orenstein_articleBy Susan Orenstein, Ph.D.

In our daily lives, there are lots of routine ways we check to make sure things are on track. Consider, for example, annual medical check-up, kids’ report cards, car tune-ups, monthly bank statements, or the dreaded work evaluation.  All are seen as a way to proactively detect and address problems to keep things on track.   So, why are many people hesitant to seek professional feedback and help for their marriage?

Couples counseling can seem like a daunting step to take.  Here are several misconceptions that explain many couples’ reluctance to seek couples counseling…

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You can find out more about Susan Orenstein, including her upcoming seminars and other articles by visiting her website,

By Betty Phillips

Now what kind of whacked-out title is this?  Is Phillips off her rocker?  Well, just think about it.  We’re told to pay daily attention to our dental health, brush and floss each night and seek professional assessment with dental checkups every six months.  When a dental problem is discovered we invest immediately in corrective work, whether or not the charges are covered by insurance.  Why?  Our teeth are a long-term investment and we know we will be much better off if we take good care of this important resource.  Sure, we can purchase replacement (“false”) teeth but we worry that they won’t care for us as well as our original permanent teeth.  Get the picture now?  Phillips isn’t crazy, just likes analogies to get your attention and make her point.  Marriage is an important resource for our long-term mental and physical health — but how do we take care of our marriage partnership?  Not nearly as well as we take care of our teeth.  Sometimes I feel like a voice calling out in the wilderness — let’s pay attention to the health of our marriages!  And let’s pay attention before they deteriorate and decay!  Most couples wait six years from the time marital problems begin until they seek marriage counseling.  No wonder It’s so difficult to restore health and vitality to the marriage.  Your dentist would be appalled if you came in for treatment after six years of dental neglect — assuming you have any teeth left to repair!  When your teeth hurt, you don’t care whether insurance will cover the treatment, you make the appointment and pay up.  When your heart and soul hurt from marital problems, however, the refrain is often: “we can’t afford marriage counseling.”  As a point of information, most insurance programs will cover “family treatment” for you and your spouse although they may tell you they don’t cover “marriage counseling.”  One or more of you will need to be distressed enough to qualify for the family treatment.  My basic point is that you and your spouse should sign up for marriage counseling whether or not it is covered by insurance.  Your marriage should be at least as important as your teeth.

There is another important similarity with dental health.  We grow our first temporary set of teeth which will need to be replaced as we grow up.  Let’s compare this to the first stage in partner relationships, the romantic phase, being madly “in love”, the beginning stage which like baby teeth is destined to fall apart and must be replaced by a second stage of mature and hopefully long-lasting love.  We’re told about the transition from baby to permanent teeth.  Why aren’t we taught about the demise of romantic love and the need to care for the next partnership stage?  Research shows that the stage of romantic love will last up to two years but inevitably will fade.  The serious work of sustaining the longer-term, hopefully permanent relationship begins when this romantic phase ends.  Instead of understanding this, many people become distressed, blame their marriage or partner, and start looking around for another romantic love.  But let’s take another look at the statistics.  40 to 50% of first marriages, 60 to 70% of second marriages and 75% or more of third marriages end in divorce.  The very romantic love of affairs rarely ever graduates to marriage.  When affair partners marry, many of these marriages end up in divorce court.  There are many reasons to stay with our original partner and work on a long-term relationship.

When our baby teeth disappear we can’t get them back.  The euphoric peaks, wonderful happiness, the obsessive need for the lover’s company, the passionate moments of romantic love, similarly are doomed.  When reality strikes, too many of us feel tricked and trapped into a less than happy marriage.  We’re left with an acquired taste for passionate love facing a grumpy spouse, dirty dishes, bills to pay, surprised by the loss of the dream but feeling the same deep need for love and understanding and connection.  What next?  You begin noticing all those annoying, frustrating or just plain awful characteristics of your spouse.  Even worse, you wonder what happened to all those special things you love: tender moments, compliments, little gifts, words of endearment, thoughtful actions.  No It’s not just your marriage; it happens to everyone.  That information will not make you happy but it may help you understand the next step to marital happiness: love work.  Yes the love that was so spontaneous and exciting now has to be prioritized and pursued.  Yes you can live “happily ever after” but the reality is not as easy as the dream.

A major mistake is to blame your spouse for this loss of romantic love.  You have equal responsibility in a relationship.  Furthermore you are the only person who can guarantee that you will change.  If both of you decide to change — great!   Sometimes one spouse will refuse to participate in marriage counseling with the classic words, “you can go to counseling; you are the problem.”  Just smile because you know better.  You can make the initial investment but your spouse will soon become involved when your efforts begin to work.

