Stephen Crippen Therapy

Marriage Counseling & Couples Counseling

Seattle Marriage Counseling

The Word ‘Marriage’—A Definition

These days, the word ‘marriage’ can be problematic. Many people think of ‘marriage’ solely as a legal institution reserved exclusively for heterosexual couples. To be honest, I sometimes use this definition of ‘marriage’ in my work, because if a couple is legally married and they’re having trouble in their relationship, their legal status can raise certain practical issues that often are different than those faced by couples who are not legally married (legal separation, legal divorce, certain kinds of financial problems, etc.).

Having said that, I also hold to a definition of marriage that goes like this: any couple, gay or straight, in which the two persons have chosen to be together as partners in an exclusive, committed relationship, is what I would call “emotionally married.” (This is a concept created by the noted marriage therapist David Schnarch.) I assume they are facing many of the same fundamental challenges that legally married couples face: intimacy, personal growth, the need for each individual to take responsibility for his/her actions, and so forth. (And any gay couple with children will tell you that the legal issues can be just as complicated, thank you very much!)

These days, more and more people are waiting to marry, or choosing not to marry at all, and of course many couples are not allowed to marry because of their sexual orientation. Yet they are still sharing a deep emotional bond, so from my perspective, in a very important sense, they are married. For me, ‘marriage’ is really just a word that means this:

These two people are sharing life together as a couple, joined in a powerful bond, a bond that their friends and family recognize (whether or not they support it!), and a bond that can be as challenging—and upsetting—as it is exciting and life-giving.

Marriage Couples CounselingSo…What’s Marriage Counseling or Couples Counseling Like?

Many clients ask me this, and the questions behind the question are usually along these lines:

Do we both have to go to marriage/couples counseling?
What if he/she doesn't want to come?
Is marriage/couples counseling going to be really uncomfortable or painful?
Is marriage/couples counseling going to work?!

Here are some thoughts about these questions:

Do we both have to go to marriage/couples counseling? What if he/she doesn’t want to come?
There are no hard and fast rules about this. Sometimes only one person in the couple is interested in talking to a counselor about marriage/couples problems, and sometimes one is enough, even if that one person thinks the other person is the problem! There have been studies that have shown the risks of one person coming to marriage/couples counseling: the big risk is that the sessions turn into gripe sessions, with the offending person conveniently absent. You should know that I am trained to notice this when it starts to happen, and have a lot of experience steering clients back to the real issues they’re facing. Remember: if you’re the one coming in to marriage/couples counseling and you’re partner isn’t interested, I will certainly understand your anger and frustrations about your partner, but I will also be challenging you to work on your stuff!

Is marriage/couples counseling going to be really uncomfortable or painful?
No…well, not always! I can’t promise that marriage/couples counseling will be reliably delightful and painless, and of course you already know that it won’t. But I can promise this: if I am actively inviting you to think about painful topics or work on big challenges in your life, challenges that open you up to your own grief, fears, or frustrations, I will be doing so with the goal of your personal growth and health in mind.

Is marriage/couples counseling going to work?
I don’t want to sound like I’m passing the buck on this question, but here it is: whether marriage or couples counseling works depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to “fix my marriage” or “make my partner change” or “get my mom to support the life I’ve chosen with my partner,” then I can’t promise marriage/couples counseling will “work.” But if your goal is to grow, make sense of your emotional pain, or deepen the connection between yourself and your partner (or between yourself and yourself), then the odds are far better that marriage/couples counseling will “work.” You and I can design our work together so that it takes you somewhere in your life and relationships.

Couples Counseling Marriage Counseling

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Stephen Crippen
Seattle, WA
Phone: (206) 214-7650
Available Tuesday - Saturday

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