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Episode 53 - When Should I Go for Marriage Counseling?

Episode 53 Overview

This week I have Simone Sobel, an Atlanta-based couples counselor and trauma therapist on, to discuss some important and common questions about couples therapy:

  1. When is it time to go see a couples therapist?

  2. What red flags do newlyweds need to know about that may indicate that their husband might have a personality disorder or they may be in an abusive relationship?

  3. How to find a good couples therapist?

  4. What to expect when you go to a couples therapist?

  5. Is it ever too late for couples therapy?

  6. How to know if couples therapy is working?

How do you decide who to go to between a therapist, a coach, or a mentor or religious advisor? Simone says that marriage classes and coaching are a great foundation for any couple, teaching psycho-educational tools that are beneficial to everyone, even if they've been married a long time.

When is it time to go see a couples therapist?

There are lots of common reasons that couples come to couples therapy. 

Communication is very poor (ie, they can never get on the same page about a certain issue, or there is stonewalling, chronic defensiveness, hyper-criticism, etc.)

Breach of trust in the marriage (ex, one partner spending a lot of money in secret or looking at pornography)

Devestating or dificult life events (losing a job, health crisis, loss of a child or parent)

 Lifecycle change (retirement, new baby, empty nest, a major move)

Negative cycles that aren't going away and you need outside help.

Fine tuning a good relationship (no, there don't have to be major issues to go to a therapist!)

Spiritual mentors can be very helpful for spiritual based issues, and often they give very good guidance and advice. If you find you are going again and again to your priest, rabbi, etc., and aren't making progress, that would be a time to consider a therapist.

What are some red flags that your husband may have a psychological or personality issue or disorder?

If a woman feels consistantly criticized and put down in a way that makes him/her feel insecure, demaned, or shamed.

Ongoing provocation, even with a calm or apologetic period between cycles, are considered a cycle of abuse.

If your husband is trying to isolate you from your friends, this is a red flag.

If your spouse can never take responsibility for an issue, this is also a red flag.

Kayla's note: friends are not the best place to "diagnose" your husband. A therapist will be able to distinguish between normal human misbehavior and serious dysfunction or abuse.

Simone: Find one person to speak with, more of a mentor, who is supportive. A coach or therapist can be neutral and non-judgemental. Couples can get into negative cycles and say mean things to each other, but it's not necessarily abusive.

How to find a good couples therapist?

One of the main issues with couples therapy, contributing to the high failure rate, is the number of therapists practicing couples therapy who aren't trained specifically in couples therapy.

Look for someone who focuses primarily on couples therapy in their practice, and has been practicing for a while.

Word-of-mouth can be a good way to find a good therapist. Clergy members and primary care doctors also often know of good therapists.

You can also find a therapist based on the type of couples therapy they are trained in.

Google can also be fine, as it will show you some reviews, but do more research afterwords to make sure they are still certified and credentialed to practice and to get more information about their practice.

What to expect when you go to a couples therapist?

Once you've reached out to the therapist, you will generally speak to them on the phone before the first session. Most therapists will do this call free, but very busy therapists may simply have you book a session straight away.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT, which Simone practices) is very process-oriented. The therapist isn't there to deal with the issue itself exactly, but to examine what's going on below the surface that is making it hard for the couple to resolve issues on their own. This is a process-oriented approach.

Simone starts off with a joint session to meet the couple, get to know them as a couple and observe the dynamic. 

Simone then meets with each partner individually, both to hear more about the relationship in the privacy of an individual session and also to get the attachment history of each partner.

At that point, they meet back together to discuss what she's noticed and what she thinks will be the way forward.

She then moves very quickly into the process. While the assessment period is very important, the motivation and hope come from seeing more positivity in the relationship.

Is it ever too late for couples therapy?

Part of the evaluation process is observing the level of motivation of each partner. It never hurts to try, but some couples who go to therapy have already decided that it's over, in which case the role of the therapist is limited. The therapist can also help the couple in the transition to divorce.

Is it ever a bad idea to go to couples therapy?

In some cases, it's actually not recommended to go to couples therapy. Instead, individual therapy would be recommended. This would include abuse (sexual, physical, emotional, psychological...); ongoing infidelity; active, untreated, addiction; or active, untreated, and very severe mental illenss. Couples therapy is about creating safety in the relationship for both partners to become vulnerable, which isn't possible if one partner is physically or emotionally unsafe in the relationship.

A mental health diagnosis or addiction do not mean in themselves that a couple can't go to therapy--the main thing is whether the affected partner is in treatment. In individual therapy, the therapist can educate the other partner about the illness or addiction and also empower him/her to take care of his/her own mental health, whether through education or simply by being an advocate and support system.

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