Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Benefits of Couples Counseling
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times - always with the same person.”Mignon McLaughlin
When our relationship with our significant other feels broken, some may see divorce as the next step. However, more couples are realizing that unhappy marriages can be mended. The divorce rate for Americans has decreased from roughly 872,000 in 2010 to about 630,505 in 2022. Couples counseling is one reason spouses can stay together. By getting professional help, couples can work through specific issues safely in a relatively short time. The question isn’t “Can my marriage be saved?” but “How can we save our marriage?” With the help of a qualified therapist and a mental toolbox filled with the following 8 skills, you and your partner will likely be able to repair the damage to your relationship and have a successful marriage.
Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Four Requirements
If you have a troubled marriage, the best thing you can do to save it is to get couples counseling. Marriage therapy doesn’t mean that you or your partner have failed. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means you are invested in the marriage and want to improve your situation together.
A marriage is a living entity. In couples counseling, the marriage is in therapy, not the individuals. There are no sides taken because both spouses are on the same team. Unlike traditional therapy for individuals, the most effective couple’s therapy does not plumb the unconscious or seek to identify the psychopathologies causing people to behave in destructive ways. Couples therapy works best when it focuses on the perpetuating patterns that are driving couples apart and what positive steps each person can take to change them.
There are some prerequisites that the marriage team (you and your spouse) need to agree with to have positive couples counseling results. These are:
- A common goal of repairing past and present relationship damage.
- Both partners have to put in equal amounts of time and effort.
- Both partners must commit to doing whatever is needed to solve the problems in the marriage.
- Both partners must understand damaging the marriage means you’ve damaged the trust between each other.
Marriages are saved by reconstituting the trust lost between each other. The damage is often done to our expectations and faith in ourselves and our spouse. Trust is the foundation of any successful partnership. For marriage, trust expectations may be expressed as:
- You trust your partner loves you.
- You trust your partner to keep their vows.
- You trust your partner to tell you the truth.
- You trust your partner to have your best interests at heart.
- You trust your partner is communicating their needs to you.
- You trust your partner respects your boundaries.
- You trust that you are safe with your partner.
- You trust that your partner trusts you.
If trust is broken and ignored, small issues become big problems fast.
How Can My Marriage Be Saved? 8 Skills For a Successful Marriage
Can a marriage be saved just by going to marriage counseling? Maybe, but there is hard work ahead in counseling sessions, and you need tools to help you fix problems. Couples need to learn some essential interpersonal skills to step back from the brink of divorce and rebuild trust in each other.
Skill 1: Listen to Hear, Don’t Listen to Reply
Communication is key to any relationship. However, most couples find the problem isn’t a lack of communication but feeling unheard. Bad communication contributes to an impaired partnership. We are often too busy thinking about what we want to say next that we don’t hear what our partner says. Try to listen without judgment.
Skill 2: Speak Honestly
Speak to your partner with vulnerability, honesty, and respect. Don’t assume they know what you need or what you mean. Although speaking honestly can create anxiety, the truth really can set you free and establish new bonds of trust.
Skill 3: Put Your Swords and Shields Down
Use “I” statements to avoid directly accusing your spouse of wrongdoing. Try not to take a defensive position when listening, either. Instead, try to relax and control your primitive, reactive side so you can listen without taking things personally. If something your spouse says really does hurt you or makes you angry, calmly explain to them how you feel and why you feel that way.
Skill 4: Validate Each Other
Don’t try to fix your partner's problems. Let them speak and empathize with them. Sometimes, we just need commiseration and a partner who understands. You don’t have to agree with your partner’s statement, but you can validate their feelings about the experience they are describing.
Skill 5: Learn How to Apologize
Sometimes simply saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Resentment can build if the person who did something wrong doesn’t feel truly remorseful for their actions or doesn’t understand the full impact of their behavior.
An effective apology shows remorse, repairs damage to trust, and makes amends. If the spouse who was wronged gets an effective apology to their satisfaction, the relationship may be repaired. Apologies need to include empathy and compassion, the admittance of the mistake, and genuine remorse. Both partners need to understand the impact of the offending behavior and the repercussions on the trust bond. This isn’t about assigning blame, either. Apologies are done with the intent to heal and move forward.
