What Happens in a Marriage Counselling Session?
- Our marriage counsellors are professionally trained to facilitate better communication. We work to make sure that each of you have a chance to speak and be heard. Our counsellors will teach and encourage you to become a better listeners and to better communicate your needs. This will help you gain a greater understanding of each other’s needs and concerns without falling into a spiral of conflict or avoidance.
- You will work on real life issues and your marriage counsellor will intervene in real-time to teach you better interaction and communication techniques. Homework is sometimes suggested between sessions.
- The first session is a chance for you to meet your counsellor and ask about their approach. This is also a time for the therapist to gather background information about your relationship and your marital problems. You will also begin real work on learning new skills and on developing an understanding of the root of the problem.
Many couples decide to come to counselling to learn to deal with conflict and arguments. Other common concerns we work with include financial problems, approaches to childrearing, managing stress, coping with infidelity, blended family issues, lack of connection, and sexual issues, just to name a few. Using specialised therapeutic processes, we can offer you a much better chance to negotiate through these tension points. Not only can you address the issues at hand, you can gain lasting communication and relationship skills that can improve your relationship in the long-term (1).
WHAT IS A TYPICAL SESSION LIKE?
Most marriage counsellors start by asking you about your history together. They will be interested to find out more about when your relationship problems began and to hear from each of you about what you think is causing the problems. They may ask about when you last felt happy together and ask you to reflect on what has changed.
They may ask about children and if you have a blended or step family arrangement. History may be collected in a variety of ways, including interviews during the session or asking you to complete a questionnaire. If you are asked to complete a questionnaire, it may contain questions about your history, your ethnic and cultural background, your sexuality, beliefs and values.
Many marriage counsellors divide the session into segments, including time for review of the previous week, time to talk about new issues and time for practice exercises, role play or other interventions.
HOW DO MARRIAGE COUNSELLORS MEDIATE DISCUSSIONS?
One of the ways your therapist aims to avoid bias is to allow everyone involved to be heard in the discussion, aiming to provide equal opportunity for both parties to talk. If discussions become heated your counsellor will work with you to calm the situation and to find less aggressive ways to express yourselves. Your counsellor will teach non threatening ways to make yourself heard, and will encourage each partner to truly listen and reflect back their understanding of what has been said.
At the beginning of the appointment, the counsellor may ask how the past week has been and if there are any specific issues that came up from homework assignments or as a result of discussions from the previous week.
Often, your counsellor will set up ground rules at the beginning of therapy to make sure that the boundaries are clear and allow for any questions that may arise as a result. A common ground rule is that there will be time during each session for each partner to talk without interruption from the other partner. During this time, your marriage counsellor or psychologist may ask questions to elicit more in-depth information or to expand on an idea or concept. Once the partner has finished talking, then their spouse is allowed to respond without interruption.
If there are conflicts that arise from the discussion then the therapist or marriage counsellor will act as the mediator and model active listening and communication skills. These skills are also often taught to the couple. One way of doing this is to ask the couple to role play or continue their discussion so that the marriage counsellor can point out useful communication practice. This is also an opportunity for married couples to practice their listening and communication skills as part of the mediation process and in a safe and calm environment.
RICHARD AND LEIAH’S STORY
Richard and Leiah have been married for over 20 years. They met when they were in their early 30s and decided to get married after going out for about a year. Neither had been married before and soon they were starting their family. Early in their marriage, Leiah agreed that she would stay home and take care of the children and Richard would spend his energy working as a civil engineer, a job he loved. Now, 20 years later, the kids are moving out of the house and beginning their adult lives and Leiah is feeling left behind. Richard has his work and the kids don’t need her any more, at least not like they did when they were little. For his part, Richard has been happy with their arrangement and is not completely sure why Leiah is unhappy. When she suggested they attend marriage counselling, he was surprised. But he was also aware that Leiah was not able to communicate her worries to him in a way that he could understand. Leiah called and made an appointment at a local marriage counselling centre.
Janice is a marriage counsellor with 20 years of experience. She has extensive experience working with older couples who have been married for many years.
When Richard and Leiah arrived for their session with Janice, they were both somewhat anxious because they each had their own concerns about what is about to be said and how Janice would handle allowing both of them to speak so that they could express themselves fully.
After meeting Janice and listening to her carefully talk about legal issues and confidentiality, both Leiah and Richard began to slowly relax. Janice explained how she works with couples and stated that she works very hard to allow both members of a couple to have time to talk during sessions. She also explained that a portion of each session would be dedicated to reviewing the week and week’s assignments and a portion of the session would be set aside for them to discuss new issues that would be worked on.
Janice also asked Richard and Leiah to each fill out a questionnaire, which was an excellent way for them to start thinking more clearly about the issues their marriage was facing.
After the first session, Richard and Leiah attended approximately eight weeks of marriage counselling. During these sessions, both of them were able to talk about how they perceived their relationship and the areas that they struggled with and had frustrations about. Leiah was able to explain with Janice’s help that although she was happy as a mother, but that over the past several years she had begun to think about a career of her own and she wanted to return to school to become a teacher. Her interest in teaching had been sparked as a result of helping out in the classroom with her own children and she had come to realise she might have a talent working with young children. Richard expressed some surprise at this insight since he really had not thought about Leiah ever having an actual career other than being a mother and his wife.
As they talked about the issue of Leiah returning to university, Janice was able to help them learn improved communication skills by demonstrating and modeling listening and communication skills and then allowing them to role play reversed positions. Not only did this activity help them with communication skills, but it also allowed them to see one another’s perspective in a way they had not before.
By the end of the marriage counselling sessions, both Richard and Leiah expressed satisfaction with the improvements to their relationship as a result of seeing Janice over the past eight weeks. They reported that they were now talking more often and more easily, felt closer and more loving than before and understood each other at a deeper level than they had before seeking professional counselling.
HOW DO WE FIND A QUALIFIED PROFESSIONAL MARRIAGE COUNSELLOR IN SYDNEY?
If you and your spouse are considering marriage counselling and believe you would benefit from a consultation with a professionally trained qualified marriage counsellor or psychologist, please contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.
Wiebe SA, Johnson SM, Lafontaine MF, Burgess Moser M, Dalgleish TL, Tasca GA. Two-year follow-up outcomes in emotionally focused couple therapy: An investigation of relationship satisfaction and attachment trajectories. J Marital Fam Ther. 2017; 43(2):227-244.