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The 15 Relationship Questions Marriage Counselors Get Asked the Most

Here are the questions that marriage counselors get asked the most often from couples—and how they answer them.

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Can our marriage actually get better?

A marriage takes some work to keep it going strong. “Most of the time, my clients don’t understand what makes a good relationship,” says Lesli Doares, a marriage consultant and coach with a private practice in Cary, North Carolina, and author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage.They also don’t understand how much power they have to create the relationship they want. They think others have it better or don’t have the same challenges, so there must be something wrong with them.” Check out the marriage advice of people together for 50+ years.

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How can I rid the image of my spouse who cheated?

Infidelity is a common topic in marriage counseling. “I tell clients that what helps is counseling, promises that it will never happen again, and that they should work on their marriage,” says Gilda Carle, PhD, relationship expert and author of Ask for What You Want And Get It. Therapy will give you understanding and insight into what happened and why it occurred. Counseling can help you communicate better and give you peace of mind knowing that you tried to make things work if you do decide to step away from your partner and relationship. These funny marriage quotes will make you laugh, even in the worst moments.

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Are we as bad as your other clients?

Don’t compare your issues to those of other couples. “There is always a range of ‘bad,'” says David Simonsen, PhD, LMFT, who practices in Olympia, Washington. “Your issues are unique to you. So ‘bad’ is a relative term I can’t answer that well.” Check out 12 tiny ways to make your spouse feel loved.

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Our problems are silly: Are we wasting your time?

“You have to live your life outside these four walls,” Dr. Simonsen says. “I’m not mad at you because you get to make choices in your daily life just like I do. You shouldn’t choose how to live based on how you think I may or may not feel as your therapist.”

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Can you tell if our marriage is doomed?

The fact that you’re in couples therapy is a good sign that you want to make things work: “Couples don’t want to waste their time in therapy if they’re focusing on divorce or if they’re feeling hopeless about reestablishing a connection with their partner,” says Mindy Utay, LCSW, JD who practices in New York City. “Couples therapy takes courage. It requires being vulnerable, truthful and honest, even when you feel you’ve been hurt and you’re worried about your future together.” She tells her patients that she isn’t there to save their marriage, and they shouldn’t focus on that either. Couples therapy is about learning how to communicate openly and honestly and how to identify what conflicts are causing pain, she says. “I tell them it’s my job to create a safe environment where they can be honest and open with each other about their relationship.” She redirects their focus. “I try to help them focus less on the outcome of the therapy, and see if they can reestablish a connection.”

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How do we find the time to save our marriage?

When kids’ soccer practices, doctor appointments, and birthday parties rule your life, you may have to deliberately schedule some spouse time—no phones, calls, emails, or other multitasking. “You have to be vigilant about setting aside date nights,” says Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW, relationship expert, writer, lecturer and author of The Breakup Bible. “People fight this, but it’s important. If you just become co-parents, you lose the romantic connection. If date night is too hard, do a day date, or breakfast before work. Be creative.”

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Are we only going to focus on the bad stuff?

Rest assured, couples therapy isn’t full of gloom and doom. “Of course, we’ll explore what brought you here to begin with,” says Gary Brown, PhD, LMFT, a couples therapist in Los Angeles. “But we also want to look at your hopes, wishes, dreams, and desires for your relationship. If we just focus on the negative, without helping couples create a healthy vision of what a great relationship could look like, then it becomes too depressing.” Find out more about what not to do after a fight with your partner.

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Why does every discussion turn into an argument?

“Often, discussions become arguments when people don’t feel they’re being heard or understood,” says Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center in Baltimore. “The best way to stop this cycle is to interrupt it at any point and check that you’re hearing and understanding your partner.” Bilek suggests patiently and kindly asking your partner if they understand what you’re saying—and that you understand them. “If you don’t understand, ask for more explanation so you can learn to see it the way they do, even if you disagree,” says Bilek.

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How long does couples therapy take?

“Couples therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and therapists aren’t fortune tellers,” says Laura Heck, co-host of Marriage Therapy Radio; she has a private practice in Salt Lake City. That’s why Heck says you can’t know how long it will take to reach your goals. She says to ask yourself what your financial commitment is to bettering your relationship—and keep in mind that the average divorce costs $15,000. If you do weekly one-hour sessions for six months, that’s a 24-hour in-office commitment, she says. “Compare that 24 hours to the hours spent in endless fights, sleepless nights, and time feeling miserable and hopeless about your relationship,” she says. “I tell couples that I’d love a three-month initial commitment. Breaking bad habits and creating new ones takes time. I can guarantee that you won’t be doing that in four sessions or less.” These 11 signs mean you can trust your partner.

