Introduction to marital counselling

Putting the spotlight on marital counselling.

marital counsellingmarital counsellingConflict is a part and parcel of marriage, but if the couple is unable to cope with it, intervention in the form of marital counselling can help. mDhil speaks to Dr BR Madhukar, senior consultant psychiatrist at St Martha’s hospital for some insight into marital counselling.

mDhil: What is marital counselling? How can it help?

Dr Mahukar: Marital counselling is a method of counselling used to resolve relationship issues in a married or to-be married couple.

Differences and conflicts are a part and parcel of married life, be it a love or an arranged marriage. However, if it reaches a stage where the couple is finding it hard to cope, it can strain and even break the relationship. Therefore, it’s important to deal with issues before it assumes alarming proportions. Marital counselling helps address these issues, and along the way it can provide direction for the couple to better cope with conflict.

mDhil: Marital counselling is fairly new in India. In your experience, have couples warmed up to it?

Dr Madhukar: At least in the cities, marital counselling has become more common than before. Every week, I see more than five new couples coming to the hospital for counselling. The trend is picking up in smaller towns too.

mDhil: What is the role of a therapist/counsellor in marital counselling?

Dr Madhukar: The therapist plays a very important role in engaging the couple in an active discussion. He or she will need to figure means of improving communication between the two, by identifying the problems in the relationship and helping the couple works towards a resolution.

On the whole, the therapist will need to facilitate discussion and create a safe and trusting environment for the couple to put forth concerns plaguing their relationship. The therapist ultimately works towards creating and enhancing mutual respect, trust, love and affection between the couple.

mDhil: When should a couple consider marital counselling?

Dr Madhukar: A couple must consider marital counselling when it becomes difficult for them to resolve differences among themselves. Having tried earnestly, it’s better to consult a marital counsellor rather than delay it and strain the relationship further.

mDhil: Is it wise for an engaged couple to start seeing a counsellor before marraige? If yes, how can it help?

Dr Madhukar: In many ways it helps to see a counsellor before marriage. In a country where arranged marriage is still the norm, counselling provides a space for two strangers to air any apprehensions or concerns before marriage. It equally helps two lovers who want to enter matrimony. Marital counselling can give the couple a constructive start to their married life by enabling discussion on a host of important topics: In-laws, finances, property, value system, expectations, responsibilities and children too.

mDhil: How does marital counselling work? Does it involve joint sessions, individual sessions or a combination of both?

Dr Madhukar: Marital counselling involves both individual and joint sessions. It’s important that both get to talk about their concerns freely. Therefore, individual session offer scope for a therapist to work on each individual’s issues. And, of course, joint sessions help clarify any misunderstanding, enabling better communication.

In all this, the therapist will need to remain non-judgmental and not take sides.

mDhil: What are some areas that a counsellor can help with in a marital relationship?

Dr Madhukar: The counsellor has to help the person accept his/her partner the way he or she is. Also enable the couple to set realistic expectations, and work towards helping the couple learn to respect each other’s differences.

The counsellor also has a role to help the partners not lose their individual identities in the relationship. In case of a deep-seated conflict, the counsellor will have to work on rebuilding love, and interest in each other, and help them enjoy each other’s company. The counsellor will also help couples find ways to cope with challenges in the relationship.

mDhil: Can you please suggest some ways for couples to deal better with conflict?

Dr Madhukar: It would be wise to accept that conflicts are part of life. A couple should be open and willing to identify points of conflict. When the couple acknowledges conflict, it becomes easier to find a solution. The couple should work on improving communication and openly discussing their issues. Most importantly, both need to work on forgiving and letting go, holding grudges will only further damage the relationship.

Both partners must learn to listen to each other.  Any relationship involves both give and take, it is more so in a marital relationship. A marital relationship requires nurturing, and the couple should be prepared to put in effort to keep it going.

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