Is he making things better or worse?
Sometimes we wonder why so many good folks in America have fallen prey to the lies and distortions about marriage they hear from uninformed "experts" or people with political agenda.
Why are so many willing to accept the negative pronouncements about marriage: it is a failed institution (it is not); the divorce rate is over 50 percent (it is well below that number for first-time marriages); people don’t get married anymore (three-quarters-plus of adults in America will get married at least once in their lifetime); we can just live together and be happy (not that simple); good sex is all that matters (over 33 years of research rates the importance of sex to a successful marriage as only 6 on a 10-point scale)? The pronouncements go on and on.
We have studied successfully married couples for over 33 years. We have traveled to 49 countries on all seven of the world’s continents. And while our focus has been on those who have made their marriages work, we are also constantly reminded that some marriages need help. Some marriages need a third-party to help them make their marriage survive and thrive.
As you seek someone to help your marriage work through the issues confronting it, it is critical to find marriage advice from a marriage counselor who doesn't make bad marriage counseling advice like these seven mistakes. The reason it is so important to look out for these seven mistakes is because a counselor who employs any of these failing techniques can actually set back any progress you were hopeful of making.
1. Talking jargon with their clients when Simple Truths are required.
Here’s the bottom line: it doesn’t matter to you if your marital relationship is at “Stage 4.” How does knowing that help your marriage? The simple truth is, marriages facing challenges need to come to grips with the fact that marriage is not always fair, just and beautiful. Marriage is simple to understand, but making a marriage successful takes lots of hard work.
The best help a counselor can give you is to guide you and your spouse through whatever challenges your marriage is facing without resorting to jargon that you don’t understand. Working through the trying times in a marriage is not about the mystical powers of your counselor. Rather, it is about your relationship and their ability to help you and your spouse reach resolution about important issues that confront you.
2. Overly intellectualizing marriage and marital conflict.
Without a doubt, love is something you feel — in your heart, your soul and in your being. When your relationship needs help, the last thing you need is for someone to tell you that what you and your spouse are feeling with regard to your relationship can be explained by some entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the most widely-used psychiatric/psychological reference book and standard diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals worldwide.
Don’t get us wrong, the Manual is a great reference source, but in the end, an intellectual tool can’t measure love! Love is an emotion, and the best counselors know this. They act as a “guide on the side” as you and the one you love address the challenges confronting your marriage.
The best marriage counselors help your marriage get in touch with the respective emotions of you and your spouse. The best counselors help you understand what love’s got to do with it. They help you feel the emotions that cause you to come to grips with what you want from your marriage.
3. Being an advocate for a particular marital perspective instead of focusing on YOUR marriage.
Here’s a truism you can take to the bank: it is not the role of the marriage counselor to be an advocate for anything while counseling you and your spouse about your marital problems.
Frankly, their personal opinions are not relevant to your marriage. Their stories about their marriage, their parent’s marriage, or other marriages they have treated do not matter when it comes to YOUR marriage. Your marriage is, in most ways, unique! The answers you and your spouse are seeking about your marriage are not always informed by the experiences of others.
While common positive themes run through the best marriages, and while there are telltale signs of failing marriages, in the end, each marriage that is in failure is in failure for reasons that are unique to that marriage.
4. Making marriage too difficult to understand when, in fact, "simple things matter."
Our 33 years of research on successful marriage has revealed that successful marriage is, in fact, simple to understand! The problem now and always has been this: marriages fail most often because couples do not do the simple things required to make their marriage work.
A marriage counselor failing to explain and focus on the simple things required to have a successful relationship can make the marriage relationship seem more difficult than it really is. Unfortunately, when a counselor makes marriage too difficult to understand, they inhibit the relationship development of the couple they are trying to help.
The best marriage counselors work by guiding you and your spouse to understand that acts of kindness, respect, love and caring must occur every day of the year consistently for your marriage relationship to be successful.
5. Choosing sides in a marital dispute during counseling.
If you are in marriage counseling, make sure your counselor is not taking sides, or favoring the perspective of one of you over the other. Doing your best to resolve the challenges your marriage faces is an admirable goal. Working hard to make your marriage work is a good thing. However, if your counselor chooses sides, it is time to move on.
Settling or resolving a marital dispute(s) requires objectivity on the part of your counselor. The best marriage counselors understand that unconditional positive regard for their clients is of the utmost importance. Making judgments, taking sides and advocating for one or the other can be destructive. Choosing sides can fracture the trust that is required in marital counseling.
6. Failing to understand the simple notion that most marriages are worth saving, but not all.
We have said for years that most marriages are worth saving, BUT NOT ALL! Most couples that go into marriage counseling truly believe that their marriage is worth saving and can be saved. In their heart of hearts, they want their marriage to be successful.
But the truth is, some marriages are NOT worth saving. Some marriages have traveled so far down the path of no return that there is no hope. Some marriages are beleaguered by abuse — physical and mental — that they cannot and should not be saved. The consequence of saving such a marriage is destructive.
Marriage counselors make a mistake when they tell you that they can save every marriage with work. They must understand their limitations and the fact that sometimes saving an abusive relationship is downright dangerous.
7. Interjecting personal opinions and experiences into the counseling session.
The research on marriage counseling over the decades is clear: the best marriage counselor’s hold back expressing their personal opinions and experiences during the marriage counseling session. Here is a telltale sign: you are having an exchange during your therapy session and your counselor says something like, “Well, my wife and I have never experienced what you and your spouse are experiencing.”
The question is, who cares? The relationship your marriage counselor has with his or her wife or others is irrelevant to your marital relationship. And frankly, the interjection by the counselor of his or her own personal marital relationship teeters on the edge of unethical behavior on their part.
People participating in marriage counseling are very vulnerable. They deserve the best counseling they can get. Counselors are not selling snake oil. They are selling their expertise, their professional judgment, and their years of training as professional counselors.
They do not have the right to be incompetent and make any of these mistakes. When you seek marriage counseling, you have the right to seek it from a trained and competent professional who meets the requisite requirements to be a marriage counselor.
For more tips to enhance your relationship get the best-selling and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts. Available wherever books are sold. By Dr. Charles and Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz, America's #1 Love and Marriage Experts.