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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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