So what can you do, or both of you do, to keep your love alive?  Everyone wants to love and be loved.  No one wants to nag and fight or withdraw in stony silence.  Real mature love cannot emerge until the romantic illusion fades and is replaced by a partnership of mutual self-interest.

In keeping with my emphasis on humor, here is one of the many marriage jokes: “A word of wisdom for the women who is looking for Mr. Right.  Be sure that his first name is not Always!”


Dr. Phillips holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Harvard University and is certified by the National Register of Psychologists. She specializes in relationship and marriage counseling, including helping couples deal with the challenge of recovering from infidelity. Her office is located at 466 Eagle Point Rd. Pittsboro, NC 27312. You can find out more about Dr. Phillips practice, as well as other articles she has written on her website, or by contacting her at (919) 967.1860

By Betty Phillips

Why do people think twice about calling a marriage counselor when they don’t hesitate to call other specialists for professional services? Tax advisers, interior designers, home inspectors, doctors, dentists, all stand ready to provide advice and consultation services when requested. There’s no need for any admission of failure when you call a tax adviser; you just shop for the best adviser for your issues. Just as there is no shame in calling a tax adviser, there should be no embarrassment about calling a marriage counselor. In fact you should feel proud to call a therapist to provide professional services for your most valued assets, your marriage and family. You can call for marriage counseling assistance as prevention, intervention or crisis management.

We care for our cars by checking oil levels, inflating tires and scheduling tune-ups to keep the automobile running smoothly and prevent future problems. Similarly, a marriage counselor can provide preventive maintenance services. Prenuptial counseling is frequently discussed but seldom utilized as the couple’s romantic bliss obscures all but the most serious impending problems. Most couples don’t even consider marriage counseling as the relationship begins to settle down into daily life issues and as stresses and strains start to erode the “live happily ever after” myth. In this article I’m asking you to consider a round of marriage counseling before typical marriage concerns (such as finances, parenting, division-of-labor, in-laws, or sexual compatibility problems) take over. After an initial consultation, the couple and therapist step back for an informal “evaluation” of the marital issues and begin a plan of sessions sometimes with “homework” to practice new skills. Far from being just a clinical analysis of conflict management issues, the prevention plan will often focus on new ways for the couple to have fun together such as date nights to preserve or improve love and intimacy.

When emerging problems harden into ongoing frustrations and then into conflicts, and when problems keep recurring without resolution, the intervention of marriage counseling will often put the marriage back into balance. Some issues can be resolved during the sessions, while the couple can learn to live with other problems. Marriage counseling services provide a retreat from everyday stress and a place to focus on the marriage with an experienced adviser to mediate disputes and teach new skills. While conflict resolution skills are important at this stage, the couple will also learn about the need to prioritize positive interactions to build up a “love bank” to protect the marriage from the wounds of hurt and anger. Far from feeling guilty that they “need” marriage counseling, husband and wife should be proud of their accomplishments in taking steps to face the tough issues and improve the quality of their relationship and their lives.

Crisis intervention marriage counseling is needed when thoughts of escape from the marriage surface in the form of conflict behaviors such as withdrawal and stonewalling, violent arguments, extramarital affairs, thoughts or talk about separation and divorce. Such problems often follow a phase of “pretend everything is all right.” Rather than deny or bury the pain, marriage counseling will help the couple focus on resolving the problems and can often turn the crisis into an improved marriage. Marriages can be saved even when extramarital affairs are discovered, although the process is slow and painful. If your marriage is in crisis, don’t wait! It can be too late.

What if your spouse won’t participate in marriage counseling? Then you will need to take action yourself. Even when both husband and wife agree to the marriage counseling, you can only change yourself, not your spouse. Marriage counselors are also individual therapists and often tackle marriage problems with the willing spouse.

Even if your marriage is headed toward separation or divorce, most marriage counselors are also experienced in handling these issues. Friendly support and advice can feel like life savers at this time of crisis. It can be a mistake for husband or wife to try to hang on to the marriage because of fear of exiting into a lonely, loveless existence. Separation and divorce can be a chance to build a new and improved life in the face of irreconcilable differences.


Dr. Phillips holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Harvard University and is certified by the National Register of Psychologists. She specializes in relationship and marriage counseling, including helping couples deal with the challenge of recovering from infidelity. Her office is located at 466 Eagle Point Rd. Pittsboro, NC 27312. You can find out more about Dr. Phillips practice, as well as other articles she has written on her website, or by contacting her at (919) 967.1860