Marriage is hard. In fact, it has been suggested that more than half of first marriages end in divorce or dissolvement. In the past few years of lockdowns and quarantines, marriages have taken a knock.
Difficulties in relationships have been linked to a number of mental health problems including anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Maintaining healthy relationships is central to ensuring a long, healthy and happy life. Marriage counselling is a remarkably successful tool in managing difficulties within a relationship, yet it is underutilised. Only ~25% of divorced couples sought marriage counselling before the divorce. Why?
Studies have identified a number of barriers to seeking relationship help, including an unwilling spouse, stigma and feeling that it is ‘too late’.
The Unwilling Spouse
In most cases one spouse has the idea to seek help, they are willing to set up a meeting and readily talk about the difficulties they are facing, and the other spouse for whatever reason is reluctant. In order for counselling to be most effective, both parties must be equally invested in the process.
The best way to encourage this is to think about counselling as a positive process to strengthen a relationship rather than an indication of failure. Ideally, counselling should become part of relationship maintenance and not a last resort.
People tend to shy away from counselling if they believe others will judge them for their struggles. This is true in all forms of counselling, and in marriage counselling, there is an additional fear that the counsellor will judge the client or take sides. This is a difficult issue to manage because it often comes from past experiences.
Counsellors must try to reframe the counselling process and move away from the client’s idea that they need to fix a problem and rather focus on working together to improve the dynamics of the relationship. There is rarely a cut and dry right and wrong when it comes to relationship difficulties, rather a complex interplay of emotions and behaviours that negatively affect the dynamic.
Feeling it is ‘Too Late’
Previous studies show that some couples wait up to 6 years before they seek help with their relationship. The longer the conflict persists, the more difficult it is to resolve. It is however never too late to start working on something as important as a marriage. Counselling can definitely still be effective in providing insight into the complexities of the conflict.
Developing healthy habits at any point in a relationship, through marriage counselling is an investment in your relationship. The skills you can learn will help a couple navigate the inevitable conflicts that will arise as they journey through life together.