Don't Expect A Quick Fix From Marriage Counseling
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Mental health professionals--psychologists, therapists, counselors--can help married couples try to keep their marriages from ending in divorce, but only if each spouse has a realistic understanding of how marriage counseling works.

Many of the divorcing couples I see tell me they tried marriage counseling, and it was a waste of their time, energy and money. When you look a little deeper, it's easy to see why the counseling didn't work.

Some couples say they've tried counseling "a lot". What they describe, however, is that they've seen four or five different counselors, two or three times each. They wanted a quick fix, instant gratification. They didn't understand that they had gotten themselves into the mess they were in with years of practice doing things wrong and that it would take more than a month or two to unlearn those old, bad habits and learn new, useful habits. It was as though they expected the counselor to give them a pill to make things all better, instantaneously. They also had expected the counselor would do the work and they could be passive observers. That's not how counseling works.

I've also seen couples where each spouse says he or she went to counseling because the other one clearly had a problem. Each went to counseling to change the other. They didn't understand that the reason to participate in counseling is for each to change him or herself. Their thought process should be, "My life is a mess. I want to change it. I need to learn what I do that contributes to the problem, because I have the power to change what I do."

None of us has any power whatsoever to change someone else, and counseling won't change anyone who doesn't want to change. The message is that the reason for anyone to go to counseling is to fix him or herself, not to fix their spouse and sometimes fixing yourself means simply changing the way you react to your spouse..

Still other couples go to marriage counseling because they want the counselor to make things the way they used to be, before they had marital problems. But going backwards is not what counseling is about either. Besides going back doesn't make sense. What the couple once had didn't work, or they wouldn't be having problems. Counseling is about negotiating a new deal, a new way to interact and make decisions. Counseling is about change--how to change from ways that are causing us or others pain and how to accept changes that are a natural, unavoidable part of life.

Divorcing couples who never even attempt to work it out with the help of counseling make me sad. They're throwing their marriages away without even trying. But divorcing couples who do try counseling need to be prepared to work hard, to be patient and to make and accept change.

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