Thursday, May 17, 2012

One Reason Counseling Didn't Work

It's no secret at this point that it doesn't look like my marriage is going to make it.  I say that because my spouse and I have been separated for 7 months, and things haven't gotten any better.  By the time we finally separated, things were already bad enough.  Unfortunately, in most ways they've only deteriorated more.  But I don't take this whole separation/divorce lightly.  Divorce is nonexistent in my family of origin.  You get married; you stay married.  God is bigger than our problems, and He can redeem anything.  Right?  So for me, separation was an absolute last-resort, when I no longer felt safe--for many reasons.  I put it off for as long as I could, and did everything I could to save the marriage. 

One of the things I did was go to marriage counseling.  A lot of marriage counseling.  And marriage courses.  And seminars.  And retreats.  And anything I could get myself or "us" enrolled in that I hoped would save "us."  My spouse was usually more than game.  We were both pretty miserable, and looking for a "magic bullet."

But in retrospect, I can see one of the reasons why counseling (and most of the other stuff) didn't work for us.  Every single doggone counselor we ever saw wanted to start off by working on "communication."  At the outset, that seems very reasonable.  But the problem is, honestly, none of them ever seemed to get beyond that.  And the fact that (looking back) I have an objection to that is really ironic, because I was a Communications major in college.  I love the topic of communication--the psychology, the history, the rhetoric, the everything of communication.  But for some reason, the more my spouse and I worked on our communication (painstakingly following multi-step models to guide us, writing things down and reading them out loud, using "key phrases," and every trick in the book) the worse things got for us.

The question is, why?

I believe that the answer is that communication wasn't the real problem.  There were underlying issues that were so bad, that there was no good way to communicate about them.  Those issues were an elephant in the middle of the room--that we tried to "talk nicely" around.  It didn't work.  In fact, honing our communication skills just made us better at fighting about the elephant.  Better communication didn't make us more peaceful--it made us more articulate fighters!

And none of the counselors we ever saw seemed able to tackle that elephant.  And, frankly, that doesn't really leave me with much confidence in the counseling profession; because there are a lot of pretty damn good books out there on communication, but what we needed was someone who was willing to go beyond that.

Have you ever been in marriage counseling?  Did the counselor fixate on communication, but without a seeming ability to address underlying issues that fueled the communication?


  1. Good point. Improved communication is wonderful if both parties are willing to let it take them into the deeper waters, where real connection and healing can happen. But it's only a tool. The heart issues must be addressed.
    My kids and I had counseling. It was somewhat helpful. But on one situation I skipped the counselor and it actually resulted in better communication with my ex. Go figure, lol!
    Thank you for visiting my blog, and your comment. I'm glad the post was helpful.

  2. So interesting... and it reminded me of this blog that I have read from time to time. Definitely counseling in and of itself isn't the end all:

  3. Randa.....LOVING the blog link you gave me. Thank you. Sent this to a friend in the same situation. Your comment was a blessing to me.

  4. Hi Heyruthie! So sorry that it took me this long to see the response to my comment!! I "found" you the first time (and this time also) via Young House Love, which we both must follow pretty regularly. :) I'm so glad my comment in July was a blessing... I'll be praying for you as the Lord brings you to mind! May He be your peace.