So, you and your spouse have decided to go to marriage counseling - first of all, kudos! Coming to that decision isn't easy. The idea of sitting on a couch talking about your marriage can be really daunting (because it is).
My ex-husband and I did somewhere around 55 marriage counseling sessions. I truthfully lost count towards the end. Somedays were good, but most were gruesome, heartbreaking, and just plain depleting. I want to share my experience with you, so that if you and your spouse decide to take part in marriage counseling, you have a bit of insight.
#1. Both spouses must be all in
You both have to be ready and willing to do the work. It is not one spouse's responsibility to mend the relationship, while the other sits back and ignores the issues within the marriage. If one spouse has a problem, you both have a problem. It will be messy, hard, and even exhausting at times to dig up the ugly parts of your relationship and present them to each other. But as long as you're willing to face the problems head on together, you will tackle everything that gets thrown at you. Remember, it's the two of you against the problem, not you two against each other.
#2. Acknowledge and address the problem(s)
If you're going to counseling, there's obviously something going on in your marriage. That's ok. It's nothing to be ashamed of! No relationship is perfect! But here's the thing, you need to be very clear about what problem(s) you and your spouse are having. Avoidance and beating around the bush will get you nowhere! Counseling is the place for you to lay it all out on the table and work together find real solutions.
#3 Have a game plan
No, you can't put a time frame on growth, however when you bring a specific issue into counseling, you should have a plan. X is the problem, Y is how you'll go about resolving it with help from your counselor, and Z is in a set amount of time. One of the biggest issues I had with our counselor was after a year of therapy, she told us that we were still right where we started. I looked right at her and my now ex-husband and said, "Then what the fuck are we doing?" The average amount of marriage counseling sessions a couple should go through is between 9 and 12 sessions. WE DID OVER FIFTY. Do not do this to yourselves. Obviously, know when you're being taken advantage of (therapy is not cheap), and if your marriage hasn't changed or improved for the better after a certain amount of time that you've set for yourselves, then it might be time to move on.
No part of marriage counseling is easy. And please don't think that just because my marriage didn't work out that yours won't either. My marriage didn't survive for a number of reasons, but I learned a lot about myself and what I will and won't accept in my relationships moving forward. The things I listed above are things I came to realize once it was all over. Going to counseling is not something you should be embarrassed about. It takes some serious guts to say, "Hey, this is how I'm feeling about our marriage, and I think we need help navigating it." It shows that you give a shit, and that you're willing to fight for your relationship. That's strength.
My new magazine, Plan the Marriage, not the Wedding talks a lot about this kind of stuff, and I think we as a society need to start having these conversations now more than ever.