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How Long Does it Take to Improve Your Marriage?

When it comes to couples counseling, we all want to know how much time, energy, and money it will take to improve. A common question is: How long does it take to improve your marriage? But what they’re really asking is “How long will it take for us to get the momentum we need once we come to counseling?

To improve, it takes a lifetime

Our friends who’ve been married for more than forty years tell me they’ve had several different marriages. And they also say they are different spouses than they were when they said, “I do.” In essence, they’ve been married to several different people, even though it’s the two of them.

All stages of marriages open up dimensions of our journey that we couldn’t imagine before. And each transition moves us into a “different” marriage. Most of us began with a lustful romance. Then we build careers and have children. We settle into an ebb and flow of adjustments. At every turn we have opportunities to grow and grow up. Each juncture is a choice to become aware and intentional.

Our challenge is to risk vulnerability and intimacy with ourselves and our spouse. Click To Tweet

It’s common to become misaligned when one spouse grows while the other doesn’t. But changes are inevitable. And we need to grow beyond messy relationships and marriages. Our challenge is to risk being vulnerable.

To get short-term help, it takes categories

Couples who seek counseling usually fall into one of three categories. They are: crisis mode, control mode, or construction mode.

Crisis Mode

The first is crisis mode. One or both believe that therapy is the last resort. If it doesn’t work, one or the other has made plans for a catastrophic exit like divorce.

Just to be clear, crisis mode is not the same as counseling. Most couples on the verge of divorce need additional help to get them out of crisis mode. And to clarify, a marital crisis is not the same as a mental health crisis.

In addition, couples’ work is not appropriate for those hiding affairs. Nor is it feasible for those with severe addictions, depression, or mania. Rather, it’s absolutely crucial to get out of crisis mode and assess the damage before counseling can begin.

Some therapists are more skilled than others in handling crisis cases. But do not assume that crisis management is the same as counseling.

Unfortunately, some claim that couples counseling leads to divorce. But they don’t take into account that crisis management and counseling are different. Also, some counselors have more training than others to assess for emotional and verbal abuse within the relationship. Ignoring these and other crucial factors make couples counseling ineffective.

Couples counseling is not appropriate if certain other issues interfere. Rather, it causes more damage to both individuals if underlying manipulation, secrecy, fear, or a mental health crisis is going on.

Control Mode

The second major category is the control mode. One feels the need for change and the other doesn’t. Neither wants to divorce, but if they don’t get help, one is sure the marriage is heading in that direction. An undercurrent agenda of “social engineering” prevails. Social engineering is a term I use for our unconscious tendency to control others. The control mode is where one person wants the comfort of sameness while the other needs change.

Construction Mode

The last major category is construction mode. Premarital or newlywed couples come in to make sure they’re on the right track. Transitions such as parenthood, empty-nest, or blended families fall in this category. They both want to build healthy and growing partnership habits. They want to be proactive.

It’s always wise to establish the counselor/client relationship before you need one. Think of how we want to be established with a primary care physician. When issues arise, we have familiarity and trust of the counselor and therapy process.

To grow, it takes change

None of us wants to talk about the “D” word. Whether that “D” means death or divorce, it’s a subject we avoid. But if we don’t face endings, we’re unable to become unstuck from our relationship messes.

What’s important is to honor the worth, value, and dignity of both individuals in a relationship. To get beyond the messiness, it may be time to realize an old marriage is not working anymore. It needs to change.

Think of changes as a divorce from toxic patterns, reactions, and unhealthy dances. We need to say goodbye to the old and hello to different ways of being. Otherwise, the commitment to a destructive marriage degrades both individuals. Long-term toxic patterns in relationships account for stress-related illness or even premature death.

To get beyond the messiness, it may be time to realize an old marriage is not working anymore. It needs to change. Click To Tweet

How long does it take to improve your marriage? It’s a life-time of growth throughout the categories and stages that marriage can provide. And the right counselor can show us how in addition to couples who are doing it.

Your next step

Buy One Get One Free for “Beyond Messy Relationships” book.