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Of Marriage Therapy, and Seven Ways to Make It Work Better For You and Your Spouse

couple on bean bag chair with guitar, Sanctuary Christian Counseling in Shippensburg PA

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba/ UnSplash

Don’t let anyone fool you. Marriage is HARD. It just is. It takes so much commitment, grace, love, forgiveness, understanding, mercy and sheer grit.

When I see premarital couples or newlyweds, my heart melts with their honest, endearing and warm love for each other. You can just see their faces light up at the sight of each other. Their love inspires. It feels fresh and lovely.

What could go wrong?

Many things, sadly. Couples get into trouble in all kinds of ways, and, when they do, frequently they seek out therapy to get that sparkle back.

It’s a great choice. Quite frequently, the only way couples can find their mojo again is with the help of a knowledgeable, caring third party – a therapist. Helping couples repair and enhance their marriage is what couples therapists like myself are trained to do.

And we love it.

So here are some tips for making marriage therapy work the best, if you find yourself in need of a little helping hand:

1) Get a therapist actually trained in relational therapy and systems theory. In psychology speak, this is often a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), the only subgroup of therapists who has specific training in treating couples, families and individuals. These therapists are trained to think of families like systems – I like to use the illustration of beads on a string. The string is the system, and the beads each individual member. If one of them moves, so does the system, and all the other beads. This is a different approach than other subspecialties like licensed professional counselors (LPCs), licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), psychologists (doctoral level clinicians who often specialize in testing) and psychiatrists (medical doctors who can prescribe medications). Systems thinkers like LMFTs treat the couple, not the individuals in the couple, and that makes for more effective marriage therapy.

2) This may sound silly, but once you have a therapist, seriously consider following their directions. Generally they can help find the right path for each unique couple (or individual, or family of course) to their best outcome. If they suggest something, do it. If they give you homework, do that. If they don’t give you homework, ask for it. Do whatever it takes to engage in therapy, put in the time, and actually benefit from the therapist’s knowledge and experience. Why else are you asking for their help?

3) Be responsible to show up, on time and engage in therapy. Know it can take a long time. You didn’t get into the difficulty in a week, you likely won’t get out of it in a week, either. Don’t go with the idea that if divorce comes, at least you’ve given therapy a try. Take divorce off the table and really be IN therapy, all in. Don’t just go with a bad attitude. Go, wanting things to get better, and willing to engage your spouse, take responsibility for your actions and talk about what you need. Or don’t go.

4) Be truthful. Be as open as you can. Lying in therapy or with your therapist wastes your money and their time, and gets you nowhere. And it’s a sure-fire way to have therapy fail.

5) Really try to listen to your spouse. Chances are your therapist will ask you to talk to each other, or do any one of a number of communications exercises. Do them honestly and with an open heart to really hear your spouse. I often say, if you’re sitting in front of me, it’s probably true you haven’t heard your spouse in a long time. Now is the time to fix that, and any good couples therapist can help with it. Communication is not the only thing, but it’s a tremendous start and lots of fun besides.

6) Think about your own stuff much more than you do your partner’s. Figure out how you can improve your marriage and do that. Don’t focus on them – what’s wrong with them, how they think, how crazy they are. If you focus on them, you won’t get what you’ve been longing for, nor will you see the things you do that are not helpful in your relationship. A marriage is a team. Figure out what you need to fix to be a better team player.

7) Work on your marriage outside therapy. Therapy works best when you learn things in session you can apply outside of session, in real life. But even besides that, go on dates. Spend time together. Make space for your relationship in your everyday lives. Use your therapist as a resource for you to improve your marriage. They’re not in it! You are.

Make your marriage amazing.

If you and your partner struggle to regain that sparkle you once had, consider contacting the marriage therapists at Sanctuary Christian Counseling. We are all committed to helping you live your best life and getting the relational (or individual) help you need. We are anxious to meet you and help you have the best marriage possible.

Ellen J.W. Gigliotti LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Clinical Director

Sanctuary Christian Counseling LLC

9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4

Shippensburg, PA 17257


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