Relationship Counseling: Does It Work?

Everyone knows that having excellent relationship communication is vital to your relationship. In many forms of relationship counseling, relationship counselors will bring up relationship communication as part of relationship counseling. Since statistics show that 60 percent of marriages end in divorce, one reason may be that many couples don't seek relationship counseling until it's too late. Most people who have tried relationship counseling believe it works, and couples who have split often say they wish they had tried relationship counseling first to help improve their relationship communication.

"Most people realize that getting rid of your partner does not get rid of the problem because half the problem is yours," says Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, author of Make Up, Don't Break Up (Adams Media Corporation, 1999). "You can walk out on your marriage, but you can't run away from yourself — no matter how hard you try," she says.

One of the biggest challenges for most couples is learning how to stop blaming each other so that they can work through the troubled times without the power struggles. Relationship counseling offers a safe haven for couples to express their needs and fears and effectively resolve anger and conflict.

"More relationships break up because people don't know how to validate each other," says Dr. Eaker Weil. But with the right counseling and a little practice, couples can learn the skills to save their relationships.

A Conscious Approach to Relationship Counseling

Gay Hendricks, Ph.D., and Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D, authors of The Conscious Heart: Seven Soul-Choices That Inspire Creative Partnership (Bantam, 1999) and Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment (Bantam, 1992), have worked with thousands of couples over the past two decades. They're the first to acknowledge that success depends upon a number of factors, including the approach.

The Hendrickses take a "whole-body" learning approach. They look for the physical "dance" that's going on between partners, and ask couples to notice what's going on in their bodies. Is there tension? If so, where? Is their breathing shallow? By identifying actual body sensations, such as "my heart is racing," people accomplish two things: 1) They change their state of consciousness, and 2) begin to communicate on a level that is unarguable. Communicating in a way that is unarguable is the most valuable skill you can learn, according to Kathlyn Hendricks, because it allows you to communicate without blame. "Identifying body sensations is the foundation for identifying how we create (and resolve) conflict," she says.

Something for Everyone

The Hendricks's method is not for everyone because it means that each partner has to take 100 percent responsibility for their experience in the relationship. But with the overwhelming number of approaches to relationship counseling available, just about everyone can find one that works for them.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Bantam, 1998) and The Wisdom of Menopause (Bantam, 2003), has tried and recommends the Hendricks's approach to relationship counseling. "I am a big fan of marriage," she says. "I think everyone can use a little help with beliefs and behaviors when it comes to relationships." Although divorced, Dr. Northrup advocates doing all you can to make your marriage work, unless it's a physically, psychologically or emotionally abusive relationship. If so, you need help, not relationship counseling. Organizations such as Family Crisis (1-800-537-6066) are available 24 hours a day.

Dr. Northrup also recommends Michele Weiner-Davis's approach to relationship counseling, along with her book, Getting Through to The Man You Love: The No-Nonsense, No-Nagging Guide For Women (Golden Books Pub. Co., 1999), and Dr. Phil McGraw's approach, which is outlined in his book Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting With Your Partner (Hyperion, 2000).

Weiner-Davis, an internationally renowned relationship expert and psychotherapist, has said that everything a woman needs to know about changing her man can be learned from a good dog-training manual. Weiner-Davis, who only counsels women, teaches skills to help women create the type of relationships they want.

Dr. Phil, a psychologist, takes a more confrontational approach to stopping the "blame cycle" by asking couples to decide to be happy, not right. His seven steps involve: Defining what's "wrong" with you and your relationship; ridding yourself of "wrong" thinking; switching from negative thoughts/behaviors to positive thoughts/behavior; internalizing new personal relationship values; developing a winning "relationship formula"; reconnecting with your partner; and learning to maintain your relationship.

With all the help available today, most experts agree: There's no reason to resign yourself to a bad relationship.

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