Marriage Counseling: Tune-Up or Don't Fix it if it Isn't Broken
E W Says...
Great that you are wanting to make improvements in your marriage! And great that you are already aware of how you feel and what you desire. I am wondering though, does your husband feel the same way? Are the two of you able to communicate enough to get that far?
Counseling can certainly help both of you learn communication skills and more ways of relating that could make a good marriage great. And, if your spouse won't participate in couples counseling, then individual counseling can help you learn more about your potential role in the relationship and sometimes changes, even only in one person, can change the relationship. Other potential avenues of relationship enhancement could include self-help books, church groups, couples retreats, or online education.
Now to the question of should you fix it if it ain't broke.... any time a person engages in an activity that can lend itself to learning, introspection, or change, the possibility of unintended consequences exists. A marriage that once seemed "good enough" might not seem to be "enough" at all... an individual in counseling might discover things about him/herself that bring about the end of a marriage... a couple in counseling might decide they are more incompatible than they once thought... or they might decide their mutual goal of a lifelong marriage is more important than any differences or issues they might have.... there is no way to predict every possible outcome.
Ideally, you and your husband would decide as a couple what your goals are in seeking counseling, and you would then work with a therapist to reach those goals. Entering therapy should always include a disclosure of potential risks and a discussion of informed consent.
Therapy can involve issues that cause discomfort, bring up events from the past that may be painful to recall or may include discussions about relationships that were hurtful or unhealthy. Any time a person enters counseling there should be an awareness about the potential for harm. (Obviously, if there are any unprofessional or improper actions on the part of the therapist, that is not the potential for harm being addressed here. That is not acceptable at any time, and should be reported immediately to the proper licensing board.) But the potential for discomfort as a part of therapy will always exist and should be considered prior to and during treatment. This does not mean that all therapy involves discussing the past nor does all therapy revolve around hurt. It does mean that any time there is education, awareness or the potential for change, the outcome cannot fully be predicted.
If, for example, a couple enters counseling to learn better communication skills, then in general, relationship enhancement should be discussed with the counselor as the goal of counseling and that should be the focus of counseling work. However, in this example, suppose there are long-buried issues of childhood abuse which are uncovered during counseling. Ideally the couple and counselor should discuss this and the impact on the current counseling goals. A mutual decision should be reached about how and if these issues would be addressed in counseling. This could lead to an improved healing of old wounds, and lead to deeper relationship enhancement... but the discovery of these issues cannot be undone.
As with any change, adaptation, life stage, education, or medical treatment, the outcome can be positive or negative. The potential for benefit should be weighed against any potential for harm. Overall, counseling can be useful, even when seeking enhancement rather than large scale healing, but all change carries risk. I wouldn't be in a healing profession if I didn't believe in the capacity of people to make wonderful changes in their lives and their relationships, and I certainly wouldn't continue as a professional if I had not witnessed growth and change in people's lives. You are wise to consider counseling and wise to consider if you want to pursue counseling, if your situation is not dire. As with many things in life, getting help before it's too late is usually recommended - prevention is the best medicine - but being aware of the potential "side effects" and weighing your options are important too. I believe in pursuing healing and that we can make changes that make our relationships better - and I believe that in general, no one can prevent us from strengthening our relationships. And in general, I will always recommend giving counseling a try - you can always stop or change counselors - even though there does exist some risk, the potential for help is usually greater! Best wishes to you!
Page last updated Mar 27, 2013