Keeping the Faith in Marriage Counseling

One of the first, best, pieces of advice they give you in graduate school when you’re a baby therapist is never work harder than your clients. We’re told this not just so that we don’t exhaust ourselves, but also so that we don’t run over our clients, pushing and prodding when they may not have the energy or desire to change yet. When I work with individual clients, I am fairly religious about keeping this rule for myself. Even if you have set the goal and say you want it, if it’s clear to me that you’re stalling, we explore the reasons for that and work at a pace that you’ll find manageable.

But, then there’s marriage therapy.

Many therapists really, really don’t like to do couples work. In fact, I end up with referrals for relationship counseling in spades from my colleagues because, as an article in The New York Times pointed out, riding herd over a couples therapy session can be a bit like “piloting a helicopter in a hurricane.” (If you’d like to read that excellent article, you can find it here: Working as a couples therapist requires a different skill set than the standard empathy and sensitivity necessary for a good individual counselor. Those of us that do this work have to be comfortable spending a lot of our days sitting with people in the middle of high conflict and pain. We have to be relationship “ninjas” (thank you New York Times) who are unafraid to wade right into the action.

So, don’t be surprised when I jump right in there with you, ask you to do something incredibly difficult and vulnerable and then work just as hard as you do. We’ll all be sweating it out there together. Those of you who have had individual therapy might find couples therapy to be a wild ride. Individual therapy, done well, is inherently respectful and collaborative. That’s not to say that co-joint work isn’t. But, in couples work, it’s the nature of the beast that two different points of view must be honored. More difficult still, you will be asked, in real time, to practice behavioral changes that you might be scared of making. That’s ok, though. Because, I have faith in you.

I have faith in you because I have seen couples reclaim happiness from the jaws of terrifying problems. You may not see it yet, but it’s my job to stand back from the mess, assess the patterns of communication and behavior that foul you up and create misery, and ask you to change them. I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself in my own marriage (so nothing weird, humiliating or too clinical) or that I think will set you up for failure. For the therapist, working hard means keeping the faith and vision with you. I am comfortable doing that. I have years of experience doing that, and I want to share that knowledge with you.

Are you ready to do the hard work of making your relationship better? Let’s get started together.

Your Partner in Healing,


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3 Replies to “Keeping the Faith in Marriage Counseling”

  1. Sometimes all it takes to keep the marriage alive is fate or hope. Keep the fire burning and don’t let it fade away. As long as there is even a little flicker, there is always that hope of keeping marriage afloat.

  2. I guess this is the best approach to couples therapy. In the end, it is still the couples that will be solving their own problems since they are the ones actively involved in it. The role of the counsellor is to guide and lead them towards the right path.

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