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Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting a Marriage Counselor

Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting a Marriage Counselor

Marriage counseling is helpful to anyone who is married. A marriage counselor can help a couple through difficult times and they can also help a couple have a happier marriage.

However, not all marriage counselors are suited to help all marriages. You need to know what to look for when you seek out a marriage counselor. Here are the top 8 points that I would tell a friend or family member to consider when seeking the services of a marriage counselor.

1. Know Your Counselor’s Values

If you and your spouse are of a particular faith or religion, use a counselor with that same faith background. I would not recommend that a Christian go to an atheist counselor. Your beliefs and values are going to be starkly different.

Find a counselor that has your similar belief system. How do you know what their belief system may be? Look at the counselor’s website. Most will specify if they use a specific faith to guide their faith and practice.

For example, you can find counselors that use new age practices that embrace spirituality and connection with the universe. If that isn’t your belief system and instead you are a devout Baptist, then look for a counselor that labels themselves as a Christian counselor.

When it comes to matters of the heart, you want to receive life guidance, advice, and support from someone who thinks like you do. If you go to someone who has opposing views to your own beliefs, then the counseling experience will likely not be beneficial to you. Make sure that you and your spouse consider faith, religious background, and your belief system when looking at counselors that you may want to hire.

Your marriage is serious business, so take the time and effort to look at the background of the counselor you want to hire. You want to ensure that they will counsel in a manner that aligns with your personal and marital beliefs.

For example, I know a couple very close to me who went to marriage counseling after a year of marriage. This couple would describe themselves as Christians, even though they weren’t regular attenders at the time.

After several sessions with their couple’s counselor, it was suggested by the counselor that they get divorced. Thank goodness that the couple did not agree with the counselor! They did not take the counselor’s advice and remained married. They did however, feel that their time and money was wasted with that particular marriage counselor.

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The marriage counselor held no personal stock in Christianity or the sanctity of marriage. This counselor focused on individual happiness and doing what is best for each person alone. This counselor did not specialize in helping marriages through their problems. His focus instead was on the individual rather than the couple.

However, this couple wanted the focus to be on their marriage, and helping them through their issues. They made it through that first year, in spite of the counselor and have now celebrated 40 years of marriage.

Their story is proof that you need to look at the counselor’s personal values before you dive into a counseling relationship and spend your money and time with someone who may not value what you value in life.

2. Do They Accept Your Insurance?

If you have health insurance that covers marriage counseling, then use it! The cost of good counseling is not cheap. It is well worth the money. But if you have insurance that covers counseling, then take advantage of this benefit.

You can contact your insurance company and they can provide you with the names and contact information of counselors that accept your insurance. If you found a specific counselor that you want to work with, then contact that counselor to see if they accept your insurance.

If you don’t have insurance, there are some counselors that have a sliding scale for counseling fees. They will charge based on your income level. If you think you would qualify for lower payments, then ask if they have a sliding scale available.

3. There are Free Marriage Counseling Options

If you cannot afford marriage counseling or you feel that the failing marriage is not worth investing another cent, then look at free marriage counseling options.

Don’t give up on your marriage without at least giving free counseling a try. There are many churches that offer free (or highly discounted) marriage counseling services.

For many of these churches you do not even need to be a member. These counseling sessions are often limited in number, meaning that each couple is provided a set number of sessions free.

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This is okay though because if you are one of those couples who wouldn’t get help from a counselor unless it is free, then seek out the free options because several sessions is better than none!

4. What are the Counselor’s Credentials?

A reputable counselor will typically provide their credentials right on their website. They will state where they obtained their education and what degrees that have obtained.

Look to see what kind of counseling license they hold. Most counseling licenses require a Master’s degree or higher. There are some who call themselves counselors and hold no degrees and/or license. Depending on the state where they reside, it could be against the law for them to even be practicing.

It is a good general policy to use counselors that are legitimate, meaning they have the degrees and license. You want to be counseled by someone who knows what they are doing, so don’t risk your marriage by using someone who isn’t legitimate.

5. Ask About the Counselor’s Track Record

Ask the counselor what their success rate has been with other couples who have sought their help through couples counseling. A counselor who has a good record of helping couples survive their issues, helped them work though their problems, and the couple did not get divorced, then that counselor will be willing to tell you about it.

They obviously can’t violate confidentiality laws, but they can speak about general statistics and couples that they have helped without getting too specific or providing names.

Counselors who have a good track record of success are going to be more than willing to share about their success. They will want potential clients to know that they have helped others and that their success can be repeated with you and your marital situation.

6. What to Expect in a Session

In marriage counseling, your counselor will use the techniques and methods that they have been taught and that they find to be effective in helping couples.

Not Taking Sides

Not all marriage counselors utilize the same methods. There are some general policies that most marriage counselors will hold. This includes not taking sides. They will act as a middle man or mediator, not taking either side in the marriage.

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Even if they do find that one side is “right”, then they help in a diplomatic way that does not alienate the side that is “wrong”. Therefore, don’t go into marriage counseling seeking to get the counselor on your side. The counselor’s job is not to take sides. Their job is to help you through your problems and issues, so you can have a happy marriage.

