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What is marriage counselling?
It is common for couples to face challenges in their marriage as both partners are bringing to the table their thoughts, ideas and beliefs that may not necessarily be aligned with each other.
As misunderstandings and fallouts can occur because of these differences, couples often turn to marriage counselling for support. Marriage counselling is a subset of counselling that specifically focuses on understanding the different issues that surface across a couple’s married life and agreeing on ways to maintain harmony in the relationship.
Some common concerns addressed during marriage counselling are chronic health issues, money, infertility, emotional distance, infidelity, substance use, recurring conflicts, infrequent sex and gambling.
Who should see a marriage counsellor?
Most marriages are not perfect as friction is bound to arise from time to time in all relationships. Marriage counselling is most frequently sought by couples who are facing problems in their marriage. These problems can be complex and recursive, and marriage counselling serves to help couples recognise the cause(s) of their conflicts and learn how to manage and cope with them.
Nevertheless, one doesn’t need to have a strained relationship to seek marriage counselling. Marriage counselling can provide couples with an opportunity to identify and resolve any bubbling issues in their relationship that have yet to escalate. Marriage counselling is hence also an avenue for couples who simply wish to strengthen their bond and build a more positive relationship.
As such, marriage counselling can be thought of as a learning opportunity that provides both partners with insights into each other’s opinions, daily routine, preferences and even pet peeves.
What can marriage counselling do for both of you?
There are no right or wrong reasons to seek couples counselling. Most couples opt for marriage counselling to sort out their differences and forge stronger bonds between them.
Going for marriage counselling allows you to:
- Learn how to address recurring causes of conflict: Marriage counselling also helps couples progressively work through any issues they have with their marriage counsellor and become more adept at identifying and handling their conflicts outside of therapy. This ensures that couples are better prepared and know what to do when disagreement occur in everyday life. In time, the unhealthy argument cycle over the same issues can be broken.
- Communicate openly and reconnect with your partner: Marriage counselling allocates a specific time and space for couples to sit down, reflect and share their thoughts. This allows them to engage in difficult conversations that may involve sensitive and deep-seated issues present in their marriage. With the counsellor overseeing and facilitating sessions, both partners are given an opportunity to reconnect and get to know each other again with a renewed perspective. This allows them to reclaim trust and commitment in their marriage.
Attain a more in-depth understanding of your partner’s emotional needs: Every individual has a distinct attachment style that has been cultivated since young. Partners may have different attachment styles and emotional needs in a relationship. For instance, an individual with a secure attachment style is likely to take initiative and seek support in face of a troubled relationship. Conversely, an individual with an insecure attachment style may become more self-centred in times of distress and resistant towards concern and intimacy.
Marriage counselling aids both partners in understanding their personal attachment style as well as that of their partner’s. This ensures that an individual discerns not only how their attachment style influences their behavioural patterns, but also grasps why their partner would react in a certain way towards issues in the marriage. Both partners can then better accommodate to each other and reach a compromise more easily.
- Gain insight into the dynamics of your marriage: A marriage is a constant work in progress. As both partners develop new habits and change over time, so does their marriage. Marriage counselling can help couples have a better sense of the current dynamics of their marriage as well as how their relationship has developed through the years. For couples who are newly wedded, marriage counselling sets them up on what to expect, namely lifestyle changes, accountability to your spouse and household responsibilities. For couples who have been married for a longer time, marriage counselling prompts both partners to reflect on how their relationship has matured and evolved over the years as well as adjust their attitudes towards the current state of their relationship.
- Maintain a conducive home environment: When a troubled relationship is left to fester, problems between a couple may escalate and cause undue stress to the family. If the couple has children, this can especially take a toll on their wellbeing as children are often helpless and insecure when their parents argue. Marriage counselling holds the potential to alleviate the tension between couples and contribute to a more conducive living environment as it can help couples better manage their conflicts and preserve peace in the household
How do we know whether to go for marriage counselling?
Marriage counselling is recommended for those who find that they:
What do I do if my partner does not want to go for marriage counselling?
A marriage counsellor is an active intermediary in the two-way communication process between partners. They are equipped with a variety of skills sets to help couples achieve their desired outcomes from counselling. Some of what they do include:
- Maintain a neutral conversational ground: During sessions, marriage counsellors provide a neutral space for couples to engage in an open dialogue, where they can express themselves and communicate with each other honestly. A marriage counsellor would not pick sides to ensure that the concerns of both partners are validated and adequately voiced out across sessions. More importantly, a marriage counsellor can help to regulate conversations for couples with an unbalanced dynamic in their relationship. That is to say, a marriage counsellor ensures that both partners have equal opportunity to talk about their perspectives and feelings and that the flow of discussion is not solely dominated or determined by one party. This allows both partners to safely share their side of the story and not feel pressured while doing so.