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We seem to have fallen out of love. Can we get the spark back?

“It’s not uncommon for couples to come to a marriage therapist reporting that they don’t feel the spark and intensity that they did at the beginning,” says Linda Lipshutz, MS, ACSW, a marriage and relationship therapist who practices in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “An accumulation of the stresses, gripes, and challenges of the years together may have taken a toll on their intimate connection, leaving both partners bewildered and defeated.” However, she says that if you’re both on board to revitalize your relationship, results can be promising. “A therapist can be instrumental in helping you gain insight into any destructive patterns that may undermine your closeness and to learn more effective ways of speaking up.”

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Will you be able to help my partner see how they need to change?

“This is probably the misconception many people walk in with—that one partner will express to me how they feel, and then I’ll help translate that for their partner to get them on board with the first partner’s needs,” says Lynn R. Zakeri, LCSW, who practices in the Chicago area. While she will help translate, she does it for both parties, she says. One scenario might be that the wife always gets mad when the husband hangs out with his friends. His agenda is that she be more understanding; hers is that he should hang out with her instead. “My role is to get to the underlying feelings about this,” she says. Does she not feel prioritized? Does he feel she is too controlling? Is there a lack of trust? “These questions help them get past the idea that going out with friends is a defining moment of the relationship,” she says. Here are tips to stop being so judgy.

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How can I possibly take them back when my family is so mad?

“When there’s been a major betrayal like an affair, friends and family leap to the defense of the cheated-on partner,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT who practices in Old Lyme, Connecticut, and blogs about relationships and sexuality. “They’re mad at the person who was unfaithful and usually tell the betrayed person to leave the relationship.” However, Whitney advises the betrayed partner to politely ask people to back off. “They can say something like, ‘I appreciate your support and that you want to protect me. But I need to figure this out myself. Chris and I are seeing a therapist. I want to see if we can make it work. Please keep loving me, but give me space to decide what’s best for me.”

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Shouldn’t my spouse know what I need after all these years?

“Even if you’ve been married a long time, you shouldn’t expect to your spouse to know what you’re thinking,” says Sarah Mandel, RN, LCSW, a couples psychotherapist who practices in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. “Nothing is better than communication when you’re unsure what your partner needs [or your needs aren’t being met]. These are some of the skills that I help my couples with when they experience this frustration with each other.” If you want to understand your spouse, ask for clarification and give each other the benefit of the doubt, she says. “Both of you want the same thing—a happy marriage and to be understood,” she says. When you speak, focus on each other and the conversation, without being defensive. “Express your feelings, but also listen to your partner’s needs, too,” she says. You’ll be surprised by these other secrets of happily married couples.

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Should we stay together or break up?

“My role is to provide a framework in which a couple can unpack their relational issues, look at them from a number of angles and consider their options as well as the consequences of acting on these options,” says Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, an internationally renowned clinical and consulting psychotherapist.” He says that 90 percent of the time, couples turn to him when their relationship is in a crisis. That’s why you can’t rush things. “This process takes time. During this time, I help the couple improve their relationship. So, even if they decide to break up, they do so with grace, dignity, and respect for one another and the family members who’ll be impacted.”

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Shouldn’t my partner know how much I care without me saying it?

No one is a mind reader, but couples still make assumptions. “It’s easy for him to misinterpret what you want and need,” says Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC, a psychotherapist and relationship coach who practices in McLean, Virginia. “I tell couples they need to find ways to get their message across clearly.” She says that usually involves verbal and nonverbal communication that is consistent and avoids mixed messages. “You may not always get what you ask for, but it’s important to ask. Then you can negotiate and compromise from there.” Next, check out the 15 signs that your relationship is solid as a rock.

Stacey Feintuch
Stacey Feintuch contributes to RD.com's Health and Relationship sections. Her articles have appeared in Woman's World, Boca Raton Observer and Healthywomen.org, among other sites and publications. She earned her MA in magazine writing from S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and her BA in journalism from The George Washington University.