Dr. Daniel B. Nicholas
January 28, 2013

Marriage and relationship issues can cause great suffering. Many relationships, like individuals, engage in repeating problematic ways of relating, and behaving. Without learning to identify and correct these patterns, couples begin to lose hope that things can get better.

Each spouse may feel misunderstood and unappreciated. Maladaptive communication styles emerge. Sometimes it’s too easy to be on the defensive, respond with anger or sarcasm, or to avoid communicating completely.


Children can significantly complicate the situation, as they are often in the box seats for parental arguments. They also are learning some of the ways of thinking, relating and behaving that their parents model. Most parents feel guilty when they fight in front of the kids. Then, they overcompensate and may over give to their children. If you feel that the children are being adversely affected by your marital issues or divorce, please get them help! Children tend to do quite well in a combination of individual and family therapy. They need a safe place to express their feelings and to learn how to best manage their emotions.

The clinical staff at Professional Counseling Services does have specialists trained in marital counseling and in therapy with families and children. Therefore, all of your family’s mental health needs can be met in one location. This will also result in better coordination of care between providers.

Differences in child rearing approaches are a frequent area of conflict for couples. Blended families and step-parenting have their own types of complexities.


Therapy can help you both become more united and consistent in your parenting styles. Specific strategies will be developed to match your type of family situation. Get parenting skills training, as part of your marital services. Also, try not to treat the other parent-spouse poorly, especially in from of the kids. All behavior has consequences, don’t create more negative reactions for yourself, spouse and/or the kids. If the children have heard you argue, let the kids see that you can make-up too.

While we don’t want people to stay together just to suffer, the clinical staff at Professional Counseling Services, is marriage or relationship friendly. This means that each marital therapist wants to exploit every therapeutic opportunity to provide you with strategies and insights to aid in improving the marriage.

That being said, we still are aware that many couples are staying together strictly for the children or because they can’t afford to get divorced. At least, there is some good news. As mentioned before, marital counseling can still help these couples to be more united in the right parenting approach, while promoting more healthy ways to deal with conflict and communication. Thus, living together is easier and less stressful for everyone in the house.


Of course, it is important for the therapist to form a good relationship with each spouse. Each participant needs to feel understood and that the therapist will not “take sides”. Although your therapist may typically see you together, some individual sessions may also occur.

A good deal of information will be gathered from a thorough initial evaluation. This will be somewhat more complicated than an individual intake. Information about both you and your spouse, and about your relationship problems, will need to be collected. The level of energy that each person is willing to give to the marital therapy also has to be assessed.

Each of you will need to give your point of view about your marital issues and an honest appraisal about your contribution to the marital problems. Each spouse will be asked a variety of questions in an ongoing effort to get to know and understand how each person views things. Information about each spouse’s family of origin is crucial to understand. How your previous relationship models (mom and dad), treated each other, will have a strong influence on how you relate to each other now. Also, unfinished emotional business from past relationships can interfere.

How argument’s get “triggered” is important to identify. In fact, things can get emotionally intense even in the initial session. Topics will be discussed that may typically be associated with conflict. Maladaptive ways of talking to each other will typically emerge. The therapist will be skilled at not letting the process get destructive, as issues are discussed.

Sometimes, separate individual therapy, with another therapist, and psychiatric treatment, may occur concurrently with the marital therapy, or be recommended. This is necessary when the level of emotional distress is significant and/or functioning is impaired. Also, addictive behaviors that can significantly hurt a marriage will need to be immediately addressed. Your therapist will coordinate care, with your consent, with other treatment providers.


A comprehensive treatment plan will quickly be developed and both of you will participate in developing treatment goals. There will be homework. If destructive or abusive, emotional and behavioral issues are present, these must be addressed first. Safety plans and anger management skills may be needed.

The positive strengths of you, your partner, and your relationship, will also be identified. These strengths can help the relationship and may be incorporated into the treatment plan.


A necessary part of all marital treatment plans typically involves improving communication skills. This is a broad category that can be divided into two main parts. Content and process issues.

Content issues are repeating topics that you and your spouse argue about. Sex, finances, differences in childrearing and friends are just some examples. In therapy, new perspectives can be pointed-out for better problem solving. A shared sense of control over decision making is important.

You will also learn a number of process communication skills like assertiveness training, active listening, being more aware of your spouse’s feelings, being mindful of voice-tone, the 20 minute rule, and other conflict resolution skills. These skills will help you talk to each other in a more healthy, respectful and productive way.


Even though suffering is a great motivator, don’t wait too long to get help. Feelings can diminish. Hurt and anger can get in the way of love. Ideally, each spouse will come to the first session together. However, there are some situations where one spouse may refuse to go to marital counseling. At that point, you may still choose to come alone. Therapy can help you to get new perspectives on how to better relate to your spouse. While it’s true that the only person you can change is yourself, a positive change can have a good influence on the relationship.


People ask me all the time how do they know when it’s finally time to get divorced. I typically tell them that you have to be able to look in the mirror and feel that you have done everything that you can to save the marriage. It is hard to conclude that you have done everything, without trying marital counseling.


Nonetheless, many marriages will still end in divorce. Although divorce can feel like a failure and be painful, new growth can and frequently does occur. In essence, that is what this type of therapy process is all about. Sometimes divorce is the beginning of a great period of growth and some people remain bitter for life.

Getting therapy is all about the first option- moving towards being your best self. You will get help to learn about your maladaptive relationship issues to prevent recurrence. You will also receive skills to stop negative self-talk (Read Related Blog Post) and to reduce upsetting emotions. If you have children, you will also learn how to maximize your post-divorce relationship with them and the other parent. Remember, the biggest predictor of childhood psychopathology post-divorce, is ex-spousal hostility.

Some people have been in a marriage for so long, they may have difficulty being alone. It is important that you don’t interview everyone that you go out with, as a potential marital candidate. Learn that just because your alone right now doesn’t mean that you have to feel lonely. You can still have fun, be productive and get engaged in activities that interesting. Sometimes you may have to act the opposite of how you feel. Working out regularly and eating right is all part of treating yourself well. You can learn to use your self-correcting intelligence to keep any potentially addictive behaviors in check.

Learn more about yourself outside of a marital context. Therapy will help you to improve your relationship-building and social skills, if needed. Increase your friendships and prosocial behavior. Learn how reduce your social anxiety or self-consciousness. Develop a more positive relationship with yourself and build confidence.

This is a new adventure in your life. Therapy can help you to not repeat the past and to help you to get over any leftover, negative, emotional baggage. You will learn how to “let go” of old habits and relationships. Often, you will end up feeling better about yourself. You markedly increase your chances of finding a more gratifying relationship, when you are feeling better about yourself!