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Could Your Marriage Benefit From Counseling?

While some people associate counseling with newlyweds, there are many ways in which even couples who have been married for decades could benefit, say experts. Here are the potential rewards—and ways to get your spouse on board.

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Q&A
Is There Anything Couples Can Do on Their Own?

Marriage needs to be nurtured as you would nurture a child or it will wilt or shrivel. If counseling isn’t a good fit, there are plenty of other tools, like the workbook Fighting for Your Marriage, which you can work through together, one chapter a week. 

You may feel like you’re over all the major relationship hurdles once your marriage has survived the harrowing era of raising kids, developing careers and creating a home together. But many couples experience increased conflicts at the time of retirement because they suddenly spend much more time together. And as couples age, they are still likely to fight about money and have issues with communication.

These aren’t irreconcilable differences at any age or at any stage of a marriage, says Michelle Carlstrom, LCSW-C, senior director at the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Johns Hopkins. The problem is, by the time most couples seek counseling, they have basically given up on the relationship and turn to therapy to clarify whether they should get divorced.

If one (or both) of you makes excuses for why counseling couldn’t help your marriage, consider these benefits and strategies that Carlstrom shares.

Excuse: Nothing’s Wrong

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Not exactly. “Couples need to fiercely guard, defend and nurture their marriage before things fall apart,” says Carlstrom. A study of couples married for more than 30 years, with the average age of 60, found that pre-emptive counseling (i.e. seeking therapy before you feel like there is anything wrong) improved marital functioning and satisfaction. Even their sex lives improved.

Excuse: But We’re Soul Mates

Romantic notions of marriage make for an exciting start to a union, but could spell trouble later in life. Research has shown that those who consider themselves soul mates report higher levels of satisfaction but also experience high levels of conflict and divorce. Counseling could help you navigate the high expectations that spouses in this category tend to place upon each other, says Carlstrom.  

Excuse: Therapy Is So Drastic

If the word therapy or counseling throws you off, try framing it as a checkup. When researchers asked couples resistant to the notion of therapy to engage in a “marriage checkup,” they found a broad range of couples willing to participate. When asked why they were okay with the checkup, one husband said: “I think our marriage is in pretty good shape, but it doesn’t hurt to check and see where we stand.” 

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