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Choosing the Right Marriage Therapist may be One of the Most Important Decisions You Ever Make

Hopefully, in our lives together with our spouses, we will never have to summon the services of a marriage/couples therapist. Many who need these services are often unaware whether they need professional services in relational evaluation and treatment and wait too long to get professional guidance and expertise. As a consequence, their relationships and marriages often fail or a married couple may live for years in torment and lack of fulfillment.

While problems become increasingly complex and entrenched, children become profoundly affected as well, so by the time a phone call is made to make an appointment, problems are often severe. Many couples wait years before finally making the decision to receive help.

Then what? Who do you call? What qualifications and experience make a therapist a good fit for both spouses together as a marital unit? Does the therapist have a doctorate degree in Professional Psychology from an accredited university program, serving internships, and post doctoral residencies? Most importantly, are they licensed to practice psychology in the state you live in, with at least 10-15 years of full time experience working with couples or where at least half of their full time case load is dedicated to relational, marriage, and/or family systems? Does the therapist call you back for a free phone interview before scheduling you so that you have some familiarly with the way he/she works in therapy, their approach, techniques, etc. before you see them in person? What are considered to be reasonable charges for services? Is it better to pay for a more experienced, proven professional or try a recent graduate who is “learning on the job”? What does your budget allow for? What other professionals, in addition to psychologists, provide couples therapy? Do they have doctorate level training and degrees, and if not, what makes them qualified to treat you? Do they have significant experience with child therapy in case your children are affected by your marital problems? These are just some of the questions you should consider in choosing a therapist. Location alone should be of secondary importance in most cases. Fees can be misleading (i.e. a “cheap” therapist may see a couple for 2-3 years in therapy versus an “expensive” therapist who may get you results in several months, actually saving you many hundreds of dollars). On the other hand, the amount of money you spend may not predict successful outcome.

Before choosing a therapist, make sure the therapist calls and interviews you on the phone first and answers your questions. A good, in depth initial phone call with a prospective therapist can go a long way in making you feel comfortable that you have made the right choice.

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Why are Communication Problems in a Marriage such a Major Issue with most Couples?

First, communication is one of the pillars of a solid foundation in any intimately close relationship. If you do not feel connected to your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend or “significant other”, then frustration and resentment begin to set in. This generally unfolds in one to five years whereby one or the other party, or even both parties together, begin to recognize they have a problem.

What used to be just “joking” now becomes hostile sarcasm, taking “jabs” at one another or avoiding conflict “just to get along”. The “honeymoon” stage is over and now you begin to wonder if the two of you are compatible or not. Whereas previously, there was no criticism of one another, one or both parties start to notice the habits of each other and there is increased scrutiny of one another.

How and why comments are made to one another become more important. Casual, free-flowing communication gets replaced by hesitancy to be forthright or the parties resort to have a “tone” with one another. A stressful job or children with behavioral problems may exacerbate the interactive dynamics between husband and wife. Neither party seems to get better at communicating. The couple then begins to see their emotional closeness waning and withering away. These are just some of the warning signs that often lead to further deterioration of the relationship.

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Were you Raised in a “Dysfunctional” Family as a Child?

If you were raised in an unhealthy family, how could this be affecting your relationship with a loved one?  Many people laugh when they discuss the “dysfunctional” family they grew up in as children. They rationalize that all families are dysfunctional so why is the one I was raised in any different or more problematic for my relationships with my spouse or loved one?

The truth is that, yes, there are reasonably normal families by most methods of what constitutes normality. No family is perfect but perfection is not necessary to reveal what a reasonably normal family is like. No, it is not normal for parents to be screaming and yelling in front of their young children at the dinner table. No, it is not normal for either parent to be openly drunk, stumbling around the house, shouting out obscenities at family members.

Exposure to these kinds of conduct affects children in profound ways. Very young children (i.e. 6 and younger) often do not have the intellectual and emotional capacity to properly understand and protect themselves from these influences. Chronic exposure to unhealthy families throughout childhood and adolescence significantly increase the likelihood that, as adults, they will choose partners to play out, at least to some extent, the dramas their parents played out with one another. This ensures a generational transfer of dysfunction from one generation to the next, perhaps not in full or 100% of the time, but to a troubling and significant degree.

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