Skill 6: Don’t Play the Blame Game
Couples tend to blame each other for the current state of the marriage. While the other person may be responsible for some issues, you are likely responsible in some way too. We can work on our behavior and come together to build a stronger union.
Skill 7: Forgive and Forget
Learning to truly forgive and forget is another skill couples can use to save a marriage. If you have received a satisfactory apology and amends were made, don’t hold your partner’s mistake over their head. It may take time for you to truly forgive your partner for their transgressions and rebuild trust bonds, which is ok.
Skill 8: Understand Your Partner’s Needs and Your Own
You need to know your own needs for a successful marriage. Respect each other's boundaries and solidify your non-negotiables. Boundaries and non-negotiable examples include:
- Types and frequency of physical affection
- Whether or not to have children
- Parenting methods
- Religion in the household
Can My Marriage Be Saved After Infidelity?
Yes, saving a marriage after infidelity is possible. Infidelity does not always lead to divorce. Sometimes cheating can be a conduit for a better relationship if the unfaithful person and their spouse work with a therapist. The tricky part is determining whether the couple wants to stay together for the sake of staying together or if they truly want to move past the indiscretion. However, there are key things that need to happen for the spouses to move forward. These include:
- The person who was unfaithful needs to work on making the repairs to the marriage. They can begin by expressing true remorse for breaking the marital bond and hurting their spouse.
- The repairs made by the offending spouse need to be adequate and to their partner's satisfaction.
- Rebuilding trust after an extra-marital affair can take time. Allow space for healing and processing thoughts.
Considerations Before Divorce
Before jumping straight into divorce, you need to consider all aspects of ending the marriage. Of course, the priority will always be the safety and well-being of all parties involved in the relationship.
Should you stay together for the sake of the children?
This depends on everyone’s physical and mental health. If you are screaming and fighting in front of the kids, seek couples counseling. Children are deeply affected by aggressive behavior, and you may be doing more harm than good.
Other considerations to make before divorce include:
- Have you both done all you can to save the marriage?
- Remember why you both got married and why you fell in love.
- Do the positive aspects of your relationship outweigh the bad?
- Consider the legal, financial, and living arrangement challenges of divorce. Always get legal advice before pursuing anything in the court system.
The Benefits of Couples Counseling
Couples counseling has many advantages, but the biggest benefit is having a safe space and a mediator to help you resolve conflicts. Couples counseling also provides instructions on how to use relationship skills to make the marriage work.
A relationship therapist will help both of you learn to take the middle path between your needs and your partner’s needs. Both spouses will learn the art of compromise when applicable, so you can each bend a little to reach a common goal. A therapist can help both people in a relationship see their partner’s perspective and develop empathy for what they are experiencing.
A therapist will also help you address issues as they come up. The best time for couples counseling is before problems begin so you both have the skills needed to deal with future conflicts and keep the marriage a priority.
Couples Counseling and Positive Results
You should be able to tell early on if the therapy is helpful. Within the first couple of sessions, each partner should feel that the psychologist or relationship expert understands his or her point of view and is actively structuring the sessions. The relationship should be improving in five to eight sessions.
People in couples counseling have over an 80% success rate. However, research shows that going alone to individual counseling for marital problems increases the chance of divorce. That’s because the client is telling only one side of the story to an empathetic therapist. In addition, therapy can become a gripe session about how unhappy the person is in the relationship. The absent partner looks even more like a monster, exacerbating the couple’s polarization. That is not to say you can’t have individual therapy sessions for relationship problems. For example, suppose one partner’s depression or commitment issues caused the discord. In that case, that person might benefit from individual counseling to work on those personal issues (though if the marital problems came before the depression, couples therapy is the way to go). It can also be helpful to bring in your partner for a session or two of individual counseling.
If you and your partner want to save your marriage, or if you want the skills needed to prevent problems in the future, consider making an appointment with one of our specialized therapists. Goodman Psychologist Associates has expert couples counseling therapists with well over 50 years of combined experience. Call 1-630-377-3535 or visit our appointments page to schedule a session today.