If you are struggling in your relationship and wondering if you need couples counseling, this page on marriage counseling will help guide you.
You will learn what to expect in your first session, the work required to succeed, the marriage homework, the counseling structure and all about the marriage counseling process.
The biggest surprise? What marriage counseling is NOT (most clients have a skewed view of it).
Below are some quick links to areas of interest on this page:
- First Marriage Counseling Session
- First Session Homework
- The Marriage Report
- Marriage In Crisis
- Marriage Counseling Structure
- How Long Does Marriage Counseling Last?
- How Often Do You Come To Marriage Counseling?
- What Is The Cost of Marriage Counseling?
What Marriage Counseling Is Not
1.) It is not a time to put each other down. We will talk about what angers you about your spouse, and we will discuss unhealthy habits in the marriage. We will address all of these problems in a healthy manner to promote healing. That includes “serious sins” as well. If there are “serious sins” like affairs, alcoholism, sexual addictions, gambling, etc, we will confront them assertively by talking about the truth in a loving way. (Read here about how I address affairs and addictions in marriage.)
2.) It is not a time to decide who is right and who is wrong. Though at times, it may seem like I am delivering a judgment of which spouse is right, especially when dealing with “serious sins”, 95% of the time both spouses are right and both spouses are wrong – just in different ways. I will help you to see your achievement and your fallacies from a clear perspective.
3.) It is not a free for all. There are boundaries and structure in a session. I will help to slow down your reactions to each other. One of my roles as a counselor is provide an emotionally safe environment for you to share your needs, wants, and feelings.
The First Session
My first marriage counseling session is a lot different than other counselors. I gather a lot of information. It is two 50 minute sessions (or two hours). For first part of the session, the clients fill out assessments on their relationship in the waiting room. These written assessments usually take about 45 minutes to complete.
The assessments are divided into four sections.
1.) The first section will gather information about your ten emotional needs in the relationship including affection, sexual fulfillment, conversation, recreational companionship, honesty & openness, attractiveness of spouse, financial support, domestic support, family commitment, and admiration. (This is an adapted form based upon Dr. Willard Harley’s His Needs Her Needs.)
2.) The second section is another adapted form from Dr. Willard Harley. It is called Love Busters – which is basically six different ways that your spouse makes you mad. You will write what about your spouse upsets you, how often it happens, and how mad you get.
3.) The third section is a list of 78 statements. You will just check the statements that you feel like apply to yourself.
4.) The last section is the test for The Five Love Languages based upon Dr. Gary Chapman’s best selling book. Out of two statements, you choose which behavior that you prefer that your spouse do. For example, do you prefer “love notes” or “hugs” from your spouse? From these 30 inquiries, you will determine your love language from the five categories: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, physical touch, and acts of service.
After the assessments are completed, the couple comes back to the counseling room together. I explain counseling and the disclosure statement and informed consent agreement.
Then I ask a lot of questions from both of the spouses. I gather individual information from each spouse pertaining to the individual intake form and then I get a relationship history. I gather a lot of information. (For pictures and details about your first visit. click here.)
First Session Homework
Near the end of the session, I will give homework. I write the homework on the dry erase board. Homework will vary for each couple depending upon their particular struggles. But the following is usually what I give:
1. Date – Go on a date with your spouse without your children or other people. This means eating a meal together and doing an activity where you can have some relaxed conversations.
2. Personal Daily Devotionals – Each spouse is to take 5-10 minutes a day to read scripture, read a positive message, and pray alone.
3. Four 30 Minute Conversations – These are intentional conversations between the spouses with no one else present. Below is the structure of the conversation:
1.) Prayer – pray together.
2.) Read a short couples devotional – no more than 5 minutes.
3.) What’s up? – talk about your day, what has been going on in your life, and fun or interesting things, but do not talk about “hot button” issues.
4.) Give each other three compliments – tell the other person what you appreciate about them.
4. For every one put-down, give the other person three compliments. Your spouse will be the judge of what you say is a put-down to them, regardless of how you view it, and vice versa.
*I add other homework elements depending upon the situation. Some other homework maybe ways to build your spouse’s love bank.
Homework is given/decided upon at the end of each session. Together we will come up with what you will specifically do outside of session. Many times, it is repeated from the first session. Sometimes, it may be as simple as “have fun together”, or as difficult as “writing an apology letter to spouse”. Homework varies for each couple and each specific situation.
The Marriage Report
After the first session, I will organize the information gathered into what I call “The Marriage Report”. I usually give this to the couple at the second session. Areas of the report include:
1. Personal Data – This includes the length of marriage, ages, children, in-laws, etc.
2. Emotional Needs – The ten areas of emotional needs will be listed side by side so that it is easier to compare and contrast each spouse’s needs.
