Going to marriage counseling is not just about showing up. Your success is significantly dependent upon the effort and commitment you put into it. It is understandable to not know what to expect going into this form of treatment.
In order for therapy to have the best possible chance of success, here is a list of things that will be helpful:
1. Have the same goal. Sounds simple, right? It often isn't.
The same and only goal needs to be, "we both want to save our marriage." It is not uncommon, however, to have one partner wondering if they should even stay in the marriage. Alternatively, one partner is wondering if staying with their spouse vs. leaving the spouse for their lover is their objective. Different agendas will sabotage the therapy process. You can still get counseling, but the focus will be different until you are both on the same page.
2. Commit to an all-out, "in the trenches" effort for at least six months. Couples therapy is slower paced than individual therapy. The dynamics are complicated and two people working together require a significant amount of time to change. Also, think about when your problems began. For most, many years, in fact six on average, will have passed before you show up at our offices. This makes the counselor's job, and yours, even harder.
3. Do not threaten divorce during the time you have committed to marriage therapy. This will completely undermine the therapy process.
Therapists work very hard to create safety between two people whose trust is often quite shaky. Playing the "D card" during a fight will set you back many sessions.
4. Prepare to work on yourself as well as your relationship. You MUST have ideas about what you need to change personally. Think about a behavior or trait you exhibit that would be a problem in any relationship.
5. Don't say "I'm doing all the work." If we could roll our eyes at you when you say that we would (but we realize how unprofessional that is). We can tell who is doing the work and who is not very clearly. Moreover, yes, often one of you is doing more "work" than the other. The process is NOT FAIR. We know this, but sometimes it is just one of you fighting really hard for the marriage that helps reel in the partner that is trailing further behind.
6. Don't silently plan an exit strategy when you decide that your marriage is not getting better. Raise the concern early and discuss it directly with your partner or in the therapy.
7. Do not talk to anyone about your marriage unless they are going to support fully your efforts. Do not complain to your friends and family about your spouse while you are in treatment. You will not get good, objective advice.
8. Prioritize the marriage therapy. Schedule it before anything else. Be flexible with your time. Budget your money if you need to for a while to afford it. I assure you, your treatment will be cheaper than a divorce.
9. Understand that your problems are cyclical in nature. You have gotten stuck in a negative pattern. Barring abuse, violence or infidelity, we are not going to take sides or join in with helping you blame each other.
We will be guiding you to change the negative patterns and helping you see the best in each other.
10. Bring your "best self" to marriage therapy. This is a very stressful time. Marital distress affects every area of your life. This is hard to ask, but we need you to be mature, resourceful and hopeful during treatment. Also, please treat each other with respect and dignity.
Marriage therapists are here to help you solve your problems in a way that you cannot seem to do on your own. Many divorces could be prevented if people chose to work on their marriage earlier, rather than later, when problems arise. With the proper help and two people fully committed to the therapy, they often do revive their marriage.