- Listen: Another good practice of marriage counsellors is active listening. Marriage counsellors utilise active listening to build rapport with their clients. Besides listening attentively to what both partners have to say, marriage counsellors also participate in the conversation by asking questions and reiterating the issue at hand to both partners to ensure that they have accurately comprehended the relevant details that were shared. This ensures that both partners feel heard and understood, and also helps the marriage counsellors get a better grasp on the issues presented by their clients.
Sieve out underlying issues: Marriage counsellors are also adept at sieving out underlying issues in a marriage that may not be immediately obvious to the couple. For instance, a couple may go for counselling due to frequent clashes in opinions. However, as their counsellor analyses the issues raised by the couple, they may identify other underpinning concerns such as the lack of trust between partners.
In these cases, marriage counsellors can help couples identify and become more aware of these underlying issues that are plaguing their relationship and offer constructive suggestions to manage them. The role of marriage counsellors is particularly important here as many couples are not able to pinpoint the root of their problem and tend to wind up in the same arguments time and again.
- Rediscover strengths in the marriage: Interestingly, many couples think that marriage counsellors are only around to help them recognise and resolve the problems in their relationship. Yet, in reality, marriage counsellors can also help couples see the positive side of their relationship — the strengths that have been overlooked as well as what the things they have done right as a couple.When times are rough, the strengths that couples exemplify across their marriage are often overshadowed by the troubles they are currently confronted with. During sessions, the role of the marriage counsellor includes re-illuminating the strengths in a marriage and reminding both partners of the resources they have together. This can be encouraging for couples who feel at a loss with regards to their marriage as it provides them with a boost of confidence to strive towards restoring, rebuilding and improving their relationship.
What to expect at marriage counselling
Deciding to go for marriage counselling might seem like a daunting task at first. The first step is admitting and accepting that your relationship may be facing some internal strife. For most couples, the first few sessions may seem unfamiliar and confusing.
There is also an added pressure arising from the need to find the right therapist, cost considerations, distant location, and lack of willingness or compliance for both partners to regularly come for sessions.
Your marriage counsellor will journey with you as you and your partner undertake the following:
- Delve into the history of the relationship: When you and your partner meet a counsellor for the first time, they may ask about how you and your partner met, what brought the both of you together, how the relationship has progressed over time as well as how both partners feel about the relationship at present. These questions allow them to better understand the dynamics of the relationship and work through with you and your partner on what led the relationship to its current state.
- Acknowledge stressors in the marriage: Recognising that there are issues in your relationship can be difficult and at times dispiriting. However, it is this first step of awareness and acknowledgement that prompts you and your partner towards pursuing mutual understanding, acceptance and growth; all of which helpful in improving your marriage.
During the counselling session, you and your partner can raise the different stressors in the marriage to your counsellor. They may take the form of recurring arguments, difficult situations that have been overlooked or deliberately avoided, anxiety in light of relationship transitions (eg marriage, parenthood), or even issues you foresee might become potential points of conflict.
Across these discussions, it is also important to be open and honest with your counsellor. This ensures that your counsellor can discern the underlying problems in the relationship and provide the right support for both partners in the relationship. In the initial meetings with your counsellor, you and your partner may find certain topics sensitive and uncomfortable to broach. Nonetheless, always remember that marriage counselling is an avenue that enables safe and confidential exchanges. Only you and your partner can judge the marriage, not anyone else.
Address any differences: In a marriage, both partners may come from vastly different backgrounds (culture, faith, education) or face different contextual circumstances in everyday life (eg support network, profession, workplace environment).
While at first glance these factors seem extraneous and unrelated to the problems you and your partner are facing in the relationship, they may bring into view why both partners diverge in opinions and come into conflict. Navigating through these differences with your counsellor ensures that both partners arrive at a more comprehensive picture of the problem at hand.
- Agree on outcomes: What every couple anticipates out of counselling will differ vastly and there is no universal, one-size-fits-all goal for therapy. Hence, both partners jointly envisaging and agreeing on the outcomes they hope to see in their relationship is a paramount part of marriage counselling.
Having a common outcome or a goal in mind can help both partners work towards building a healthy and positive relationship with a clearer direction and also serves as a constant reminder of what they are striving towards, especially when the same problems resurface occasionally.
At the beginning of the marriage counselling journey, envisaging goals can be perplexing as both you and your partner may be new to therapy and unsure of what to expect. Nonetheless, you can approach your counsellor for insights on goal setting, and start by agreeing on smaller, more attainable improvements you and your partner would want to see based on the prevailing issues that have been brought up. Moreover, keep note that these outcomes are not stagnant and may change with time as the dynamics between the couple change. What matters is that partners remain in communication with each other as they envision the growth of their relationship.