3. Love Busters – The six categories of ways that your spouse makes you mad are listed side by side.
4. Five Love Languages – Your love language and your spouse’s will be listed. If there is more than one or another one that is very high, it will be listed as well.
5. Strengths of the Relationship – During difficult times, it is easy to overlook and take for granted the strengths in a relationship.
6. Weaknesses of Relationship – I will list areas that need work – some known and some that are maybe unknown.
7. Recommended Treatment Goals – I give a brief description of the areas that we will work on together.
8. Summary – This is a brief recapping of the relationship with some encouragement.
Marriage in Crisis
Many couples only come to marriage counseling in crisis. The crisis is the presenting problem.
It may be “We had a fight last night”, “I just discovered she’s been chatting with someone on Facebook”, “I found him looking at internet pornography”, “He works all the time and never spends time with the family or me”, “My mother-in-law will not leave us alone”, and “She says that she wants a divorce”.
The first session will be the same as above, but we will begin to tackle this presenting problem. For the first few sessions, we may deal only with this presenting problem.
We may work through a specific disagreement in session or come up with specific boundaries that will help alleviate the situation. If there is a specific “serious sin” (an affair, alcoholism, substance abuse, rage-aholism, sexual addiction, etc.), we will address this first as well. (Read here about how I address affairs and addictions in marriage.)
For some couples, we continue to work on crisis issues for a while, and occasionally we are able to work on deeper issues. For others, we work past the crisis, learn new healthy relationship skills, and dig deep to address the root of the issue.
Marriage Counseling Structure
Marriages are covenants (promises) made between God and the husband and wife. A healthy marriage is built upon biblical truths. The bible directly and indirectly outlines these truths.
Many people have an understanding of what a “normal marriage” is. It is based upon their observances of their parent’s marriage, other family member’s marriages, their friend’s marriages, or marriages that they have seen on media like TV or a movie. This “normal marriage” idea may have healthy elements or unhealthy ones (biblical or unbiblical). In counseling, I will help define what is healthy in a marriage and what is unhealthy, using biblical truths.
All marriage relationships are complex and multi-layered. In session, we go as deep as the couple desires. My marriage counseling is structured like a house (adapted from Dr. David Ludwig’s marriage theory as outlined in The Power of We). As a house has pillars that hold up the roof and provide framework for the walls, marriage has pillars as well.
Marriage has four pillars: the intellectual pillar, the emotional pillar, the physical pillar, and the spiritual pillar. We work on each pillar, building and repairing where needed.
The Intellectual Pillar
This pillar specifically addresses how different people communicate. We learn how different people process information which in turn affects their communication. We will learn about Dr. David Ludwig’s communication typology Painters and Pointers. Specific skills will be taught to help you understand and connect more deeply with each other. This pillar is strong when husband and wife feel like soulmates.
Within the same pillar but on another layer, we explore the different styles of communication: passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive, and assertive. We thoroughly discuss the behaviors, the non-verbals, the beliefs, the emotions, and the goals associated with each one.
We will pinpoint when each spouse behaves these ways in the marriage relationship and beyond. Everyone uses each of the four styles at least some of the time. Spouses will be given specific tools to use so that they are more assertive with their loved ones.
We generally spent anywhere between 2-4 sessions learning these skills. Afterwards, we apply them in following sessions. I will specifically point out when someone is behaving as a painter or pointer, and when they have been assertive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or passive. The intellectual pillar is the first building block. (Planning on getting married? Here’s a pre-marital checklist of questions that you MUST discuss before saying “I do.”)
The Emotional Pillar
Conflict can be very good in a relationship. It is an opportunity for the marriage to grow and thrive. Marriages that have not been through conflict and adversity are weak and untested.
When conflict is handled well, the marriage becomes stronger. The spouses become more confident in themselves and the relationship. (Need some practical tips on conflict.)
In the emotional pillar, along with conflict, we will discuss the atmosphere in a relationship. We learn about “mood shifts” – how they occur, what happens afterward, and how to reconnect. We talk about Dr. David Ludwig’s “Freeze Dried Mood Participle” concept.
You can tell this pillar is healthy when the couple is light-hearted with each other. When each spouse is guarded and the talk seems formal, this pillar is weak. Spouses will learn specific techniques to build this pillar.
We generally spend 1-2 sessions on this pillar. As with the intellectual pillar, I will continually refer back to these principles learned. The following sessions will be applying these principles.
The Physical Pillar
Yes, sex is a part of the physical pillar, and we will discuss the different ways that men and women approach sex. Inappropriate touch or lack of touch hurts a relationship. You will gain a better understanding of what your spouse needs in the area of touch.