Keeping Everyone Calm

Another general policy that most marriage counselors hold is that they are going to try to conduct sessions in a manner that keeps everyone calm.

Things can get heated in marriage counseling situations. For example, a couple may go to counseling because the husband has been unfaithful. The wife is very hurt and angry. She starts yelling and pointing her finger at her husband saying “you cheated and you are the one who needs to fix this situation”.

The counselor will calmly ask the wife to stop. The counselor will then explain that pointing fingers and yelling is not allowed. The words can be expressed, but not though yelling and finger pointing.

Yelling at the husband won’t likely get a response that will work toward healing the relationship. They are there to heal the marriage, so communication of feelings is important, but it needs to be done in a way that helps the other spouse receive the message with an open heart. Yelling will only cause the other person to harden their heart toward their spouse.

Tough and sensitive topics come to light in these sessions. The counselor will work hard to make sure that couples do not interrupt one another, that voices are not raised, and that things remain calm in every session.

Tough topics can be discussed, and the counseling setting should be an emotionally safe place to open up. Your counselor will work to allow you to voice your side without getting attacked verbally or emotionally from the other side.

7. Seeking Marriage Counseling Does Not Mean You Have a Bad Marriage

Many good marriages seek out couples counseling. My husband and I have gone to couples counseling together on several occasions.

Our newborn son died during our first year of marriage. We attended counseling together to get through our grief, but at the same time, some marital issues came up and were addressed.

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It was so helpful to have a counselor in our lives to help us through that difficult time. We found that the counseling we had then has been beneficial to our marriage in the many years since that time. The time and money invested was greatly beneficial to our marriage in the long run. Marriage counseling can do that for you as well.

Couples who seek counseling do so for a variety of reasons. It doesn’t always mean that they are there because they don’t have any other options or at the end of their marriage. Many couples go because they have problems or issues that they recognize could become bigger and more damaging to the marriage if not addressed now.

Some couples want to be proactive about their marriage and the small problems that crop up. They want to ensure that as a couple, they develop good communication and coping skills to handle smaller issues now; so that when bigger issues come up, they can handle them when they come.

There are other couples that go to improve their marriage. They want better ways of communicating and more emotional openness. The counselor can help couples develop better communication skills and they can help draw out emotional openness. Both of which can make a marriage happier in the long run.

8. Marriage Counseling Can Benefit All Marriages

Don’t wait to go to counseling until you are at the end of your rope. Seek counseling before you get to that point.

It is easier to resolve problems when they are just getting started. It is much harder to resolve problems that have been festering for years and couples have hardened hearts.

Do your marriage a favor and consider seeking counseling sooner than later. Every marriage can benefit from marriage counseling. If you are dealing with issues and problems now, consider seeking a counselor, because wouldn’t your marriage be even better if those issues were resolved sooner than later?

Featured photo credit: Gades Photography via unsplash.com

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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

We often hear people talk about the importance of living in the present and the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, especially the lower levels of stress and anxiety, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly worrying about the past or plans for the future?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

The Importance of Living in the Moment

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha

While it can be difficult to live in the moment, it has innumerable benefits.

Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

Better Health

By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being[1].

Improve Your Relationships

Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally s/he’s a million miles away?

Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and building relationships with them extremely difficult.

How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with her/him because we can make a much deeper connection.

By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

Greater Self-Control

You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier[2].

Why Do We Worry?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then, once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

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Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

3 Steps to Start to Live in the Moment

Step 1: Overcome Worrying

In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

Calm Your Mind

When you calm your mind, you are able to see more clearly.

The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. Then, we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

In addition to seeing more clearly, a calm mind will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions, allowing you to live in the present.

Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

People with more education tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, as well as outside influences.

Racing Mind

Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down.

Unpleasant Situations and a Troublesome Past

None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

By doing whatever we can to avoid them, we can take our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

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In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

Some people resort to things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as food, alcohol, or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

A Wandering Mind

From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. Therefore, it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. One thought starts an endless chain of thoughts, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function or get distracted with something else.

Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities[3].

Outside Influences

Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The media draws our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future[4].

Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

Understand Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful is to live in the moment.

When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment, and you are fully in touch with reality[5].

You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

This may be counterintuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then, much of our understanding will come from simple observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

If you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you live in the moment.

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You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you and suit your lifestyle.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to start spending time away from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: What Is Mindfulness Meditation? 7 Ways to Start Meditating

Mindful Breathing

While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Mindful Walking

Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

Instead of getting on your cell phone or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking to train yourself to live in the moment and focus on the task at hand?

Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing, but instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable and can really help your mind settle down.

You can discover more benefits of walking in nature here.

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Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. Therefore, many of us try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level[6]. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

Live in the present with mindful eating.

    Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss[7].

    So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

    • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
    • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself.
    • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

    You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

    Mindful Activities

    Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander,. When it does, just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

    Notice some of the specific movements or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

    You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

    Final Thoughts

    Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time, and this will add up to greater peace and happiness, as well as get you closer to achieving your goals.

    Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

    Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning, but I can assure you it will get easier.

    The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying. When you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

    More About Living in the Present

    Featured photo credit: Smile Su via unsplash.com

    Reference

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