What In marriage counseling help 'em

By James Quandt, LCSW
Oak Park, IL
If marital counseling was like a board meeting, or just a friendly chat, it might be simple. But when there is hurt and bad thinking, and sometimes two people with these at the same time, it can get sticky!

Some literature in the counseling fields suggests a very small amount of the growth made by couples in counseling is due to specifics of the approaches used in the counseling. Rather, it is suggested, the degree of hope that a couple holds is the greatest determinant. A capable counselor may be helpful in instilling hope. Here are some other variables in whether the couple might receive the help and grow.

First of all, the degree to which they are teachable and open to change obviously matters. Their humility, and willingness to tolerate feeling bad (which can happen if their spouse really speaks their mind!) matter.

But with that, is there any resistance in either of them--perhaps of which they aren't even aware? Pride, doom-and-gloom thinking, self-reliance, or oversensitivity to criticism could sap their drive.

The traits of the helper also count. Empathy, firmness, or the ability to motivate or to encourage are factors here, as is gender (due to perceptions of the clients toward a helper's gender). Also, the role the couple sees the helper in matters; for example, a pastor whom they will see on the next Sunday morning might be seen differently from a helper who is more removed. Past interactions between the helper and couple are part of this.

The above is the stuff of research and professional journals. But those who have a mighty faith in God know that a key is God Himself, who gives grace and help to those who earnestly seek Him. Marriage is complex, and what helps people is sometimes a combination of factors. But couples who want to grow have the opportunity to recognize: Often, there is hope! Hope, whether they see it at a given time, or not.