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Ask Anything: 10 questions with marriage & family therapist Chad Jordan

Posted March 17, 2009
Updated March 24, 2009

1What is the best way to pick a marriage counselor? Also, if you know your problems mainly stem from a single area (such as finances, sex, raising children or religion), is it possible to research counselors by specialty? – Greg, Raleigh

Selecting the right therapist can be an arduous task, but it is one of the most important factors for producing positive results. Taking the time to research therapists up front is paramount.

There are many factors to consider in your search, which include, but are not limited to, education and years of experience, licensure, hours and availability, gender of the therapist, type of experience (i.e. percentage of practice working specifically with couple/marital issues), approach to therapy, fees and health plan participation. Typically, therapists have some form of a professional statement to provide detailed information to potential clients.

Technology has afforded the public new opportunities for researching therapists by region and specialty.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has many beneficial resources to assist those seeking assistance on their Web site (www.AAMFT.org). They offer a search engine at therapistlocator.net.

This service provides AAMFT clinical member listings by region so that you may view therapist profiles in your area and contact several to inquire further about specialties, etc.

Most marriage and family therapists will have a general understanding of relational issues and how to address them with you and your partner in therapy. However, specialties will vary, so you may need to ask directly.

Based on your question, for instance, if you and your partner are having trouble with sex specifically a sex therapist may suit you best. Problems with co-parenting or raising your children may warrant someone skilled in parent education or a therapist who offers parenting classes. Concerns with religion suggest a faith-based therapist or one who approaches therapy from spiritual domains.

I cannot stress enough how important the therapeutic relationship is for getting the desired results. Even if you find out after several sessions that you are not connecting with your therapist, express this with them directly and ask for a referral to someone else or get back into search mode and keep looking for a therapist who suits you and your partner.

2What is the cost of counseling? – Greg, Garner

Fees for therapy can vary by region, licensure level/credentials and whether or not an insurance plan may be utilized to assist with reimbursement.

Generally, marriage and family therapists' standard hourly rates range from $75-$125 per hour. Some offer a sliding scale based on the client's financial situation and many therapists will file insurance for you.

You will need to check with your insurance carrier to determine if marital or family therapy is covered. If so, and the therapist is a participating provider, you will be only be obligated to deductibles and co-pays for sessions. If the therapist is out of network, many plans offer benefits payable to the patient, thus the patient will pay the therapist in full at the time of the visit and then the patient submits an invoice to the insurance carrier for reimbursement.

3If your marriage/relationship is having problems with constant fighting, how do you convince the other partner to go to therapy? – Beth, Jacksonville

This is a very good question and one that I get often. It can be difficult in high-conflict relationships to convince a resistant partner to come in for therapy.

I suggest that the willing partner ask the resistant partner, at a time when not in the midst of an argument, if they are satisfied with the quality of the relationship and if they believe that the arguments are productive. Timing of the discussion and presentation from a non-blaming stance are important for motivating the resistant partner.

Depending on how they answer, there may be an opportunity for requesting attendance at therapy sessions to problem solve and find solutions to get more from each other and the relationship in general. Furthermore, I may request a phone consult with the resistant partner to discuss the situation from his or her perspective and provide an overview of what therapy looks like and what to expect. This can reduce the anxiety or resistance to coming.

If they remain resistant, then I will discuss possibilities with the willing participant. We may elect to proceed and conduct individual therapy sessions to address relational issues. However, I typically ask that the individual inform the resistant partner that they will be attending sessions individually and offer a final plea by informing the resistant partner that they will be a topic of discussion in session, saying “Wouldn’t you rather be present in sessions to hear what we are saying and offer your perspective?”

Individual sessions can be beneficial for coping with relational stressors and offering strategies for interacting differently, thereby changing the interpersonal dynamics.

I take the position that for couple/marital counseling to be most effective both partners should be involved in the therapy sessions at the same time.

Therefore, I make explicit my position and I inform clients of the potential challenges with addressing relational issues in individual sessions.

4I've heard that after a couple has a child, which is notably one of the happiest times in anyone's life, that the satisfaction and overall happiness in the marriage can dramatically decrease. Is this true, and why is this? What can couples do to sustain their marital happiness after baby? – Iris, Raleigh

Having a child can be one of the most rewarding and gratifying life experiences for a couple, yet the dynamics of the relationship are bound to change. It’s only natural that they do and the couple must be flexible and adjust accordingly.

