Common Concerns That Couples Bring to Marriage Counselling
Married couples see a marriage counsellor for a variety of reasons. Most often, married couples present with:
- Communication Issues
- Sexual Issues
- Trust Issues
- Conflict associated with particular issues such as parenting, financial stress, religious affiliation or addictive behaviour.
Marriage counselling is often a last resort measure for married couples experiencing a high level of conflict between them. These marriages are often on the brink of divorce. In these circumstances, marriage counsellors can:
- help identify long-standing problems,
- kick start the process towards recovering the marriage, or
- in some circumstances, help lead the couple towards an amicable separation or divorce.
For many married couples however, the issues are still at a point where both parties may hope for them to resolve by themselves and for things to return back to the way it was before. This is an excellent time to attend marriage counselling, so that the issues can be properly understood and dealt with before they lead to lost love; a common outcome when problems remain unresolved. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
COMMON MARRIAGE COUNSELLING CONCERNS EXPLORED
The common issues which married couples bring to a session of marriage counselling are explored on this page in more detail under the following headings:
- Conflict caused by financial stress
- Conflict associated with parenting
- Infidelity and/or lack of trust
- Communication difficulties: constant bickering and/or feelings of frustration with one another
- Communication difficulties: lack of intimacy or feelings of disconnectedness
- Differences in sexual desire.
HOW DOES FINANCIAL STRESS AFFECT A COUPLE?
In many cases, a married couple has a financial routine that they depend on for consistency and in order to meet their financial obligations. Often, when that routine is disrupted – either through job change or financial setbacks – they may find they fall into an unexpected tailspin where emotions run high and problems arise. They may fight more frequently, they may feel depressed and anxious and they may shut down and isolate themselves from each other. This can be an important time to seek help from a marriage counsellor to assist you to renegotiate relationship values.
HOW CAN DEALING WITH CHILDREN BECOME DIFFICULT FOR A COUPLE?
Our children mean the world to us and how we raise them is deeply intertwined with our cultural and personal value systems. When these systems collide, this can cause great tension amongst the parents. Questions which can cause tension include:
- How disciplined should we be with our children?
- What method of discipline should we use?
- How involved should we be in their lives?
- Are they too spoilt?
- How should they be schooled?
- Should they be religiously affiliated?
These are all important questions which go to the heart of who we are, and therefore need to be resolved. This can be relatively easy when a couple agrees on the answers, but very difficult if there is disparity. If you disagree about the way you want to raise your children this does not mean that your marriage is lost. It just means you need help to come to a resolution, to understand and respect each other’s values and opinions. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
Children can also be an additional stressor on a marital relationship, especially when children are young. Sleepless nights, divided attention, lack of private space and the constant energy required to keep up with young children can cause additional arguments, agitation, feelings of resentment, and lack of intimacy between an otherwise loving married couple. Dealing with blended families can put further stress on a marriage, especially when the children are not entirely comfortable with their step parent or where there is sibling rivalry or resentment. These concerns are common and can often be assisted with counselling.
HOW DO MARRIED COUPLES DEAL WITH THE AFTERMATH OF INFIDELITY?
Many people consider infidelity to be one of the most difficult challenges for a couple to overcome yet so many couples come up against this challenge. In fact, approximately 20-25% of married couples will experience infidelity at some point in their marriage (1), and it is one of the common reasons married couples seek counselling. When one partner has been unfaithful, a serious breach of trust is generated and these feelings of distrust usually need to be resolved before a relationship can be successfully resumed.
Lack of trust and jealousy can be an issue between married partners even when there has been no actual infidelity. This lack of trust might have been caused by actual untrustworthy behaviour, or by imagined behaviour. Sometimes a lack of trust can be an issue which is brought to the marriage as a result of one party’s personality and/or previous experiences, and not as a result of anything the other person has actually done. This type of distrust and jealousy can be very destructive in a marriage, leading to rifts in the relationship, controlling behaviour, and in extreme circumstances, even violence (2).
