Counselors are not all pro-marriage. Did you know that? In fact, most counselors are pro- “individual happiness.” This means that many of them will prioritize personal happiness above a marriage relationship, which means if you are unhappy in your relationship, and unhappy in your efforts to improve the relationship, they will suggest and recommend divorce.
Saving a marriage that is in trouble often takes work. And guts. And resolve. And steadiness. And determination. And determination. And determination. If the counselor is not as committed to the relationship as the couple needs to be in order to fix it, the counselor is a deterrent, not a help. If you are looking for a marriage counselor, whether for yourself or to recommend to someone else, here are some questions you might want to ask.
1. Is divorce ever necessary, and if so, under what circumstances?
Unfortunately, divorce sometimes IS necessary. A therapist who answers No to this is probably a little dangerous. But when a therapist answers Yes, they should have strict and clear guidelines as to when it is necessary, and the circumstances should be pretty extreme. For example, “Yes, in cases where there is physical violence,” or “Yes, in cases where there is addiction, and one spouse is incapable of having a relationship,” or “Yes, in cases of serial adultery.” (I’m not implying that one must necessarily tolerate multiple affairs before seeking a separation, only that infidelity doesn’t have to end a marriage if both spouses are willing to fix what is broken.) A counselor who isn’t pro-marriage will say something like, “When one or both spouses just isn’t happy.”
2. At what point do you as a counselor suggest that a couple might need to move towards divorce?
What you’re looking for here is how long will a counselor work with a couple before making a judgment about whether or not they should stay together, and what he/she sees as the signs that a relationship is beyond saving. A pro-marriage counselor will probably tell you they do not make suggestions of divorce.
3. How many times in your career have you advocated divorce for a couple?
Truly pro-marriage counselors should give you an answer that is fairly close to zero. As mentioned previously, there are cases where divorce may be necessary, but these are few and far between. For example, I have never suggested divorce to a single couple I have worked with, even though there are times when I sensed both partners were just waiting for me to give the thumbs-up to their calling it quits. I tell clients, “If you want someone to help you save your marriage, I’m your guy. If you want someone to tell you it’s okay to give up, you’ll need to look elsewhere.”
4. Do you keep a list of divorce lawyers at hand so you can refer clients to them?
Most pro-marriage counselors would say no to this because they rarely see couples move into divorce. Pro “individual happiness” counselors may keep a list of divorce lawyer referrals close at hand and refer to it fairly often.
5. How do you decide if a marriage is worth fighting for?
My answer to this is that if a couple is married and comes in to seek my help, their relationship is worth fighting for. If I can’t believe this, how can I ask them to? And if they can’t believe it, what hope is there for them? Pro “individual happiness” counselors will give you an answer that probably mentions happiness.
6. What do you say to couples who come to see you, announcing they are no longer in love?
Intimacy is a feeling that results from behaviors. Show me a couple who no longer feels “in love,” and I’ll show you a couple who for various reasons have stopped behaving towards each other in ways that naturally lead to intimacy. I tell couples that almost without exception, relationships can be “re-intimified.” (Yes, I invented that word.) Counselors who are not pro-marriage tend to believe that no longer feeling in love is a sign of the end. Pro-marriage counselors see it as part of the normal cycles of a relationship and know that couples can reignite the flames.
7. When a couple seeks out your services, what is your #1 responsibility?
To help the couple save the marriage. If the counselor gives you some version of, “To help each partner find what makes them happy,” look elsewhere. Pro-marriage counselors believe the deepest happiness comes by the hard work involved in keeping our closest relationships healthy and strong.
8. Do you normally find yourself on one side or the other?
Pro-marriage counselors are on the side of the relationship. They will help identify things each partner can do to improve the relationship. They are not stuck on agendas, such as “Women are nearly always abused by men,” or “Men are usually hen-pecked by women.” I tell my clients when we start working together, “I am an equal opportunity offender. This means that if I do my job, both of you are going to feel like I’m on the other person’s side. That’s because I’m not on either side. I’m for both of you. I’m here to help you fight for your relationship.”
Ask a few of these questions to a prospective counselor and you should get a feel for how committed he/she is to saving marriages. Finally, keep in mind that no matter how much they may need it, some spouses will not go to counseling. There are at-home programs that can be effective for those people, based on solid principles. Remember, it’s not about whether someone is willing to go to counseling or not, it’s about whether they are willing to work on the relationship.