Marriage counseling gets a bad rap. A lot of people see it as a last ditch effort to save something that is already in the final throes of death on the tempestuous seas of a struggling marriage. But the truth is that the success of any counseling endeavor is completely dependent upon the attitudes and effort of those involved.

Communication is key for a successful relationship. While we all believe we are communicating our feelings successfully, that isn’t always the case. People come into relationships carrying heavy baggage. We all have it. The world at large is interpreted through the filter of that baggage, and sometimes it can prevent us from seeing things clearly or at all. That’s where counseling can help.

And while some individuals are adverse to the idea of sharing their personal and relationship problems with a complete stranger, an objective third party can help couples view hot button issues from another perspective.

The decision to seek counseling is a very intimate one, whether it be marriage or personal. Choosing the right counselor is key. It’s also important for both partners to understand that counseling is not an immediate solution. Marriage problems don’t appear suddenly, and they won’t be resolved without hard work in the emotional trenches. Results take time.

If your partner refuses to go to therapy, don’t make it another point of contention. Seek personal counseling for yourself, alone. Taking time to work on you and your baggage will have a positive effect in your own life, which may transfer to your marriage.

However, statistics do show that couples counseling is more effective than individual therapy.

According to statistics provided by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, 93 percent of patients surveyed said they had more effective tools for dealing with their problems after counseling.

I’ve seen the difference marriage counseling can make in the lives of close friends. I would recommend it to any couples who are struggling. It can be hard to delve into topics like money and sex in front of a third party, but the results are well-worth the discomfort.

My friends Sue and Johnny were convinced they were meant to be. They met after a series of failed relationships. Both had sworn off love completely. But when a mutual friend introduced them at a baseball game, they swore it was love at first site.

After hours of flirting and endless pints of Guinness, the pair decided to meet the next evening for their first official date. They spent the night hopping from dive bars to coffee shops, talking about past hurts and hopes for the future. The chemistry was undeniable. Sue went home with Johnny that night and never left.

Both of them will tell you that they felt like their proverbial soul mate ships had finally arrived.

“I was beginning to think there was nobody out there for me,” Johnny told me one night over sushi. “I met Sue and everything changed.” After only five months of dating, the pair eloped to Las Vegas, marrying in a drive-through service performed by an aging, gold-lamé clad Elvis-impersonator.

But after a whirlwind romance that the both described as nothing short of magical, things began to cool down, as they often do.

“In the beginning, we couldn’t get enough of each other,” Sue said. “We were having sex every day, multiple times a day. I have a high sex drive, which has caused problems in past relationships. When a man can’t get on your level, it causes resentment and frustration. John was stimulating in every way: emotionally, mentally and sexually. I was convinced I’d found my match. We got married, and things changed.”

Johnny said that marrying Sue kicked off what turned out to be the best year of his life both personally and professionally. Then things started to go down hill. He lost his job unexpectedly. He and Sue were fighting more and more over little things that seemed not to matter in the months prior. They weren’t having sex nearly as often, and eventually not at all.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Sue said. “I was starting to think I’d made a mistake. He just wasn’t the same person.”

Sue said she would try to express her feelings of loneliness and desire to Johnny, but that he didn’t seem to hear her. “I was missing my best friend, missing the intimacy of our sex life, of feeling connected and desired. But John didn’t seem to hear me. I thought maybe he just didn’t care.”

According to Johnny, the stress of losing his job had screwed up his libdo. He didn’t feel like having sex or even getting up in the morning. Sue didn’t seem to understand, and the constant pressure she placed on him to perform made him feel more like a piece of meat than a husband.

After only a year of marriage, the couple decided to seek counseling.

Today, the pair have been together for more than 20 years.

“Counseling helped us to understand the struggles that the other was dealing with,” Johnny said. “We are all inherently selfish. It makes it hard to step outside our own needs and look at what our partner is going through. It was tough to talk about our sex life at first. But I’m glad that we did.”

Sue said counseling helped Johnny to see that she wasn’t feeling connected or valued as a woman, and her to see that he was feeling depressed and overly pressured.

Counseling may not be the solution for every couple. There are issues that run deep, and sometimes, just can’t be worked through. But the only way to know if counseling is right for your marriage is to discuss it. It could be just the life raft you’ve been searching for.

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