The gifts of a healthy and fulfilling relationship are rich and rewarding; the good news for couples is that there are many opportunities to improve and strengthen your marriage/relationship. You can try one or more of the approaches below to determine what is best for your relationship, and if one method doesn’t help, you can shift gears and try a different approach.
4 Levels of Relationship/Marriage Help
1. Self-assessment & Intervention
You and/or your partner have identified that some kind of course correction is needed—frequently one partner is dissatisfied in some way and brings this to the attention of the other. If you’re able to identify specifically what isn’t working (e.g., “We never do fun activities together anymore”; “I’ve been snapping at you the way my father used to speak to my mother and I need to be more aware of this pattern”), then some action can be taken in order to address what isn’t working.
Marriages/relationships are always shifting and changing, so it’s important for couples to periodically check in with each other and self-assess how well the relationship is working. Part of the compromise/negotiation process that all couples must undertake has to do with figuring out what works for you, what doesn’t, what you are willing to accept (and let go of) and where change is needed.
2. Consulting with Friends/Family/Clergy
This step can be helpful to give you another perspective about relationships in general and the particular issues that concern you and your spouse/partner. Couples often seek out others in order to get another viewpoint, to find out if others have had similar experiences/struggles and how other couples have solved particular marital/relationship challenges.
There is a great deal of wisdom that can be learned from other couples who have managed to make their relationship work—finding a “mentor couple” who you respect and who have been together successfully for an extended period of time is a resource that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The term bibliotherapy is just a fancy word for self-help books. More and more couples are reading marriage and relationship help books in order to acquire the information and tools needed to strengthen their marriage/relationship. There are many informative books that can help you improve communication, increase your understanding of relationship dynamics, rekindle passion and intimacy, etc. Relationship help books frequently offer practical tools and marital/relationship advice that couples can incorporate into their lives.
In addition to using bibliotherapy as a means of fixing a marital/relationship problem, many couples now educate themselves about what goes into creating a healthy marriage/relationship as a preventative means of reducing the likelihood of future problems. When it comes to a healthy relationship, information is king!
4. Professional Marriage/Relationship Help
This is the most intensive level of help you can give your marriage/relationship. Often it is when a couple has experienced significant duress for some time that marriage/couples counseling is sought—couples frequently use counseling as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, but is recommended that you don’t wait until the last minute to give your relationship this level of care.
If you’ve attempted to fix a particular relationship issue (or series of issues) on your own without any resolution and the issue is something you cannot accept as part of the relationship landscape, seeking a consultation with someone who specializes in marriage or couples therapy is a good idea. A professional can help determine if counseling can be of help and s/he will work with you to determine the specific goals you and your partner can work on together.
There are also relationship classes/workshops and retreats run by professionals that couples can participate in for either preventative measures (e.g., premarital workshops) or to help get their relationship back on track (e.g., communication skills or intimacy building workshops).
Remember, you don’t have to pick just one of the above methods to improve your relationship. Frequently, couples use several approaches (couples counseling plus self-help relationship books, for example) in order to give their marriage/relationship the most comprehensive help possible.
Here’s to protecting your relationship,
Dr. Rich Nicastro