In addition, partners may not immediately see eye to eye with regards to the outcomes of marriage counselling. In situations whereby couples have divergent goals, it is important to find and maintain a balance in the relationship. The perspectives each partner has can be shared with your counsellor, where negotiations on what to focus on first can take place. Bear in mind that marriage counselling involves both collaboration and compromise, and your counsellor is here to help.
Cost of marriage counselling
Cost of marriage counselling: In Singapore, the cost of marriage counselling for an hour-long session typically ranges from S$160 to S$300, depending on the organisation or platform approached. These charges are subject to slight variations as some organisations do offer package rates.
At Talk Your Heart Out, we strive to keep our prices transparent, competitive and affordable while still providing access to quality marriage counselling services. For information on pricing, please refer to our pricing page: http://talkyourheartout.com/pricing/.
How long does marriage counselling go on for
There is no prescribed or stipulated timeline for how long marriage counselling lasts as the dynamics of every relationship and the motivations for seeking therapy can differ from couple to couple. Several factors that result in the varying length of therapy include:
- Nature and complexity of issue(s): As mentioned previously, there is a myriad of reasons couples decide to go for therapy together.
On the one hand, some couples are looking for support only at a particular point in their relationship. For instance, some couples may require assistance to tide through a difficult conversation.
On the other hand, other couples may be dealing with longstanding communication problems that have plagued their relationships and may turn to marriage counselling as a long-term mode of support.
Furthermore, there are also others who may be amidst resolving more complex issues such as substance abuse or violence. In these situations, the length of marriage counselling is typically expected to be longer as couples may require a longer time to open up and rebuild trust in their relationship.
- Commitment and frequency of sessions: Partners may have divergent or even clashing schedules and may not be able to commit to counselling sessions at a regular rate. The low frequency of sessions can potentially prolong the length of marriage counselling as couples who are attending sessions spaced months apart may need to fill the counsellor in on the events that have elapsed in the time as well as the current state of the relationship.
- Engagement across sessions: The idea of marriage counselling is often foreign to many. As such, the readiness to engage in therapy sessions varies among couples and even between partners.
Couples who struggle and find it hard to open up to each other and their counsellor may need to attend marriage counselling for a longer period of time before the relationship takes a turn for the better. Similarly, couples who are unreceptive or unresponsive at sessions may lengthen the therapeutic process.
Conversely, couples who demonstrate positive therapeutic engagement by being fully present at sessions and participating actively in conversations are likely to observe positive developments in their relationship more quickly.
Online marriage counselling
At Talk Your Heart Out, we also offer marriage counselling through an online medium. For many couples, online counselling is preferred as it is more streamlined and accessible than an in-person visit.
Some reasons why couples would opt for online counselling:
- Location: When both partners are residing in different countries, online counselling may be more applicable as it overcomes the geographical barriers couples may face. It allows both parties, regardless of distance and time difference, to attend the sessions. Online counselling in such situations can be valuable in the long run, as it allows couples to develop and maintain understanding towards each other despite having to live apart for an extended period of time.”
- Uncertainty with traditional therapy: Couples may find in-person therapy challenging and uncomfortable. Hence, access to online counselling services reduces the stigma surrounding therapy and the initial apprehension that may come with couples who are trying out therapy for the first time. Communicating with counsellors through the screen also allows couples to feel more at ease sharing about their relationship, a personal topic that many tend to shy away from in face to face sessions.
- Comfort: Couples who prefer to attend counselling in a more familiar and casual environment may find online counselling to be a perk as it can take place in the comfort of their homes. A comfortable setting can allow help partners ease into the therapeutic process more quickly.
- Work: Some partners may be in occupational roles where they have to frequently travel. In these situations, online therapy would similarly, be more beneficial and convenient as hectic travelling schedules would not compromise the seeking of therapy.
- Movement restrictions: With the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, movement restrictions are likely to be enforced, and in-person sessions may be disallowed and halted at short notice. Online counselling is thus a wise alternative for couples who wish to go for therapy in a safe environment. For couples who are keen to attend counselling sessions on a regular basis, online counselling also proves to be/is also viable in light of our current pandemic situation as it is not subjected to disruptions, unlike in-person sessions.
What can I do if my partner does not want to go for marriage counselling?
Not everyone is ready or willing to admit that there are underlying issues in their marriage, much less share what goes on in their marriage with another party. If your partner is resistant to the idea of marriage counselling, here are some things you can do:
Communicate the purpose of therapy with your partner. Let your partner know why you are considering counselling to improve your relationship, and how you envision it will benefit you both. Clarifying your intentions for seeking marriage counselling and having clear goals about what you would like out of it can help encourage your partner to take the first step towards seeking therapy together.
