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Couple’s and/or Family Counseling

There are many types of interventions that are effective in helping family member’s relationships become and/or remain healthy.

Due to the high rates of divorce across many parts of the world, many religious institutions and mental health professionals have designed pre-marital programs to teach communication skills and conflict resolution strategies to help prevent later relationship problems. For example, programs teach premarital couples how to become aware of and express their thoughts, feelings, and intentions, and how and when to listen and respond to each other in empathetic, supportive, and respectful ways. These programs focus on building healthy relationships from an early starting point, such as encouraging partners to learn what behaviors make their partners happy and unhappy, and how to make agreements to change behaviors when needed. These types of programs are structured, meaning there are specific topics and activities that are covered, and they involve using active learning strategies, like role-playing how to communicate.

Other programs have been developed to enrich marital and long-term relationships. The goals for these types of programs are for partners to express more positive feelings for each other and to create growth plans for their relationship. Conflict resolution skills are often taught, such as how to listen, summarize, find a problem the partners want to focus on, discuss how they each contribute to the problem, discuss solutions, evaluate them, and develop a plan of action for both partners to take. Many of these enrichment programs are held as weekend retreats or workshops, and research indicates they have success in helping partners communicate better. These programs are not very effective for highly distressed couples, however, and can actually make things worse for them. What should those partners do?

While martial and family therapy can be useful for couples and families even before problems arise, it is particularly useful for distressed relationships. There are many ways that marital and family therapy can take place. For example, a mental health professional may work with individuals or couples, or even the entire family. Depending on the training of the mental health professional, they will also approach the family or couple in very different ways. For instance, some therapists use a family systems approach, which we will learned about in Week One, while others use cognitive approaches to change the way family members interpret each other’s behaviors and think about problems.

Does martial therapy work? The answer to this question is hard to answer, because typically people to not go to therapy until there is a serious problem. Rather than go for prevention or enrichment purposes, the partners often wait too long to make an appointment with a mental health professional, and many negative behavior patterns and harms have been caused. The partners may now not trust each other anymore, and struggle to find healthy ways forward.

If both partners are committed and invested in trying to work to save their relationship, then marital therapy can be effective.

At some point, one or both parents may decide that they cannot fix their problems, despite the help they are receiving, and they end therapy. They may decide to end their relationship and move on. Some couples and families actually continue in therapy in order to work through their separation process in as healthy a way as possible, particularly to provide additional support for their children. The separation process is a tumultuous one involving many decisions, and having a third party who knows the family and how they communicate can make this process less difficult. Divorce therapy can take many forms; typically the therapist works with partners separately, and then occasionally together. They will often recommend group therapy for partners separately to get support. Mediation can help parents at this point to resolve conflicts without needing to litigate their problems in family court which forces a win-lose situation. If mediation is unsuccessful, then court is the last resort.

What do you think? Post your thoughts in the comments and take a moment to see what other learners are saying and respond to any other comments that resonate with you.

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This article is from the free online course:

Positive Parenting After Separation

Colorado State University

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