Satisfaction and overall happiness are contingent upon how the couple navigates the relational factors involved. So, no it is not true that a decline occurs after having a child but novel challenges can emerge.

Having a child presents a new developmental stage for individuals and the couple punctuating a time of change, which influences the structure and rules of any relationship.

When a child enters the picture all attention is typically placed on the child to assure they are cared for and nurtured. This is as it should be.

It can, however, detour focus from the health of the couple/marital unit and requires significant work with open dialogue about thoughts and feelings. There may be issues related to grief/loss of how it once was; one partner may feel left out, not knowing where they fit into the new equation. It is important to feel safe enough to address these feelings directly with each other in a caring and compassionate manner. Guilt can sometimes emerge if one begins to feel jealous of the child. All of this very normal and helpful to share.

Maintaining commitment to the couple/marital relationship is a necessary component not only to the health of the relationship but it is a key factor in the quality of life for the child. Therefore, a balance must be achieved to maintain intimacy and connection with your partner. Maintaining those traditions for closeness as a couple, such date nights, romancing and actively seeking “us time” are key ingredients for success.

Yes, the baby is important but just as the flight attendant says “put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and then your child” such is true with taking care of yourself and the relationship with your spouse.

5Years ago, I heard a radio talk show by a reputable psychologist. He said that in order for blended families to be successful, the bond between husband and wife MUST be stronger than parent and child. I have always tried to keep that in mind in difficult times and it has paid off! Would you agree with that advice? Thank you in advance for your response. – Tammy, Fuquay-Varina

Glad to hear that advice paid off for you. I wouldn’t say that the bond between husband and wife MUST necessarily be stronger but I will say that there need to be healthy boundaries.

Many times kids have difficulty adjusting to step-parents and they will naturally “test” the strength of the new parental relationship. There are many reasons that contribute to this but I will not go into detail here. This probability necessitates a strong alliance or bond between the biological parent and step-parent.

The kids need to know and be reassured that they are loved and important but that the marital relationship is going to continue to develop with or without the support of the children. Of course the relationship between the children and step-parent is a very important one, yet setting a healthy boundary between the parent and child is paramount to the family system as a whole.

6My wife has gotten fat and now we have no love life. What to do? She doesn't seem interested in losing weight. – Luke, Cary

Tough question but the short answer is that she is your wife and supporting her with patience and acceptance is key to the relationship and your love life.

She is probably aware of the changes with her body and you have probably changed in ways as well. Change is inevitable and flexibility is required to adapt/adjust towards a healthy relationship.

If she’s not interested in losing weight, what is she interested in doing? Have you guys talked about the changes with your love life? If not, I would suggest doing so and setting mutual goals to improve it. Are you both eating healthy, talking care of yourselves as individuals and as a couple? Bodies will change and unfortunately it’s usually not for the better, so, if that is the foundation of the marriage then there may be bigger problems.

I hear your concern about the decline in your love life and I would say it is not all your wife’s weight causing the change. It may be a contributor but I’d suggest directing your attention at what’s going on in the relationship, not just with her body.

7Have you ever counseled couples that were involved in an open marriage? What is your opinion of open relationships and can they be successful? – Julianne, Raleigh

I have limited experience with couples involved in open marriages.

My belief is that open relationships add a different set of challenges, when compared to conventional marriage, that the couple must continually sort through to assure clarity of rules and boundaries.

I do not judge how people choose to live their lives and I will work with couples to identify what works for the unique set of circumstances that the couple presents in therapy.

Open marriages add a significant gray area when compared with monogamous couples because the couple may be dealing with multiple intimate sexual partners at once. The physical and emotional experience attributed to sexual relationships and intimacy is complex, and determining what constitutes an affair/betrayal with the primary relationship can be dicey. It can be difficult to gauge when an extra-marital relationship is acceptable and when it has crossed the line, even with mutually agreed upon, clearly articulated rules and boundaries.

In my opinion, it is possible to have a positive relational experience, but if a couple chooses to have an open marriage they should prepare accordingly and be aware of the potential risks, which include emotional reactivity with primary and secondary partners and STDs.

8I am married. My husband works and I stay at home with our newborn baby. I have no plans at this time to go back to work as we have agreed it is best for me to stay at home with our baby. Sometimes I feel guilty about not working while my husband works all the time. We sometimes have arguments about money and how I don't have a job, but deep down we both know that me staying home is the best thing right now. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this situation? I think the lower income we have now due to me not working is causing some of the stress but we could not afford daycare if I went back to work. – Janice, Creedmoor

Sounds like you guys are in agreement that one person staying home and one going to a place of work suits the family.

