Does Marriage Counseling Work?

The short answer…it depends. Couples counseling can be one of the most powerful healing agents available. It can truly transform your relationship and your life. But it can also turn out to be a huge waste of your time and money and, in some cases, make things even worse than they were before.

Your best bet to getting the most out of the counseling experience rests with YOU. It is YOUR relationship. YOUR money. YOUR counseling.

To begin with, do your best to choose the right counselor. Here are some quick guidelines to finding the “right” counselor.

  • you and your partner feel comfortable with this person.
  • The counselor is truly a relationship expert. 75% or more of their caseload should be working with couples. This is harder to find than you might expect, but it’s worth the effort.
  • The counselor is not afraid to call either of you out on your stuff. Some counselors are conflict avoidant and have a very difficult time holding a partner accountable for bad behavior.
  • The counselor is directive. They offer you more than the standard “How does that make you feel?” line.
  • You can afford to see this person regularly for years if that’s what it takes. A solid, experienced couples therapist will be costly. Expect $150 to $400 an hour. This is not the time to look for someone cheap. A really good couples therapist is worth the cost. You can certainly find someone for less money but that doesn’t mean you will get anything of value from the experience.

Finding the right therapist is only the beginning. After finding the right therapist, it is important for you and your partner to be the right kind of client. Being the right kind of client is more than just showing up to your session each week and hoping the counselor is good enough to fix what is broken. Fixing you is not their job. Showing you what needs to be fixed is! A good therapist will help you see things about yourself, your partner and the pattern of interaction between you. It’s up to you to find the motivation and courage to be willing to look at yourself honestly and change. So here are some quick guidelines for how to be the right client:

  • You are patient and willing to put in the time. Lasting change is not quick or easy. Expect setbacks and have the persistence to keep working.
  • Be willing to be uncomfortable. Few people are comfortable being confronted with how they really show up in their relationship. Most people have an idea or story they tell themselves where they are more innocent and their partner more guilty. Be willing to look at yourself honestly.
  • Manage your reactions. If you are someone who is very reactive to criticism, you are going to make the therapy process much harder and longer for everyone, including your therapist!
  • Be willing to focus more on changing you than changing your partner. If you really want your partner to change, you will have to focus on what you do that makes it harder for your partner to give you what you want.
  • Risk vulnerability. You will have to speak up about what you want and need even if your partner reacts poorly. That takes courage!

When the right kind of client finds the right kind of marriage therapist, big impactful change in your marriage is possible! If you are the right kind of client and ready for change, consider giving us a call or scheduling an appointment online.

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I Wish My Spouse Wanted Sex As Much As I Do

At some point in the counseling process I talk sex with just about every couple I counsel. Sex tends to be one of those hot topics that prompts couples to initially seek counseling and often they come ready to talk about it – or the lack of it – in their relationship. But even when they don’t, it’s still something we usually cover. Why? Because I believe sex is that important in a marriage.

Most of the time, both spouses will agree that sex is important. Beyond that however, agreement is often hard to come by. More times than not I hear something along the lines of “I wish my spouse wanted sex as often as I do.” Or, “I wish my spouse would initiate sex more”. Or even “I want my spouse to desire me.”

Here’s the thing, it’s rare (as in really rare) that I find a couple who shares the same level of sexual desire. Instead, what I find to be most typical, is one spouse has a significantly higher sex drive than the other, which causes frustration and resentment for both of them. Though not always the case, more often than not, it’s the husband with the higher drive. I’ll talk more about the exceptions to this generalization in another post, but for now, I hope you’ll hear me out.

Let’s Talk Hollywood

The media has significantly influenced our sexual expectations. Specifically, they have “masculinized” sex. What does this mean? It means Hollywood portrays sex according to how a male views and experiences sex, and they give women these same masculine characteristics. It’s generally a testosterone-heavy experience. The woman is visually stimulated and shown to be the aggressive pursuer. And, the sex is always a spontaneous desire. How real-world is that?

Not very.

The truth is men and women are wired differently. This includes how we are wired for sex. Most of us know this and yet we don’t always know what it means from a sexual desire standpoint.

Let’s Talk Biology

For women, it is important to understand men are driven primarily by one hormone – testosterone. And it’s always on! A woman’s hormonal chemistry is very different and often absent of – at least initially – that high arousal or what Milan and Kay Yerkovich, authors of How We Love, refer to as the “Panting Factor”.

A study by Rosemary Basson, MB, FRCP showed that whereas men have a spontaneous desire for sex, women have a more responsive desire. A woman’s desire for sex usually comes much later in the sexual experience than a man’s. Her reaction is in response to her partner’s sexual desire rather than a spontaneous ignition of her own libido. She may want the emotional and physical closeness with her partner, but lacks the sexual arousal and desire a man has at even the first thought of sex.

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To compare the sexual experience by gender to a NASCAR race, men are generally at the starting line with the car in gear, ready to put the pedal to the metal. Women, on the other hand, may start the race with their car in neutral and take a few laps to get up to full speed. Not very Hollywood, is it?

Let’s Talk Real-World

So does this mean most women never want sex? No. Don’t enjoy sex? Of course not. Does it mean a husband should never expect his wife to initiate? Again, of course not.

What it does mean however, is that a couple who strives to understand their partner’s pre-wiring is better able to carry realistic expectations into the bedroom and therefore enjoy the encounters more.

If both spouses can accept that a woman’s desire is often responsive, I’ve found it to be a bedroom game-changer that can relieve both the disappointment and pressure one or both spouses may feel related to their sexual relationship.

Negotiating Sex

What I teach my clients is to negotiate their sex life, to talk about sex openly and honestly. Yes, I said negotiate. No, it doesn’t look like what you see in the movies folks, but it works. What doesn’t work is non-verbal guessing games where both parties assume what the other person does or does not want. Guessing just breeds disappointment and unrealistic expectations.

With good negotiation, a wife can be open to a sexual encounter because she loves her partner and desires the emotional closeness it brings. She can also initiate a sexual experience because she understands her husband’s desire and knows that after a few minutes her desire will likely match his, and together they can enjoy the encounter.

A husband can recognize that his wife may not initially be feeling the passion and desire that he is feeling, but can negotiate a time when she is open to an encounter and the emotional closeness it can bring.

A Mutually Satisfying Sex Life

A mutually satisfying sex life is possible even when partners have vastly different levels of desire. It takes work though. And if you are a couple that is not used to communicating openly about difficult and sensitive topics, chances are negotiating sex is going to be a real struggle. That’s where we can help you get started and actually teach you how to do it. Whether that’s in person or over the phone, you can start down the path now by scheduling an appointment online or simply calling us.

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