Address your partner’s concerns. Ask your partner what aspect of relationship counselling makes them feel uncomfortable. As they share their doubts with you, you can try to address them and understand where they are coming from. In the meantime, refrain from getting defensive amidst their sharing. Listening to your partner attentively can reassure them and validate their uncertainty.
Thereafter, inquire if there is anything you can do to make them feel less uncomfortable about trying therapy. This way, both you and your partner are able to get a sense of how counselling works and assess its suitability for your relationship.
Talk about therapy in a positive way. Many people are reluctant to go for therapy due to the stigma and misconceptions surrounding it. Gently suggesting therapy as an option and expressing your belief in how it can be a source of support for your relationship can help your partner become more receptive.
Offer to choose a counsellor together. You can ask your partner what their ideal counsellor is like and involve them in the process of selecting a counsellor. This allows them to choose someone whom they feel they can trust and reduce their concerns about marriage counselling.
If you have tried these suggestions and your partner is still not open to going for therapy together, respect the fact that not everyone is ready for therapy immediately. While it may be disheartening, you can try individual counselling first and discuss any issues relating to your relationship with a suitable counsellor.
Thereafter, consider sharing your counselling journey with your partner as it might help them feel more open to attending sessions with you. Observing a positive change in you may encourage your partner to try marriage counselling.
What can I do after going for marriage counselling?
After attending sessions together, couples often wonder how else they can facilitate their counselling journey. Some suggestions are:
Reflect at your own pace: Take time between sessions to process what has been shared during therapy and ponder over the input from your counsellor.
Heavy information exchange can take place during therapy as couples open up about their marriage. Both partners can take a few moments after each session to pen down what goes on in their mind and revisit them later when they feel more ready to take on these thoughts. Reflecting on the conversation between you, your partner and your counsellor at your own time can help to increase your awareness and understanding of the present issue or situation. Consistent reflection also allows you to more adeptly regulate your emotions and prepare yourself ahead of the next session without feeling overwhelmed.
Occasionally, couples may feel drained after a counselling session as both partners have been thinking and talking about sensitive and challenging issues they have been dealing with for a long while. In these moments of vulnerability and weariness, be patient with yourself and your partner and understand that it is not an easy feat to share about the issues in the relationship.
- Exercise patience towards occasional hiccups and give in: Change and adaptation take courage and time. As you and your spouse attempt to work on the feedback shared during counselling sessions, there may be occasions where both partners revert to old habits and frustrate each other.In these situations, try to be patient with your partner and give in to them rather than berate their actions. Accepting that progress is not linear and being empathetic towards your partner can prevent arguments from escalating out of control.
Affirm effort and change: Review the progress you and your partner have made since going for marriage counselling and celebrate all attempts – however small – at improving the relationship, be it attitudinal shifts or physical actions.For your partner, your affirmation lets them know that their efforts are being recognised and allows them to feel appreciated. This can be particularly uplifting and reassuring when your partner is facing difficulty adjusting to new habits.
At the same time, don’t forget to encourage yourself. We can all be too hard on ourselves sometimes. Giving due credit to yourself as you endeavour to become a better partner is equally important and keeps both partners motivated and committed to healing or bettering their relationship in the long run.
Check in and consider next steps: After several sessions of marriage counselling, it may be useful to check in on how your partner is feeling about the past few meetings with the counsellor and share your takeaways with them. Both partners can schedule a recurring time to assess if the objectives and desired outcomes that were agreed upon at the beginning of the counselling journey have been met.Beyond that, both partners can also start to consider what is their next step forward with regards to their relationship. For instance, after overcoming the issues that were brought up in the initial counselling sessions, couples can work out other aspects of the marriage they wish to improve on.
This undivided attention dedicated to each other outside of therapy allows both partners to feel valued and can be potentially helpful in facilitating more honest conversations about the relationship and its progress.
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Our Marriage Counsellors in Singapore are:
Punitha is an experienced psychologist who specialises in self-harm, trauma, addictive behaviour, burnout & childhood issues. She also works with LGBTQ+ couples.
Jeanette works with couples and families, as well as adolescents and adults facing acute stress due to pressures, burnout, and relationship issues.
Rashmi works with local & expat clients on relationships, grief, divorce, parenting, abuse & acculturation issues.
Alyssa often works with young adults (professionals, students) and provides couples counselling. She also works with LGBTQ couples.
Desieree is an experienced psychologist who is able to help clients with a wide range of emotional & behavioural issues, as well as self-development.
Kayden specialises in anxiety, self-esteem, boundary issues, depression, stress management, relationship issues, and LGBTQIA+ issues.