I hear you when you say you feel guilty but my guess is that you are doing quite a bit of work at home. Taking care of a baby is no easy task. Remind yourself at times when you are feeling guilty that you have a full-time job that contributes just as much to the family as monetary income.

Arguments will happen and, given the state of the economy, financial issues remain at the top of the list for marital conflict.

Keep checking in regularly on the matter to assure you are on the same page. If you are still in agreement, then your guilt is doing no good and it is best to focus on your job: taking care of the little one.

Your job at home can also include finding ways to save money through use of coupons and economical shopping. Sit down and plan out short- and long-term financial goals so you know what you are both working towards as a team and clarify your roles. Determine when and if it would be appropriate for you to take on some part-time employment and put your child in part-time daycare.

If you say to yourself that not working is the source of stress, then I can see how guilt gets you. I think best to say to yourself and your spouse that the financial situation is stressful right now and we are doing the best we can as a couple to make it work. If during your regular check in, your husband expresses that you should look into getting a job outside of the home, or if you desire employment, this will change the circumstances significantly and require adjustment.

9My husband and I have been married for 13 years. He has a job that comes with plenty of stress. Recently his business has had some financial difficulties and aside from him not ever being home, he has started being very secretive. I have caught him subscribing to a porn Web site, confronted him and cleared that up. Now I have just found out that he is hiding the fact that he is smoking cigars. Fine, do it to relax. My question is, why be so secretive about things? I think it's fine to do things to help you relax, but why porn? If he wants to smoke a cigar, don't lie about it. He told me he did not purchase it, it was given to him, then I found out he did in fact make the purchase himself. Who cares, just why the lying???? How do I get my point across that I don't have a problem with this, just don't lie to me? He often lies about other things as well, nothing that means a darn, just stupid things. How do I change this?? – Amy, Bahama

Sounds like you are a very accommodating and understanding person, which may confuse you even more about his behavior. It may not be anything you are doing or not doing that results in his tendency to stray from the truth.

Lying is the identifiable behavior that is bothering you and it sounds like you noticed and related the behavior to his business and financial stressors, which you can always explore with him. Either way, the behavior must be confronted and addressed for the health of your relationship.

You may not be able to change his behavior, but you can be firm on what is unacceptable for you, what you expect him to work on and let him know how you can support him in dealing with this behavior that impacts the relationship. Trust is a key ingredient to successful marriages and it is hard to have trust without truth.

10What advice do you give to engaged couples preparing for marriage? – Kristie, Cary

What an important question. Couples preparing for marriage should consider many variables that influence long-term compatibility. Ask how you envision your lives as individuals coming together as a couple. Understanding what makes each other tick, good sex and having a partner who “gets” you can take you a long way but some clear-cut details should be considered when taking the big step.

The following questions are a start to assure you are preparing for marriage.

  • What are your individual goals and can your partner support and admire your aspirations?
  • What are your mutual goals, your vision as a couple?
  • Do you want kids? How many? What if you can’t have kids?
  • What religious affiliation, if any, will you ascribe to?
  • How does the extended family of each partner contribute to the health of the relationship and where might there be potential challenges?
  • What is the current financial situation of each individual (currently in school, outstanding debts, bad credit etc.) and what are the mutual financial goals for the couple?
  • Where do you plan on living?
  • How do you communicate and resolve conflict?

Marriage and family therapists, counselors and clergy offer classes, workshops and/or couple sessions to address pre-marital planning.

Marriage can be a truly gratifying experience and you have to embrace all of the pleasures and rewarding times. You must also know how to navigate the challenging times together. Many changes will occur during your marriage both individually and as a couple that require work, open communication and flexibility. You can never completely prepare but the very fact that you are asking this question tells me you are on the right track.

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  • csears Apr 1, 2009

    Question# 6 The way this was worded was very insensitive. Would of been better just to say she had put on a few pounds instead of saying she was fat. Maybe you are not helping the situation any.

  • Wifeandkids Mar 19, 2009

    "I hear your concern about the decline in your love life and I would say it is not all your wife’s weight causing the change. It may be a contributor but I’d suggest directing your attention at what’s going on in the relationship, not just with her body."
    .....That's a very good answer to his question. She may be an "emotional eater" due to problems in the relationship. Work on communicating with her and spend more quality time with her(a date).