of “active listening”, which results in more satisfying and rewarding interactions between partners (2). As Carolyn and Hamish talked, Rachel suspected that they had allowed their concerns for other parts of their life to supersede their relationship with each other. However, she wanted them to define the problem since they were the experts on their own relationship and they would be doing the work to restore their life to what they desired. Given the opportunity to take control of their own therapy, Hamish and Carolyn came to recognize that their problem was that they were not giving their relationship as much importance as other aspects of their life. They also both agreed that they wanted this to change.
Rachel asked them to write a page on what they ideally wanted their relationship to be like when they completed marriage counselling. She asked them to envision their perfect relationship without any of the problems they considered to be present at the moment. She asked that they complete this assignment in the week before the next session.
As the therapy and marriage counselling progressed, Rachel encouraged Carolyn and Hamish to consider how they had addressed problems similar to this one in the past. She asked them to come up with innovative and creative ideas of how they could spend time with each other that would be different from what they had been doing. Carolyn and Hamish had to admit this was a practical element of marriage counselling which they had not anticipated, but it was helping them spend more time together and they were feeling closer to each other than they had in the past several years.
One of the exercises Rachel had Hamish and Carolyn do in her office was to imagine the problem as they envisioned it as if it were a living character. She had them describe it and expand on this outward embodiment of their issues. She encouraged them to think of their character when they felt they were being overcome by the issues that were keeping them apart and to think of what they could do to fight the character. To their surprise both Carolyn and Hamish found this technique to be extremely helpful, and to work when they were feeling peevish with each other or felt as if they wanted to rush around doing other activities instead of taking time out for each other.
Over the course of a few months Hamish and Carolyn went to a number of marriage counselling sessions. The counsellor introduced several other types of intervention which the couple found useful. Initially the marriage counselling sessions were weekly, then fortnightly, and after about 6 sessions Hamish and Carolyn felt that a once a month meeting was sufficient. Usually at their counselling sessions they just talked, although sometimes the discussions got quite heated as they spoke about things that were really bothering them. Rachel observed their interactions, and helped them listen to each other and communicate better. Sometimes she encouraged them to continue their discussions and helped them to practice the skills learnt towards more positive interactions in front of her. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
Both Hamish and Carolyn felt they were benefiting substantially from working with a marriage counsellor. They felt closer than they had in years and better equipped to cope with outside pressures to be involved in activities that would take them away from each other. In particular, the marriage counselling helped them to make a conscious effort to spend more time together. They also found that the understanding of their problems that they had achieved during the counselling sessions had created a return to greater connectivity and feelings of intimacy than they had experienced in years. They reported that they felt their foray into marriage counselling had helped them significantly and definitely put their marriage back on the right track.
HOW DID MARRIAGE COUNSELLING HELP?
Hamish and Carolyn had fallen into a trap that befalls many couples over time – they had developed a routine that was centered around things other than their relationship with each other. By attending marriage counselling they were able to refocus on their relationship while developing techniques and communication skills which would aid them when their daily routines threatened to interfere with the closeness of their relationship again.
By allowing and encouraging Carolyn and Hamish to define the problem for themselves, Rachel acknowledged that they were the true experts on their relationship. She encouraged them to find their own inner resources to solve the problems in their relationship, including using their own creativity to find innovative solutions. Ultimately, by externalising the problems, Hamish and Carolyn were able to use their own internal abilities to refocus on each other and fight the tendency to be distracted from each other.
HOW CAN WE FIND A QUALIFIED MARRIAGE COUNSELLOR?
If you and your spouse are experiencing difficulties in your relationship and would like to talk to a qualified counsellor or would like further advice, please contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors.
Amato, P. R., and P. Denise (2003). People’s Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social class, the Life course, and Adjustment. Journal of Family Issues, 24(5), 602-626.
Pasupathi, M., Carstensen, L. L., Levenson, R. W., & Gottman, J. M. (1999). Responsive listening in long-married couples: A psycholinguistic perspective. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, (23), 173–193.