Approximately half of the clients who come to see me are coming for Couples counseling, and the vast majority of those couples are in traditional marriages. The challenges they are experiencing range from minor differences about running the household, to communication problems, to financial arguments, family conflict and all the way to problems with trust and infidelity. Each type of these problems is very unique and requires that the therapist clearly understand the background of what has led to the current conflict the couple is experiencing.
Recognizing that when couples come for counseling, one of them is usually a little more willing to be there than the other, I believe it is necessary for the couple to make an honest commitment to giving the counseling process a chance to work. One of the things that is a little different in my counseling practice is that I require couples who come to see me for counseling to commit to at least three sessions. This gives each of them a chance to get comfortable talking about their relationship with a counselor, give their individual sides of the story, and get some initial feedback and "homework" to strengthen their relationship. After three sessions they are free to decide whether or not to continue, and whether they believe counseling will be of help to them. I believe this is fair to all involved, but especially to each individual in the couple. In fact, I have had many clients thank me for providing this kind of structure as they believe it helped improve and possibly even save their relationship. As a rough estimate, most couples are usually able to resolve their differences and see significant improvement in their relationship after an average of six to ten sessions, although some may continue longer depending on the nature of their concerns.
Another challenge that I frequently give to couples is to go beyond describing their relationship difficulties with phrases like "we don't communicate." When clients buy into the belief that they "don't communicate" they are inadvertently misleading themselves about the true nature of their conflict. They miss the fact that there is no such thing as NOT communicating. Not communicating is Impossible! Even a couple who aren't speaking to one another ARE communicating by the very fact that they aren't speaking to one another. Rather than "not communicating" the problem is usually in the "quality" of the communication. In other words the couple may not like WHAT is being communicated or HOW it's being communicated. Once this distinction is made and acknowledged couples often start to improve the quality of what and how they are communicating. From here healthy changes can come to even the most troubled and "stuck" relationships.
I have been in professional practice for 32 years now. My initial training was in Marriage and Family Therapy at Syracuse University. From there I have received training in Solution focused/brief therapy and in both Imago therapy and in the Gottman method. These are two approaches to counseling couples that have been shown to be empirically very helpful to relationship building. I also bring a healthy dose of Cognitive therapy into my work with couples, which helps each individual to stop blaming the other for their unpleasant feelings, and empowers them to adopt different perspectives which can lead to constructive solutions to their problems.
With the exception of domestic violence, chronic and reoccurring infidelity, and persistent alcohol and chemical dependency, I am a strong believer in doing all that can be done to help a couple resolve their relationship difficulties and remain together. Although by the time they come to my office they may have forgotten, most couples had relationships at one point that were working fairly well. Somehow, somewhere along the line they just may have "gotten off the track" and need some help getting things back on track. I am an optimist when it comes to the prospect of rekindling love and compassion in a relationship. But I am also a pragmatist and believe love is best expressed in ACTIONS. Love Is A Verb!
As for my own personal experience in marriage, I have been married for over 32 years at the time of this writing, and am looking forward to deepening my love and affection for my wife for the rest of our lives. No marriage or relationship is ever perfect, and there are always bumps in the road to be overcome. But with patience and perseverance all things are possible and all problems can be overcome.