Posts

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.

Photo by Taras Lazer from Pixabay

Relationship

3 Requirements of Real Relationships

I’ve been blessed to hear multitudes of stories counseling couples over the years. As a result, I’ve come to believe there’s three requirements of real relationships. The reason I say “real” is because some relationships don’t operate from the same reality. The story of defining real relationships begins with my learning to dance.

Relationship Patterns Are Like Dance Movements

I grew up in a faith tradition that doesn’t believe in playing cards, smoking, and drinking. Most of all, it was an unpardonable sin to engage in pre-marital dancing! As a result, it was like I denied a “real” part of myself. And it wasn’t the smoking and drinking I was drawn to.

Rather, I began to integrate freedom, movement, creativity, and music. I discovered an emotionally safe partnership through taking ballroom dance lessons. I quickly discovered dancing was like sparks of light into deeper places of my soul.

The light-hearted atmosphere of learning to dance helped me take myself less seriously. And it was a contrast from the crisis counseling work I was doing at the time. The positive energy provided joy and the lighter side of life.

After a few group and private lessons, I became more aware and skilled. During group lessons, certain dance moves felt different when we switched partners. Each dancer had their own style, frame, and posture. Each one carried a unique energy, rhythm and frame.

In a sense, we relate to our spouses through relationship patterns similar to dancing. From our family of origins, we all learned behaviors and styles. Of course, those automatic “dances show up in our adult relationships.

If we want our relationships to be real, we need to be aware of the automatic dances. Then, be willing to change them and grow. The three requirements are reciprocity, change, and fun.

Requirement # 1 – Your Relationship Requires Reciprocity 

During romance, we feel the connection and familiarity. Both partners energetically want to be together and have fun.

When the chemistry wears off, our default patterns take over. The ease of the relationship dance works for a while until normal life stressors enter. They include child-rearing differences, financial habits, career transitions, moves, and in-laws difficulties. What began as exciting and bigger than life becomes boring and irritating.

This is the time to change relationship dances. New seasons and stressful transitions are the times to change those steps and styles. And it certainly takes two to make that happen.

Remember, your relationship requires reciprocity. Here’s requirement number two.

Requirement # 2 – Your Relationship Requires Change

Every stage of life is an invitation to discovering your authentic self. As a result, you begin to discover parts of your relationship that were previously hidden. For example, the transition from couplehood to parenthood opens up new and different roles.

Research indicates a 70% drop in marital satisfaction within a baby’s first year of life. The husband/wife roles change to dad and mom. One parent may become jealous of time and attention a young child requires. It’s normal to experience anxieties during life transitions. Of course, the responsibilities of developing another human being can be overwhelming at times.

Every stage of life is an invitation to discovering your authentic self. Click To Tweet

Additional financial pressure, household chores, and caring for a baby requires a shift in perspectives. Expectant parents should consider couples’ counseling. It’s better to be pro-active when anticipating major changes.

Not only in the child-bearing years, but the dance of a marriage changes with each season of life. What may have worked early on in your relationship may not be relevant now.

Remember, your relationship requires change. Here’s requirement number three.

Requirement # 3 – Your Relationship Requires Fun

We all need fun-loving energy in our partnerships. Unfortunately, negative thinking and limited beliefs take their toll on a marriage. Dr. John Gottman’s longitudinal studies of couples give us insight. The problem is not a matter of having less conflict than the average couple. Rather it’s the couples who don’t recover quickly from conflicts who are more likely to divorce. Happily married couples still experience 67% of unresolved conflict. But they’ve learned to shake it off quicker than troubled couples.

We all need fun-loving energy in our partnerships. Click To Tweet

The energy we carry in our relationships affects the neurons in our brains. Plus, our body and mind holds memories of experiences and tensions. We need to be intentional about light-hearted laughter and fun activities. Especially with those closest to us.

Remember, your relationship requires reciprocity, change, and fun. But let’s examine your next move.

What’s Your Next Move?

You might have guessed that my husband and I met through ballroom dancing. And we had a great couples dance teacher. In order for any of us to learn a new rhythm in our relationships, we need help. It takes a trained relationship therapist or coach.

Remember, the three requirements of real relationships.

1. Your relationship requires reciprocity.
2. Your relationship requires change.
3. Your relationhip requires fun.

Find out what your relationship needs now. Take the relationship stress quiz.

Or you can sign up to schedule your free consultation. 

Counselor Support

How To Find The Right Counselor

With a splotchy red face and tears dripping down my cheeks, I had just shared intimate details of my life. An hour later, having used lots of tissue and now less money in my purse I wasn’t going back. The therapist was competent and reputable. But the chemistry wasn’t there for me. It’s important to know how to find the right counselor before your first counseling appointment.

Before you bare your soul to a counselor, it's important to find the right fit for you. Click To Tweet

Some clients feel cheated paying counseling fees at their first session if it’s not a good fit.

Here’s things to consider before you hire your mental health counselor or relationship therapist. Some may be more important to you than others. These items will help you get clarity for the therapist that’s right for you.