In addition to sex, we will explore the different roles of men and women including their strengths, fears, and perceptions. We will talk about how men are uniquely built to “go first” and protect the wife and family. We will talk about how women are the “barometer” of the relationship and have a unique ability to understand relationships on a deeper level than men.
In Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ best-selling book Love & Respect, he explains a husband’s need for unconditional respect and a wife’s need for unconditional love. We will discuss what love and respect mean to each.
We generally spent anywhere between 1-2 sessions in this pillar. As with the other pillars, we will continue to apply these principles to the marriage in the following sessions.
The Spiritual Pillar
For most of my couples, this is where we will spend most of our time. The spiritual pillar does not mean religion per se although it is a part of it. When I am referring to the spiritual pillar, I am talking about addressing our spiritual DNA (a concept developed by Dr. David Ludwig) which is located in our heart.
Our genetical DNA is composed of many combinations of the proteins adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytonsine forming a double helix spiral. Instead of protein combinations, our spiritual DNA is composed of “truths” (or core beliefs). These truths or groups of truths shape our attitudes.
An Example of the Spiritual DNA
This truth dictates your attitude toward singing. When you are at family functions or at church, your parents request that you sing a song to show off your talent. What do you do? You sing because it is written on your heart “I am a good singer.”
When you are 13 years old, you are in middle school, and you learn that there is a talent show coming up. What do you do? You sign up for being in the talent show because you can sing.
The day of the talent show, you step out onto stage, and all of your classmates are in the audience with their eyes on you. You sing, but it does not sound so good. You are pitchy and out of tune. Your classmates laugh and make fun of you. What happens to your heart?
It is broken. And that “truth” is broken as well.
You don’t want to feel that pain again, and so you form a new “truth” – “I can’t sing.” To protect yourself from pain, your heart hardens on that “truth”.
Years later, you are 30 years old and married with a 5 years old kid. At your child’s birthday party, your spouse has a cake and says, “Let’s sing happy birthday!”. What do you do? You don’t sing, or you just move your mouth and no sound comes out.
What if both of these “truths” are really inaccurate or wrong? Maybe both of these “truths” are really “untruths”. The real truth is maybe “I am an okay singer”, which means you don’t need to be singing solos, but you can sing with the choir. See how this “truth” is the healthy one while the other two are limiting and damaging in your relationships.
Discovering “Untruths” and Replacing with “Truths”
In the spiritual pillar, we will work on discovering your “untruths” and replace them with “truths”. Note that many times in order for us to replace those “untruths” we must break your heart – especially when they have become very hardened. So in counseling, many times it may be painful or get worse before it gets better.
Part of this pillar is delving into codependency which I like to describe as unhealthy relationship patterns. We will take a deep look into your relationships peeling back layers to find bitter roots and other broken truths.
As I mentioned before, all marriage relationships are complex and multi-layered. We will go as deep as the couple desires. The time that we spend in this pillar depends upon the couple.
How Long Does Marriage Counseling Last?
This really depends upon each couple. For some couples, we work through a crisis and touch on the intellectual and the emotional pillar which may take three to four months.
For others, we work through the intellectual, the emotional, and the physical pillars and work a little on the spiritual pillar which would take anywhere from four to nine months. For those with a “serious sin”, we usually will tackle that sin in the beginning and then work on all the pillars which last at least nine months (many times longer).
Those are some sweeping generalizations about the length of counseling. Each couple varies. Some couples may come consistently for a while, stop counseling, and then return to counseling a year or so later. (Here’s some characteristics of successful couples.)
How Often Do You Come To Marriage Counseling?
For the first three months, I like to see my couples weekly. We will need to meet weekly to work through any crisis and get to the biblical principles that will prevent the crisis from happening again. Research shows that it takes at least three months to begin to establish new habits.
After we meet weekly for a while (about 3 months), we may start to meet every other week, but it depends on how well the couple is doing with the homework. Many couples continue weekly for a prolonged period of time, and they like the rhythm.
After meeting for a while every other week, then we begin to meet every three weeks or monthly. Again this depends upon the couple and where they are at in recovery. A couple may stay at this pace for quite a while – maybe a year or two.
For couples in crisis, I may meet with them more often. I may meet with them more than once in a week, which may include some individual sessions.
What Is The Cost Of Marriage Counseling?
The first couples session is 2 hours long and cost $250.00. For the first part of the session, each person fills out written assessments of their marriage or relationship. The latter part of the session is spent with the counselor. From the information of the 1st session, the counselor will write a marriage/couples report that will be presented at the 2nd session. The cost of the report is included in the $250.00. All other sessions are for 50 minutes and cost $110.00 per session.