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Marriage therapy grows up
Posted: June 10, 2009
Last Updated: June 10, 2009

When most people hear the words ’marriage therapy’ they picture a married couple on the brink of divorce attempting a last ditch effort to save their relationship. Marriage therapy can be that, but it has grown into something more encompassing than just taking on marital issues; it takes on relationship issues at any time and place within a partnership.


Marsha Bowman, a counselor at Border Area Mental Health Services, says marriage therapy should really be called ‘couples counseling.’ “The couple can be married, engaged, dating, living together or not,” Bowman says about the new attitude in this type of therapy, “The only criteria are that they consider themselves a couple and that they elect to address interpersonal issues with the help of a therapist.”


Couples seeking counseling for their relationship can be any age or sexual orientation. What matters to the couple’s counselor is that they are there to address problems in their relationship. With this type of therapy Bowman says, “Couples are taught to negotiate rather than argue and blame in order to break deadlocks. They are coached to communicate without hurting each other and to avoid resentment.”


According to Bowman, using couples counseling as a last ditch effort to save a relationship could be problematic, “The best time to come into therapy is early when the problems are limited and anger and misunderstanding have not eroded the couples’ trust in each other.” Couples can enter this process at anytime, but when the disagreement first arises it is easier to deal with. Many couples choose to enter couples counseling before they are even married. Dating couples might want to address issues like jealousy, trust and boundaries. Engaged couples might discuss family planning, religious differences and lifestyle changes--after all, getting married changes many aspects of a person’s life. Married couples might share concerns in differences in parenting styles, financial matters, or injured emotions caused by their partner’s actions.


Some tips to get the most out of a couples counseling session are:

  • Be honest. Whether it is approaching your partner with the idea for counseling or meeting with your therapist to discuss a thorny issue, it is important to be truthful.  This allows both your therapist and partner to know what is happening.
  • Acknowledge your partner’s emotions and criticisms. Your partner might have an entirely different outlook on what is occurring and sometimes that might be hard to hear. Try to listen and understand without reverting to lashing out when criticized. Indeed, some frightening things can come up in counseling; ideally, it should be a place for couples to share their deepest anxieties and vulnerabilities so they can receive the help and support they need to deal with the issue.
  • Be patient. Many problems take years to develop, so it makes sense that most relationships can't be healed in just a few sessions. Sometimes, it takes weeks, even months, to unravel thorny issues.
  • Think about going yourself. If your partner is averse to attending couples therapy, think about attending yourself. Sometimes, working out your own issues in individual therapy can benefit the entire relationship.


Remember that people who care about each other can encounter impasses in their ability to resolve issues in their relationship. Relationship counselors can help couples improve self-awareness, insight, communication, and relationship skills, especially when couples attend together, but it is important for the couples to be willing to address their own personal issues as well as the personal issues of the other person in a non-blaming and constructive manner.


If your think your relationship might benefit from couples counseling call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.


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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.