MY SPOUSE AND I ARE CONSTANTLY ARGUING
Arguments and tensions are common within marriages and romantic relationships due to the interdependent nature of these relationships (3). Sometimes married couples find themselves in a spiral where arguments are rife. Whilst these arguments might be over trivial things, like leaving out the butter or forgetting to set the alarm, the underlying causes of the bickering can generally be traced to more significant and more meaningful frustrations or misunderstandings between a married couple. Marriage counselling can help a couple to become aware of these underlying needs and to better respond to them.
A deeper understanding and empathy for each other’s issues helps to restore intimacy between a married couple and greatly reduces the need for an argument. Marriage Counsellors will also teach improved communication skills so that arguments are less likely to occur.
MY SPOUSE AND I RARELY TALK ANYMORE
An issue commonly brought to marriage counselling is lost intimacy or a disconnectedness between the married couple. Sometimes the couple knows that there are problems in the marriage, but they just don’t know how to talk about them. As the problem grows, the couple become more and more distant from one another because they are simply too fearful of facing the problem or of talking intimately about their concerns.
At other times, married couples find that they have drifted apart. The common stresses of life (work, children, aging parents) have meant that the couple has had little time to nurture their relationship and remember why they got married in the first place. They forget to say hello when they walk in the door after a long day, they rarely cuddle, they watch tv instead of hearing about each other’s day. These problems are particularly prevalent in couples who have been married for a long time, or where children are still young. Marriage counselling can help to restore intimacy and connectedness between a married couple. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
WHEN DOES SEXUAL DESIRE BECOME AN ISSUE FOR A COUPLE?
Every person has their own unique level of sexual desire and satisfaction. Despite magazine covers that declare that the average married couple has intercourse two or so times per week, in reality every couple has their own rhythm that accommodates individual needs and desires. However, from time to time, those levels of desire may change with shifting hormones and with life stress. Also, over time many couples find that they receive more satisfaction from the closeness of the relationship rather than the frequency of sexual activities they may have enjoyed in earlier years.
When sexual desire falls out of synch with each other, it can become a problem between them. In some cases, this is a phase of life issue and will change once again when hormonal levels shift. However, in other cases, a vast difference in sexual desire can become a serious and long term problem for a married couple. A professional marriage counsellor can aid married couples to better understand each other’s sexual needs, and to work out how these can both be better accommodated, respected and nurtured. In some circumstances, a marriage counsellor may refer a couple to a specialised sex therapist or doctor.
OTHER MARITAL ISSUES
A marriage might be running smoothly apart from a specific recurring tension or issue. If the issue is particularly important to either or both of the spouses, or relates to a core part of their value systems, then if left unresolved the problem can inflate and have longer-term negative impacts on the marriage.
Common singular issues include:
- Whether or not to have a baby.
- Where to live.
- How to deal with a child who has come out as gay.
- How to spend money.
- How to deal with in-laws.
A marriage counsellor can help you resolve these questions and come up with answers that work for both of you. Where the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no, for example when you are deciding whether or not to have a baby, a marriage counsellor can also help you better understand each other’s needs around the issue, engendering respect for each other’s opinions, and greater empathy for your partner’s loss if the decision is against his or her wishes.
Sometimes a married couple will experience difficulty in their relationship because of the impact of an issue brought to the relationship by either one of the spouses. Two types of issues which commonly fall into this category are:
- Addiction: Where one member of the marriage suffers from an addiction problem, the impact on the relationship can be hugely significant and can often lead to divorce. Pornography Addiction and Sex Addiction can be particularly problematic because of the issues of infidelity which these impart. Gambling Addictions can cause financial stress for the marriage, drug addictions can result in lost intimacy, whilst alcohol addiction tends to fuel arguments and in the worst cases, violence against the spouse or other family members.
- Sexuality: Sometimes one partner in a marriage might be confused about his or her sexuality. This confusion can lead to arguments, distrust, lack of sexual desire and/or disconnectedness within the marriage.
