To achieve a ‘satisfactory outcome’ a counsellor will need to establish a goal with the clients at the outset of counselling, but the goals will generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. For those that are very certain about getting married, giving them the understanding and the tools necessary to be able to negotiate the road ahead.
  2. Helping those that are uncertain to have more certainty about getting married. Time permitting they might also receive some help in preparing for what lies ahead.
  3. Helping the couple to come to the realisation that they are not meant for each other, or that the time is not right for marriage. The counsellor is here partly acting as a catalyst, speeding up the reactions that might otherwise take months or years to come to light.

Marriage is a commitment, but one should keep in mind that there are different types of commitment in marriage. There is the fear of the social, financial and emotional costs of ending a marriage. There is a commitment based on the idea of the importance of the social institution of marriage. These commitments have their own relevance according to what individuals feel is important to them. Ideally, however, we are seeking a commitment that is based on attraction, devotion, satisfaction and love (Adams and Jones, 1997).

Couples who are in a lasting marriage are found to be more accommodating towards each other and more tolerant of each other’s faults, they are also found to be better and more consistent in communicating and problem solving, including the way they handle conflict (Adams and Jones, 1997). Therefore a counsellor can look at helping a couple to be ‘accommodating’ in the sense of developing realistic goals and expectations of marriage and their marital partner. The counsellor can also consider helping the couple to be better communicators and also better at handling the conflicts that will inevitably arise.

As stated earlier, it should be kept in mind that is it not necessary to apply every step to each and every client. It is best to get some preliminary information and then tailor an approach to the clients. Another suggestion is that sessions should be kept light if possible and a spirit of fun maintained in the counselling, where this is relevant. Normally one will be talking to two people who are very excited about what lies ahead and they will not want to delve too deeply or heavily into all sorts of life issues. Part of the adventure of marriage is the unknown and it will not be possible to cover all bases and all possible eventualities.

In other words the counsellor should not try to be the ‘be all and end all’ to the clients with this counselling. The counselling may only last a few sessions. Whatever the outcome, counsellors should endeavour to have our clients leave with a better understanding of who they are, what they want in life and how to go about achieving that.

Get an Overview

A general interview should be done at the beginning of the counselling. This is a way of getting to know the individual needs of the couple and something of their history. Then an approach can be tailored to suit them. One of the decisions a counsellor needs to make is to what extent they will be seen as individuals and to what extent they should be seen together. It is recommended that early on in the counselling they are both seen separately.

The reasons for this may be obvious. A counsellor may need to be a bridge between the two at times and there may be issues that some people are sensitive about discussing in front of their partner. A counsellor may also find that they have to deal with an individual’s very unique and personal problems, something that may require individual attention. If the couple are seen separately early on in the counselling it will not seem unusual or ‘conspiratorial’ if they need to be seen separately later on. So the approach could go something like this:

  1. Interview them as a couple.
  2. See each of them separately.
  3. From then on, vary the sessions between couple and individual.

The first interviews will be an opportunity for a counsellor to make two major lines of enquiry:

What sort of positive issues and negative issues are they bringing into the relationship? As individuals what has been their history? Do they have a traumatic background? If so is their partner ready to deal with this? What sort of family of origin issues are they likely to bring into the relationship?

How are they interacting as a couple, what does their communication and body language tell us? When the couple is interviewed together, it is useful to watch for signs of one person simply going along with what the other one says. It may be opportune to follow up on this, and ask the one who is being ‘agreeable’ if they have needs and opinions they are not stating, as this could be a source of conflict that will arise later on.

One can also watch for signs of latent aggression. Is one showing signs of losing their temper with the other? Is one overtly or covertly putting the other one down? Anything else can be noted, according to the observational skills and experience of the counsellor.