Do your research before contacting a licensed professional counselor.

Of course, it’s always helpful to get recommendations from your friends, family, or doctor. But do your own research as well. What may be a good fit for your sister’s marriage, may not be a good fit for yours. Each individual and relationship is different.

Many therapists advertise on Psychology Today, Theravive, or other counseling platforms. Start with a google search in your area. If you’re looking for marriage counseling, just type in marriage counseling in or near your city.

  • Read counselors profiles, specialties, and blog posts. Some even have introductory videos.
  • Find out how long they’ve been in practice.
  • Discover whether they’re “general practitioners” or if they specialize.

Make an initial connection with a counselor through their online presence or profile.

If you’re just too anxious to make that initial phone call, send a short email. You can say something like this:

I’m interested in counseling. Do you offer free consultations? 

Or you can say this:

I’m interested in counseling. Would you please call me at (your phone number) on Monday afternoon? I have a few questions to ask. 

Don’t assume you’re obligated to schedule a counseling appointment with that first connection by phone or email. It’s OK to shop around.

Here’s things to consider at a first encounter with a counselor:

  • How long does it take to receive an email reply? You should hear back within 24 hours.
  • The counselor may not offer free office consultations, but may spend 15 minutes on the phone with you. If so, pay attention to how you feel on the phone with them.
    • Do they sound rushed?
    • Is their voice warm and inviting?
    • Is it fast or slow?
    • Abrupt or calm?

Some counselors choose not to have contact with clients before meeting them at their first appointments. Their assistants may be the only initial connection. Decide if that’s acceptable to you. You are the one who decides what’s best for you. Your preferences matter.

It’s proper and necessary to interview two or three before hiring the right counselor for you.

Whether you’re choosing a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, or a mental health therapist, you’re the one doing the hiring for their expertise. Just as you would hire a contractor or mechanic, mental health professionals are providing you services.

View yourself as a client or patient who is making an informed choice. It’s easy to be intimidated by a person’s title or initials after their name. You are just as important as your provider. They just have issues you don’t know about. We are all human beings worthy of respect, dignity and worth.

Avoid anyone who makes you feel “less than.” Whether you’re struggling with substance addiction or a mood disorder, you’re no less than the doctor or therapist who is treating you.

Don’t leave your first counseling appointment feeling cheated. Save your tears for the right one.

Sign up for a free 20 minute consultation.

Improve your marriage

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 for lasting improvements. A common question is: How long does it take to improve your marriage through relationship counseling?

It takes more than 21 days to improve your marriage

The 21-days-to-make-a-habit advice has been a myth all this time with no scientific backing. Through Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever program, he quoted that it really takes an average of 66 days depending on the particular habit.

In my work with clients, I tell them it takes 90 days for new neuro-pathways in the brain to form new associations. Different ways of thinking, behaving, and relating takes consistent practice. Just as regular workouts in the gym train our muscles, our intentional thoughts and behaviors train our neuro-connections.

Whether you’re learning a foreign language or ballroom dance steps, it takes about 90 days to learn a new skill. Click To Tweet

Your idea of empathic communication with your spouse may be as challenging as learning a foreign language. If you can’t keep a beat to a radio pop song, you may initially be just as clumsy when you learn dialogue skills with your partner. But you can learn. Your brain is designed to learn new things.

Muscle memory and mental associations in our brains are made to connect.

We are all wired to grow, connect, and continue growing in relationships. Click To Tweet

Beyond the counseling stereo-type to improve your marriage

My work with couples is different than the stereo-type of what you see on movies or TV. You may imagine a couple sitting on the couch together side by side, looking to the counselor to equally hear both partners’ sides. The therapist is neutral, balanced, and unbiased. (sounds a bit un-human to me)

Although a first session may look like that, Imago Therapy is different. Instead, the couple sits across from each other face to face. The therapist sits “outside” their relationship, coaching them with speaker-listener skills. With gentle guidance, encouragement and awareness, they learn how to make the space between them emotionally safe.

How many counseling sessions to improve your marriage?

“How many sessions does it take?” you ask.

The answer varies. For some it’s twelve weekly ninety minute session. For others, it’s weekly for the first month, and twice a month for the next 90 days. Beyond that, ever other month check ups are a great plan. Some may only need six month check-ups similar to regular dental cleanings.

Beyond the neuro-pathway factors other considerations are these:

  • Are you in a crisis or just need a tune up?
  • Do you both have an attitude of I’ll-do-anything-it-takes?
  • How motivated are you as a couple to follow through in-between session?

In order to begin dialogue skills to improve your marriage, keep in mind it takes about 90 days. It will take additional time to master it for continual growth, intimacy, and connection. And don’t forget the periodic booster sessions to keep growing toward each other.

Questions to improve your marriage

On a scale of 1-10 how full is your love tank?

How do you feel in each other’s presence?

Sign up for 10 Ways to Build Trust in communication