In these situations, it might be better for a married couple to postpone marriage counselling until such time as the individual has resolved or partially resolved their own issue. Once this has occurred, the couple can come attend marriage counselling sessions to talk about how the issue has affected their relationship, how they can better deal with the issue, how to restore faith and intimacy in the relationship, and how to communicate better. These sessions will generally take place with another marriage counsellor, due both to confidentiality issues as well as to avoid bias. Sometimes a couple will attend marriage counselling at the same time as one or both individuals attend individual counselling.
If you are unsure about whether you need couples counselling or individual therapy, please call us to discuss your options. Generally, marriage counselling is about the marriage and how the couple operate together – how they talk to each other, how their personalities and decisions impact one another, how they resolve conflict between them, how they communicate with one another. The relationship of marriage is not an easy one, and is always needy of compromise, compassion and understanding – a marriage can always benefit from marriage counselling to aid the shared journey of life which marriage is. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
ELLEN AND DAVID’S STORY
Ellen and David have been married for 30 years. They have three children – Stephanie, 25; Judy, 17 and Rob, 15. While they have done well during their marriage, they are now financially stressed because David has lost his job and their investments have lost a great deal in value recently. While their oldest daughter is becoming established in her own adult life and has secured a good paying job, their remaining two children still have not begun university and Ellen and David are now fighting on a regular basis about money and about their future. In addition to the strain this is placing on their marriage, David is also concerned that Ellen simply does not seem interested in being sexual with him in recent months. Although Ellen has explained repeatedly that she is feeling down and is also going through menopause, David is having a difficult time accepting her explanation. After months of increasingly frequent arguments, Ellen asks that they go to a marriage counsellor in order to attempt to recover the closeness they once enjoyed. They are both miserable and they know it.
When Ellen first calls Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney’s service, she explains briefly the problems they are facing. They are assigned a marriage counsellor and an appointment is scheduled on the phone.
When David and Ellen meet their marriage counsellor, they are delighted to discover her to be a middle aged woman who they are comfortable talking to. Her name is Becca and she introduces herself by her first and last name. She explains about legal issues like confidentiality and child abuse reporting laws. She also explains that the normal session hour is about 50 minutes long and she requires 24 hour notice for cancellations unless it is an absolute emergency. Becca then asks them to complete an extensive questionnaire that includes questions about their personal history together as a couple and as individuals. Questions include topics like mood, how they perceive their spouse, financial situation, medical history, sexual history and family history.
The session then begins in earnest. As Ellen and David begin talking about their issues, it becomes clear that there is a great deal of tension between them, although they are also undoubtedly fond of each other and openly affectionate. Becca takes the time to ask questions to elicit additional information and sets ground-rules about each person being able to talk without interruption. She also allows time for responses so that neither Ellen nor David feel they are being shut out or left to hang without an opportunity to address questions they may have about issues raised.
Over the course of four months of marriage counselling, it becomes clear to Becca that not only is Ellen suffering from depression, but David is also depressed and together they are reacting off of each other. She educates them about depression and what may trigger the illness and how it is treated. She also refers Ellen to a Gynecologist for an evaluation of her hormonal levels as she suspects this may be part of her lack of sexual desire. Becca also warns that depression can contribute to lack of sexual desire.
As David and Ellen progress through their sessions, they begin to feel like they are talking more clearly with each other without feeling like they want to leave the relationship. With Becca’s assistance, their communication skills improve, as does their outlook on their current situation. Ultimately, they report improved satisfaction with their improved marriage as a result of working with Becca. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
WHERE CAN WE FIND A QUALIFIED PROFESSIONAL MARRIAGE COUNSELLOR IN SYDNEY?
If you and your spouse would like to consult with a professional marriage counsellor or would like additional advice, please contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.
Fincham, F. D., & May, R. W. (2017). Infidelity in romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 70-74.
Harris, C. R. (2000). Psychophysiological responses to imagined infidelity: The specific innate modular view of jealousy reconsidered. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 1082-1091.
Bevan, J. L., Finan, A., & Kaminsky, A. (2008). Modeling serial arguments in close relationships: The serial argument process model. Human Communication Research, 34(4), 600/624.