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Why Is Marriage Counseling Useful?

Oct 28, 2007
The word "counseling" is defined in many dictionaries as "giving advice" or "warning". People in trouble in their marital relationships have always been the recipients of all kinds of well-meant advice, and in that "educational" sense marriage counseling is probably as old and as universal as marriage itself. It has been carried on through the centuries and in many parts of the world by interested relatives and friends, and by ministers, doctors, teachers, lawyers and others with varying degrees of professional formality.

The new approach to counseling differs from the older methods in many important respects.

In the first place it is conceived and carried out more as a therapeutic or healing than as an educational activity. It may, of course, still include some education; about, for example, the main principles underlying human relationships and especially the most intimate relationships of marriage and parenthood.

This attempt at the healing of a "sick" marriage, like the healing of a sick person, rests on the conviction, confirmed more and more by experience, that the essential factor in all healing is a natural healing force with which the "healer" seeks always to cooperate.

On the other hand it has been abundantly confirmed that when a counselor can achieve with troubled people the kind of personal relationship in which they can progressively unburden their strained affronted and conflicting feelings, they then come to see themselves and their conflicts more clearly and objectively, and are in a much better position to make their own decisions about what they shall do.

The "sick" marriage can best be healed when the partners are helped to help themselves, when the counselor can sit down patiently with them and give them the chance to "see" themselves and their partners through the previously blinding mists of emotion, and then to apply "sweet reason" freed from the distortions of upset feelings, to their common task of rebuilding - or, if they see fit, dissolving - their partnership.

Their decisions may be assisted by the offering of information when it is desired and seems appropriate, but the modern counselor feels very diffident about giving advice except in very special circumstances.

A second difference from the older methods of marriage counseling is that modern counseling does not set out to interfere in people's marital troubles, nor does it indulge in coercion of any kind. Help is offered, but as in all healing it is more likely to be of value when it is sought and accepted by a willing "patient".
Marriage counselors are not in any sense "managers" or "do-gooders", and they will never "butt in", even when requested to do so by an anxious relative. They will offer their services, and then leave it to the people to decide whether or not they will accept them.

A third difference between modern counseling and the older traditional methods is that the modern counselor does not feel competent or in any way disposed to judge either of the partners in conflict, or to impose his own moral values on them.

He may ask them what they think the possible consequences of any attitude or action may be, and why they would want to do what they are doing, but in general the counselor sees his function as that of looking with each of them at the problem and the whole relationship, and accepting their feelings and their attitudes, and their conduct within the law. In this way their ultimate attitudes are dictated by their own consciences and by their views about the total situation.

Modern counseling then seeks to offer a service of such a nature that people are helped to help themselves; to provide an accepting relationship of a kind that will encourage each person to express his feelings in a permissive atmosphere, and progressively to achieve better insight into many aspects of the marital relationship. In this way each of them has the opportunity to make their own decisions as to what to do about it in an atmosphere of realism rather than of distorted emotion.
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