How to know you are ready for couples counseling

July 23, 2018

“Do you think we need counseling?”

When folks realize you are counselor, this is a question you hear often. I suppose it’s like financial advisors being asked about the stock market and mechanics about what the noise under the hood might be. Almost without exception, I tell those that ask me: I think every couple needs counseling.

Why would you NOT need counseling?

Really, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise for most couples to need help navigating marriage. After all, you’re two people from two different upbringings with two separate life experiences. You have two unique perspectives and two distinct – sometimes clashing – personalities. And then you sign up for a partnership “in sickness and in health” and “until death do us part” where you do life in extremely close quarters, let one another see your most private moments, expose your most intimate insecurities and most unattractive sides, and perhaps try to raise kids together. Why in the world would any of us think we could live for decades (decades!) together without some kind of professional help?

It’s craziness, when you think about it.

''This is a crazy, and sometimes a scary one, and it's an enormous, enormous blessings to have someone with which to journey through it.'' Click To Tweet

The perception of some is that counseling is what you do when the wheels have fallen off and you are on the brink of divorce. While “wheels off” situations certainly warrant counseling, I believe EVERY couple can benefit from counseling. Most couples need to seek professional counseling at some point in their marriages, and sometimes at several points. We should do it whether we’re in crisis or not, simply out of a desire to deepen and sustain as much intimacy as possible. This is a crazy world, and sometimes a scary one, and it’s an enormous, enormous blessing to have someone with which to journey through it.

In my job, I’m driven by the fact that marriage CAN be a joyful, fulfilling, inspiring, comforting, pleasurable, and even glorious journey. I want that so much for all of us! If anything, I hope you can hear my passion for marriage and for the role good marriage counseling can play in ensuring you are getting the most from your relationship.

But just because you need marriage counseling doesn’t mean you are ready for it.

How to know you are ready for counseling

Most therapists will incorporate something similar to these questions into their first session with new clients as they set the stage for the work to be done. I’ve based the ones below on material from Peter Pearson, cofounder of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, Calif.

If you can’t answer affirmatively in each of these areas, chances are couples counseling will be ineffective for you. In other words, if you answer ‘no’ to any one of these questions, you will need to do some more self-examination before wasting your time and resources in therapy.

1. Are you ready to admit you need to grow as an individual?

  • Surprise, surprise, couples counseling is as much about the individuals in relationship as it is the couple. Yes, your counselor will address communication styles. Yes, we’ll talk about new partnering behaviors. But effective counseling comes down to how much each individual is willing to work on themselves.
  • More than anything else, your answer to #1 will determine whether counseling will “take” for you or not.


2. To grow, are you willing to identify and improve specific areas of the relationship you’re not handling well?

  • This is rubber-meets-the-road territory. It’s huge to admit to #1, but are you willing to go through the growing pains of improving yourself?

    I often use the analogy of a street. If your marriage is the street, each partner in the marriage owns a side of the street. You are responsible for how you show up on your side. Your counselor will help you see how you show up on your side and more importantly, what you need to do to improve the relationship. Are you willing to let your counselor and spouse hold you accountable for the changes to which you commit?


3. Are you committed to continue working on yourself even if you think your partner isn’t doing their work?

  • Going back to the street analogy, are you willing to take ownership and make improvements to your side, regardless of what your spouse does with theirs? I know, this is asking a lot. It takes a lot of unselfishness and self-control. But in my experience, when one spouse sees the other one working on themselves without expecting something in return, magic can happen.


4. Are you willing to manage your emotions?

    • This is the final consideration for a reason. In the counseling process you’ll likely have to face some things about yourself and often they are things that aren’t very attractive. This can cause strong emotional responses which can overwhelm you if you let them. A professional counselor can show you how to process these emotions in a positive way, rather than let them control you.


  • If a couple isn’t prepared to fully commit to all 4 of these, they may need therapy but in reality are not ready for it. For couples therapy to be successful, you must be motivated enough to make a sustained effort, take the emotional risks, and devote the time required to create a better relationship..


Just wanting it isn’t enough

Peter Pearson likens it buying a gym membership. Many of us have done it: we are motivated enough to sign up, we start paying a monthly fee….. and then we let any and every excuse get in the way of actually going and working out. We might drop in occasionally and give a half-hearted effort, but the commitment really isn’t there. We barely break a sweat and then we feel bad because nothing is changing.

Just wanting something is not the same as doing something to make it happen.

I hope you feel your marriage is worth not only showing up for, but actually so fighting for. I hope you decide it’s time to do something. Believe me, as one who has tried it on her own, it helps a lot to have a professional trainer who can assess your current situation, lay out a plan, and guide you through each step. When you are ready to commit, we are ready to help you make it happen.

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