Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question toTheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.

If you’re like most couples who come to me for counseling, you’ve made several attempts at counseling. You tried one marriage counselor for several sessions, but left disappointed. A few years later you went to a psychologist, but things didn’t "click," and you quit that after a few sessions as well.

With one or two discouraging experiences, you wonder if counseling is really all that helpful. Worse, you wonder if you and your mate simply don’t have what it takes to heal your marital issues.

Common complaints shared with me are:

1. “We just don’t seem to be able to make counseling work.”

2. “Our problems are just too big for the counselor to help us.”

3. “The counselor didn’t seem to take a real interest in our problems.”

4. “We’ve gone too long for our problems to be fixed.”

5. “We were smarter than the counselor.”

Wait! Before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let’s consider what else might be going on. The truth of the matter, from my perspective is:

1. There are many things you can do to make counseling work.

2. Your problems are not too big for a skilled and trained counselor.

3. You can find a counselor who will take an active interest in your problems.

4. You have not gone too far for your problems to be repaired.

5. You can learn to work collaboratively with the counselor to solve your problems.

6. You can create a safe container in which you, your mate and your counselor can agree upon goals for counseling and work methodically on them. 

Seeking counseling is a critical endeavor so it is important that you know as much as possible about how to make counseling successful. Here are some ideas that will empower you in working effectively with your counselor and finding wonderful results.

First, remember that finding the appropriate counselor is ultimately your responsibility. Just as finding the right doctor for a medical condition is critical, so is finding the right mental health counselor. Ask around, check out references and find someone with whom you can trust your mental health and relationship health.

Second, stick with it. You will undoubtedly be disappointed if you only go for three or four sessions. Change takes time, and together with your counselor and the power of God, you can make significant changes. But again, it will take time.

Third, find a counselor who will take an active interest in your problems. You should walk away with suggestions for how to get your relationship on the right track. You should learn more about the things that derail your relationship as well as ways to enhance what you’re already doing right.

Fourth, while change takes time, a little bit of change can make a lot of difference. You should feel encouraged after a short time. A challenging relationship can be turned around with a little bit of effort applied consistently. You don’t have to consider throwing the relationship away. Instead, seek practical solutions and dedicate yourselves to applying them to your relationship.

Fifth, work collaboratively with your counselor. Ask for feedback on how you’re doing. Tell him/ her if you need more from them. There may be times when you will want a longer session or perhaps meeting more frequently. Don’t be afraid to let him/ her know if things are not working out. Again, this is your relationship and you need to feel a sense of collaboration with them.

Finally, work with your counselor to create a safe container in which you work together, change, grow and resolve issues. This safe container is a place of trust where you learn about yourself, your mate and gain confidence in your abilities to work out problems.

Remember, working on your marriage is one of your greatest tasks and an incredible opportunity for growth. Scripture says, “But if any one does not provide for his own, and specially for those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than the unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

I’d like to hear from you. What other challenges have you found with the counseling process? What was helpful and what didn’t help?

 

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.