Frequently Asked Questions About Couples Counseling

People who have never been to marriage counseling often have some straightforward questions they need answered. People who have been in marriage counseling often have the same questions, only they know what to ask.

Who attends the couples counseling sessions?

In general, I prefer to meet with both partners starting with the first session.  That way I can hear both points of view and see the relationship in action.  Sometimes one partner asks to come in alone first to see if I am the right fit; that is OK too.  But then the other partner will have the option of meeting with me alone for a session too.  It is very important to be fair and even handed.

Although the bulk of our work will be done with both partners in the room at the same time, sometimes I may request an individual session for strategic reasons or you may request an individual session for your own reasons.

Do we have to be married for couples counseling?

Of course not.  I work with couples who are dating, living together, LGBT, weighing whether to marry, to separate, or to divorce, or to reconcile.

In couples counseling, how do you decide who is right?

I assume that you both are right. I assume that you both found each other and decided that you are equally matched somehow. My job is not to take sides, but to figure out how you fell out of sync. My loyalty is not to one person but to the relationship that the two of you make by being a couple. That is why most of the marriage counseling takes place with both of you in the room at the same time.

What if my partner won’t come to the therapy?

First, tell your partner that you have decided to go for therapy whether they go or not. Therapy is going to happen. Second, tell your partner that I said that it would be helpful if they would come JUST ONE time to tell me THEIR SIDE of the story. If they still won’t come, come anyway. Therapy will be slower and rockier but it is possible to do marriage counseling with just one partner.

What happens in a first session?

A first session is 90 minutes long to allow us enough time to cover a lot of ground.  I briefly review the intake forms and ask a few questions to more fully understand your answers.  Then I will ask an open ended question about why you have come.  I listen hard and take organized notes to create a genogram of your family.  I am listening for what you think the main issues are that need work and for what your strengths as a couple are.  My goal is for both partners to explain what they see going on and to observe how you relate to each other.  When you have finished, I will summarize what I have heard and propose a tentative plan for how to proceed with the therapy.  I will ask if you have any questions.  Subsequent sessions may be 60 or 90 minutes long and may be weekly or every other week.

What if the issue is infidelity?

This is a fairly common issue.  Most marriages survive infidelity.  I try not to take a blaming stance because this will not help with healing.  However, it is important not to sweep this under the rug.  We need to explore what made the relationship vulnerable, cover the skeletal facts of when the affair started, how it ended, and focus on rebuilding trust.  If the partner who is having the affair will not stop seeing the outside person, couples counseling is ineffective.

What is discernment therapy?

Sometimes one partner or both partners, are not sure if they want the relationship to continue.  Discernment therapy creates the space to consider the tradeoffs involved in leaving the relationship versus rebuilding it.

What do you think about separating?

Statistically, more separated coupled end up divorced rather than reconciled.  It is risky.  The first question to be addressed is why a separation is on the table: what is the goal?  After that has been clarified, I can help you through all the nitty gritty details in order to minimize the hurt and damage.

What about divorce counseling?

I am a CPR relationship counselor, I will keep on working on improving your relationship unless or until one or both of you call it quits.  I don’t tell people to divorce.  (Although, if there is domestic violence I will recommend a separation to insure safety.)  If there are children, I will transfer my loyalty to protecting the interests of your children by enhancing your communication and cooperation to benefit the children.  In my eyes, our first choice is preserving the marriage.  But sometimes the best choice is to divorce and move on.  If you make that choice, I will assist you in selecting a divorce process that is fair and the least acrimonious and help your relationship to evolve.