coupleIf your marriage is struggling and has been for a while and nothing you do seems to improve your relationship, you may need to consider seeing a marriage and family therapist. Too often couples is these situations think they can solve it themselves, and sometimes they can. But if they can’t seem to, apparently what they are doing just simply isn’t working.

In these cases it’s difficult for couples to see what’s really causing the friction. When there’s trouble in a marriage it’s always easy to put the blame on the other person. Certainly, some of the cause belongs there, but rarely is it a one-way street. Both can be contributing without each realizing his or her part in the problem. Marriage and family therapists don’t take sides. They are on the side of the marriage. All their efforts will be to help you achieve happiness in your marriage.                                                          

Six things that stand in the way of couples seeing a marriage therapist:

1. They can’t afford it. If a couple doesn’t have the funds and their bishop thinks therapy may help them he may be able to arrange for the Church to assist in paying for a certain number of visits. He needs to be in on who the therapist will be and have your permission to discuss your case with the therapist, if needed. Couples can also look at their current budget and see what they can do without to pay for therapy sessions, or at least a portion of what the Church may be willing to pay.

2. They don’t want anyone else to know they have a problem. First off, couples need to get rid of that prideful attitude and realize that their marriage is worth whatever it takes to save it. Understand that there is no shame in seeing a therapist. There is, however, shame in not doing everything they can to save their marriage. Bottom line: it’s wise to see a therapist when your marriage is in trouble.

3.They think they can solve their problems themselves. Sometimes couples just keep doing what doesn’t work with the notion that at some point it will work. They don’t think they need outside help. And the misery continues, or ends in divorce, which often then introduces an even harsher misery. Recognizing that you need help is the first step in finding solutions.

4. They are embarrassed to tell a therapist what their problems are. Let us assure you that a therapist is the last person who is going to be shocked by what you share in his or her office. They have heard challenges and heartaches of many others who came seeking help. Because of these experiences and discovering what worked for these clients they are qualified to give you the help you need. Remember, they have spent years being educated on the best ways to help save marriages.

5. They are afraid the therapist will tell others. Whatever you share with a therapist is confidential. By law they cannot divulge your information to others without your permission.

6. They think their problems aren’t serious enough to require a therapist. Too many couples wait until they are on the brink of divorce before seeking help. If only they would go sooner they have a greater chance of saving and enriching their marriage. Don’t wait until it’s too late. In some cases, when help is sought early on, it may only require one or two sessions.

Let’s say you have reached the decision that you and your spouse need professional help with your marriage. Yours was meant to be an eternal marriage and you don’t want it to end. Here are a couple of suggestions that may help you in seeking a marriage therapist.

1. Visit with your bishop. Let him know what’s happening. It’s best to do this together, but if your spouse won’t go, then you go. Pour your heart out to him. Let him know the truth of what is going on. He can only help when he has all the information, not just a piece of it. Some bishops have insights into what needs to be done while others may be less experienced. Still, as they seek the Spirit to guide them in your behalf, they can offer inspired help. When situations are beyond their capacity they can refer couples to a trusted LDS therapist. Your Relief Society president may also be able to recommend a good therapist.

2. If you know you need professional counseling, you don’t need to wait for a bishop to refer you. You can ask his advice on whom he might recommend, if you want to, but you can certainly go forward on your own when you know you need this kind of help. However, we encourage you to keep your bishop in the loop. He can add his faith and prayers in your behalf.

When seeking a marriage therapist here are a few guidelines:

Pray for guidance in finding the right therapist for you.

Be sure the therapist has your same values, preferably one who is an active member of the Church.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that concern you when seeking the best therapist for you.

Be sure the therapist is licensed in your state.

If you find that the therapist you chose does not feel right for you, you can terminate the therapy and find another who may be a better fit. Therapists want what is best for you. If asked, they may even recommend another therapist who may work out better for you.         

If you know others who have gone to a therapist, ask for their recommendations.

It only works if . . .

In order for marriage therapy to work, couples must be willing to do their part. They can’t just show up and expect the therapist to, in effect, wave a magic wand and all their problems will disappear.

On the contrary, they must be willing to do their part. Dr. Lynn Ponton, put it this way: “Effective counseling is a two way street. It takes a cooperative effort by both the person receiving counseling and the counselor. And it takes a commitment to make sometimes difficult changes in behavior or thinking patterns.”

Some couples ask at the beginning how many visits it will take to heal their marriage. Because crystal balls don’t work, there is no way to tell. It all depends on how hard the couple works. The couple will know when they no longer need therapy by the improvement they see in their marriage. They’ll know they’re done when they are enjoying happiness in their marital relationship. Once that is achieved, some couples like to come back for an occasional check up. It’s fun to report to their counselor the happiness they are experiencing. Or they may have a question or two they want to work on for a session. It’s all up to the couple.

If your spouse doesn’t want to come for therapy the prospective client may be wondering if it will be worth coming alone. The answer is yes. The therapist may be able to give the client some insights and ideas to work on without the spouse being present. After a session or two the spouse may be curious and decide to come along. Sometimes it just requires a little patience without nagging.

What things are discussed in marriage therapy?

Whatever is troubling you, that’s what you talk about with your therapist. It can include any of the following, and far more.

Can’t communicate. He doesn’t listen. She talks too much.

Financial problems. Her spending is out of control. He doesn’t earn enough for our family.

Intimacy and sexual needs. He doesn’t understand my needs. She doesn’t understand mine.

Feeling ignored and unvalued. Everyone matters more than I do.

Parenting problems. Our kids are out of control. We need help knowing how to set boundaries.

In-law problems. He doesn’t like my mother. Her mother can’t stop telling us what to do.

Blended family issues. Our kids are struggling with accepting the new stepparent.

Religious differences. He isn’t as dedicated as I’d like him to be. She expects too much.

Infertility issues. Not being able to have a baby is causing us to grow apart.

Adoption challenges. Our adopted kids are struggling with their identity.

Mourning the loss of a loved one. We can’t get over the loss of our son.

Divorce adjustment. I feel so alone. What can I do? How can I ever trust marriage again?

This is only a partial list. As we said, whatever is troubling you, that is what will be addressed.

Greatest joy for a therapist

One of the happiest moments for a therapist is when a couple says, “Thank you so much. We have never been happier. We can now continue on our own.” That is the goal of the therapist. That’s his or her reward. There may be some less honorable therapists who want to keep clients coming even though they no longer need professional help, but we think they are few and far between. Our philosophy is: Get the couple on their own as quickly as possible. Do not make them dependant upon their therapist.

As an LDS marriage and family therapist I know how much I rely on the Spirit to guide me. I think all religious, caring therapists seek the help of the Lord through prayer for their clients. God is the only one who knows everything about the couple, and we can’t do it right without Him. I can hardly explain the joy that comes when the Spirit whispers a new idea into my mind that seems perfect for the couple. I know it didn’t come from me, only through me by the power of a loving Heavenly Father. He deeply cares about his children. He wants marriages to succeed, to be filled with happiness, and to be eternal. That is His goal. We, his children, work together to help make that happen.

A fun video clip

In the meantime, have some fun as you receive a little bonus therapy from this clip from the Church. Enjoy it as a couple today.

Marriage is forever. Let’s keep it that way.

[Gary Lundberg is a marriage and family therapist in Provo, Utah. To find out more visit ]