Should You Try Marriage Counseling Before Divorce Mediation?

marriage counseling

Was this month’s Valentine’s Day a wakeup call about the state of your marriage? And if so, what are your next steps? Is your first stop an attorney’s office or is it a therapist’s couch for marriage counseling?

In our January post, we talked about how it often makes sense to gather legal and financial information before talking to your spouse about divorce. It may even make sense to have a consultation with a family law attorney first. Sometimes people think divorce is what they want, but they hesitate to see an attorney because that feels like a final decision. Other people do see an attorney and then decide that divorce would be a mistake. Still other people wait to do anything at all until the writing is so clearly on the wall that they feel backed into a corner. The bottom line is that divorce is an enormous step. Uncertainty is usually part of the process, and consulting with an attorney can help resolve such uncertainty. Uncertainty does not mean you have made a final decision about your marriage. It may instead represent an opportunity to try to repair it. That is when marriage counseling could make a difference.

What is the Purpose of Marriage Counseling?

The purpose of marriage counseling (sometimes called marital therapy or couples counseling) is to make marriages better and help couples stay married. The focus is on improving communication, confronting marital issues, and strengthening emotional bonds. Not every couple who enters counseling stays married, however. Marriage counseling often helps couples come to the realization that it makes more sense for them to get a divorce. In that scenario, the therapist or counselor can support the couple as they forge their way through this major life transition. If you are interested in reading more about how marriage counseling fits into divorce readiness and the suitability of divorce mediation, see our previous posts about Katherine and Julian and Gerry and Beth.

How Is Marriage Counseling Different from Divorce Mediation?

People sometimes confuse divorce mediation with marriage counseling, but the two processes are very different. Perhaps you have heard a story about a couple reconciling during mediation and hope this could happen for you. It is true that mid-mediation reconciliation occasionally happens. Some couples even reconcile after they have finalized their divorce. Both of these scenarios are quite rare though. The purpose of divorce mediation is to help couples who have already decided to divorce to reach a settlement agreement covering the division of their marital property, parenting any minor children they may have together, and potential payment of spousal or child support. If you are still in the phase of deciding whether or not divorce is your best option, then you may want to start with marriage counseling instead.

When is Marriage Counseling Not the Right Choice?

Marriage counseling can help couples who face common issues like communication, intimacy, and differing styles in parenting or managing finances. Its success or failure depends in large part on how much each spouse is willing to put into it. Even when couples have grown apart or have seemingly unresolvable conflicts, if both parties are willing to recommit to the marriage, things can improve dramatically.

If you cannot convince your spouse to go to marriage counseling, you can go to individual counseling on your own. This can be enormously helpful for working out your own issues and can sometimes be enough to clarify your marital situation as well. Remember though, that marriage takes two committed people. Even if you truly want to improve your marriage, if your spouse is not invested, there is not much chance of success.

Marital therapy is also not generally a good choice if your marriage has involved domestic violence or substance abuse. If either of these problems have affected your marriage, see an individual therapist first.

If you are past the point of wanting to work on your marriage, marital therapy will not succeed and the next thing to consider is whether or not you are good candidates for divorce mediation. You can find a lot of information of this web site about the kind of questions to ask to help you come to a decision about this. Start here with our FAQs.

For more information about divorce mediation and its suitability for you and your spouse, contact one of our experienced and compassionate divorce mediators.