Marriage counseling works by helping couples identify and better navigate their unique challenges. Following an initial assessment of the couple in terms of strengths and needs, the therapist would then discuss their therapeutic goals and any possible approaches or ways of working together as therapist and couple.
Couples attend sessions together, whether they meet in person or by video. In addition to regular marriage counseling sessions, each partner may also be asked to attend a few individual sessions to supplement their progress. This will allow their counselor to get to know each individual better, assess each of their personal needs, and develop the very best treatment plan moving forward.
On average, couples attend marriage counseling for 12 weeks. However, marriage counseling may last longer or shorter, dependent on the couples' needs, the challenges they'd like to work through, and the pace of their progress. Marriage counselors and therapists at Thriveworks in Chapel Hill, NC work with their clients to create goals, decide on ideal timelines, and establish treatment plans.
Roseanne and Dan. Jim and Pam. Homer and Marge. Lucy and Ricky. Cam and Mitch. Florida and James. Archie and Edith. These iconic TV couples portray many of the hopes and dreams couples have when they make their vows. These couples were not perfect. No, their marriages were like everyone else’s: flawed. They had good times and bad, but they always found their love and their connection. A marriage like that sounds amazing, but in real life, marital conflict does just resolve during a 30-minute sitcom. There are not professional screenwriters to produce a storybook ending to disagreement, disconnection, or discord. But there is marriage counseling.
“All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest—never vicious or cruel.
Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership.”
Many people do not know how to battle well with their spouse. They may attack instead of presenting their needs in a healthy and constructive way. But many people are also learning the art of working through conflict by reaching out for help and working with a marriage therapist. Conflict and connection are skills that can be learned, and experienced marriage counselors can usually pinpoint the particular challenge a couple is facing and equip each spouse with the skills they need.
The marriage counselors at Thriveworks Counseling in Chapel Hill have worked with many spouses who have strife in their marriage. Our professionals work hard to create a neutral, safe space where each spouse can grow and learn so that the marriage can flourish.
Marriage Conflict and The Four Horsemen
Dr. John Gottman is perhaps the psychologist who has studied marriage more than any other. In his decades-long, famous study, he identified the four most toxic challenges that can threaten a marriage. He called them The Four Horsemen because without correcting these behaviors, spouses may be headed for a divorce. The first step to change is acknowledging if one or more of the horsemen are present within the marriage. The horsemen are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. Here is what they look like…
- Criticism — Every marriage will have times when one spouse needs to offer a critique or complaint to the other. When done respectfully, this can be a process that leads to greater intimacy. When done disrespectfully, spouses can wound each other severely. Criticism occurs when one spouse attacks the other. It looks like statements such as “You are so irresponsible. You always forget. You are insufferable.” Criticism shames a spouse and tears them down.
- Defensiveness — When problems are answered with excuses, rationalizations, and evasion, defensiveness has become a way of relating. Strong individuals accept responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, choices, and actions. Defensiveness plays the blame game. It assigns responsibility to anyone or anything besides oneself. When one or both spouses do not take responsibility for themselves, then problems can never be solved and important changes cannot be enacted.
- Stonewalling — Sometimes, spouses run away from conflict, thinking that ignoring the issue will help resolve it. However, sweeping dirt under the rug does not help. Stonewalling looks like minimizing problems, withdrawing from difficult conversations, and denying one’s own or one’s spouse’s needs.
- Contempt — Dr. Gottman identifies contempt as the most dangerous horseman because it cultivates shame within the relationship. When spouses treat each other when contempt, they treat each other as less than. They may see what their spouse is not instead of who their spouse is. In everyday life, contempt is sarcasm, eye-rolling, putting-down, and mocking.
What is your marriage like? If you and your spouse are experiencing criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and/or contempt, it may be time to reach out for it. It may be time to go to marriage counseling.
How Might Marriage Therapy Help?
People often have a hard time seeing relational dynamics when they are in a relationship. They often need a third party to observe—someone who is skilled in recognizing how marriage can work and how they can go wrong—a marriage therapist. Once unhealthy dynamics are acknowledged, they can be replaced. For example, a marriage counselor may help spouses learn how to…
- Use “I” Statements — In a healthy marriage, each spouse should feel the freedom to advocate for their own needs, feelings, and priorities. They can do so using “I” statements that avoid attacking their spouse. Spouses may say, “I like… I prefer… I need… I experienced… I need.”
- Accept Personal Responsibility — Adults are responsible for their own feelings, attitudes, choices, and actions, and strong spouses own their own behaviors. Strong marriages are unions between two adults.
- Prioritize Self-Care — When spouses know themselves well—their limitations, their triggers, and their needs—then they can often engage in conflict in a more productive way. Instead of stonewalling to avoid problems, they can take breaks as needed, but return to the issue as well.
- Cultivate Appreciation — The antidote to shame is acceptance. When spouses see themselves for who they are instead of who they are not, they can build a marriage built upon appreciation.
Marriage Therapy Appointments at Thriveworks in Chapel Hill, NC
Every marriage has difficulties, and it is ok to ask for help. The marriage counselors at Thriveworks Counseling in Chapel Hill are ready to help. When you contact our office, know that we work with many insurance companies and may take your insurance. We also offer evening and weekend sessions, and new clients frequently have their first appointment within 24 hours of their first call. Contact our office today.