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Every long-term relationship goes through peaks and valleys. Marriage counseling can help a couple work through the valleys and enjoy the peaks.

Here are five things every committed couple should know about marriage counseling.

1.    Counseling is for happy couples, too.

Just like a car that’s making funny noises, when it comes to a relationship, it’s best to consult an expert before the problem becomes too severe.

“Couples often come to therapy too late,” says David Klow, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University. “It’s best to handle issues proactively, while you still have strengths to build on. Don’t wait until it’s totally terrible to deal with it.”

2.    Conflict can bring you closer.

Fighting doesn’t mean a relationship is a failure; all couples clash from time to time. It’s the way couples argue that matters. Negotiating differences with trust and respect can build a stronger connection between two people.

Pam Meyerson, a licensed clinical social worker from Highland Park who works primarily with couples, puts it bluntly, “Love doesn’t make a relationship last; working through conflict as a team makes a relationship last.”

An objective third party can help a couple work through issues in a productive way.

3.    Therapists won’t takes sides.

Your hubby may be driving you nuts, but don’t expect a therapist to take your side. The role of the therapist is to act as an objective third party and an advocate of the relationship, not the individuals. And pointing fingers doesn’t solve anything.

Meyerson makes sure her clients keep sessions free of blame and anger. “Everyone plays a role in relationship problems,” she says. “It’s not about blame, it’s about figuring out what’s going on.”

4.    Counseling can be fun.
Meyerson often sees long-term partners who have been together for more than 25 years learn surprising new things about one another—like childhood events, hidden dreams and fears—which lead to greater understanding and appreciation.

And even though couples therapy takes work—both inside and outside the session—it doesn’t have to be all about the pain, Klow says. “It can really deepen the bond between people; they walk out of the office feeling really close.”

5.    It’s life, not your marriage.

When times are tough, it’s easy to place blame on your partner, when really the problem is due to external factors. “There’s so much stress in life,” says Meyerson, “it’s not all caused by the marriage.”

Meyerson says that the ages 37 to 40 and 47 to 50 can be vulnerable times for relationships because the impending milestone birthday spurs a person to reevaluate his or her life and blame the spouse for whatever’s lacking. Marriage counseling can help sort through the underlying issues that may not have anything to do with the relationship at all.

Recommended Reading:

Hold Me Tight – Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John M. Gottman Ph. D. and Nan Silver

Thinking about counseling? Visit our Better List for area resources.

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