Having a wonderful marriage is one of the most valuable experiences a person can have in this lifetime. Most people want this experience, and yet so few find it. How come? If two people are married and love each other, are all the necessary ingredients in place? Not really.
Being a spouse is a role that comes both from the heart and the mind. It requires loving thoughts and actions, even when you are dealing with an imperfect spouse - and there are no perfect spouses (not even you!). Thinking and acting in loving ways towards a person who is not reciprocating at the moment can be one of life’s greatest challenges. It requires effort, knowledge, and skill (e.g. understanding yourself, understanding your partner, problem solving, appreciating and negotiating difference, and even staying in a progressive direction when the other is struggling to do likewise). Couple counseling can help you and your partner gain the abilities needed for maximizing the enjoyment and minimizing the trouble in your relationship journey.
When is counseling beneficial?
Some people seek couple counseling to improve an already healthy relationship, while others seek counseling to resolve significant distress. If the communication in your relationship is breaking down, or there are feelings of insecurity, resentment, disconnectedness, or loneliness, counseling is definitely in order. Patterns of negative thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors may develop when one or both partners are trying to resolve a difficulty, but in a harmful (and sometimes well-meaning) way. If you are experiencing patterns of contempt, withdrawal, and/or a complete loss of connection, your relationship probably has a high risk for divorce if you don’t receive help. Couple counseling can help you identify what created and is maintaining problems. With skills to create better patterns, you will be able to shift to solutions that generate positive outcomes.
Who attends the counseling?
It is best if both partners in the relationship participate in the counseling. However, if your partner is unwilling to participate, you may still be able to make an impact on your marriage by making some changes on your own in counseling. Most likely, Dr. Wiest will have ideas about how to engage your partner in the counseling process, whether they are physically present or not.
What to expect:
In the beginning of the counseling process, sessions are usually weekly. Dr. Wiest may at times meet individually with the partners. Over time, as the couple moves out of problematic patterns and develops positive ways to address issues, sessions tend to become less frequent.
In the first session, Dr. Wiest will work with you to clarify the purpose of your counseling. She will ask questions to identify what problems each person is experiencing in the relationship, who is willing put effort into improving/saving the marriage, and what each person hopes to accomplish in couple counseling.
Dr. Wiest will work with you to identify elements of your relationship needing improvement: patterns, perceptions, attitudes, boundaries, communication styles, priorities, etc .
Often, a couple’s unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem have created further problems. For example, you may hide information in order to avoid potential conflict, out of fear that sharing would create an unsolvable problem. But cutting off honesty and openness in the relationship is like cutting off the flow of blood to a vital organ. In some cases, extreme tension may have tempted a partner to seek tension relief outside the marriage (staying late at work, creating attraction/emotions for another person, using drugs/alcohol), rather than addressing the problem with their spouse. Dr. Wiest can help you develop trust, confidence, and faith in the relationship, as you develop new patterns and share openly and honestly.
Marriage counseling is about working on yourself and knowing your best position/role in the relationship. You can let go of the destructive idea that you have the answers for your partner’s problems. You can learn to share what you think, feel, want, and need, without telling your partner who they should be. You will learn positive and purposeful communication skills (e.g. how to attack problems and not the other person; how to use words and behaviors to build trust, love, connection ,and positive emotions; how to identify destructive patterns that promote defensiveness/offensiveness, resentment, fear, withdrawal - and how to create new patterns; and how to communicate in your spouse's love languages).
Dr. Wiest will help the two of you work together to understand the needs of the other and of yourself. The two of you can become a team, attacking problems that come against your relationship. You are each different. You each have different strengths, skills, and vulnerabilities. You can tell your spouse who you are - you cannot tell them who they are. As you learn to listen with an open ear to who your partner is, you grow to understand the different roles you each have in the marriage. Dr. Wiest can help you accept, respect, love, and utilize your differences to make your marriage a relationship that embraces and nurtures each person as an individual.
Being married is a wonderful experience in which you can be loved in sacred ways. Be cautioned and delighted to know that marriage is meant to be a relationship in which you become intimately aware of yourself and your spouse (both your strengths and weaknesses). It is not a journey to create a wonderful spouse (unless that spouse is you). It is a journey to create love, and accept love, in the best ways you can. Your relationship can be a safe place where you and your spouse live in the full potential of love's power.
Please also see Communication Basics, Communication Skills Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, Relationship Basics, Relationship Boundaries and Self-Care, and Family Dynamics and Conflict Resolution pages for additional information.