Family Matters

Sometimes, when it comes to family issues, answers and decisions end up as clear as mud. Parents try to do everything in their power to help keep a positive balance in all things for their children, their relationships and the overall family structure, but sometimes, everyone needs a little advice or education to help prevent an undesirable family dynamic.

Many couples struggle with their marriages, and many people hesitate to seek family counseling when something is threatening the strength of their family bond. Research shows that, oftentimes, couples struggle with talking about personal/intimate issues, especially men, because they feel they will be solely blamed. Also, to some people, the word “counseling” is scary, because they associate it with divorce.

In reality, families benefit from therapy when they experience any stressful event, such as the death of a loved one, moving, changing jobs, etc., that may strain family relationships. Family therapy or counseling can be effective in treating mental health concerns that impact the family as a whole, such as chronic illness, food issues, interpersonal conflict or behavioral problems in children.

Family counseling promotes understanding and collaboration among family members in order to solve the problems of one or more individuals. For example, if a child is having social and academic problems, therapy focuses on family patterns that may contribute to the child acting out, rather than evaluating the child’s behavior alone. As the family uncovers the source of the problem, they learn to support the child and other family members and work proactively on minimizing or altering conditions that contribute to the child’s unwanted behavior.

Managing Emotions Associated with Divorce

It is a widely-known statistic that 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the U.S. end up divorcing. Partners have numerous reasons for getting divorced, and many couples cite a combination of reasons, rather than a single problem. Some of the most common factors are lack of commitment (including marrying too young or marrying the wrong person), infidelity, communication issues or a tendency to argue, inequality in marriage (particularly regarding chores or care for children), physical and emotional abuse (or abuse of chemical substances), unrealistic assumptions about what marriage would be like and financial problems or disagreements about money.

Kim Muse of Couple Zone Dallas (Frisco counseling service), a licensed clinical social worker since 2008, says that Frisco is a big family area with a lot of growing families who seek counseling. It is a successful area, with people making a high income. She shares that when there is an unhappy situation with a husband and wife, it has a far-reaching ripple effect on kids. Relationship conflict between parents creates emotional distress in children. Oftentimes, children have difficulty focusing at school, difficulty in social relationships and unhealthy attachments later in life.

Some couples have a problem communicating, because one partner is withdrawn. “A lot of men keep things in,” Ms. Muse relates. “They have a hard time expressing emotion and because of that, they leave their wives feeling very isolated, lonely and powerless. It is hard to have a relationship when the partner does not respond.” She adds that when a couple comes to counseling and understands that someone really knows what they are doing, they see each other as it really is. “The most exciting part of my work is when I see couples break down walls and see each other as they really are,” she says. “Moments like that are on a spiritual level.”

Families that yearn to save a marriage or rebuild have a lot to look for when looking for the right counseling services or fit for them. Ms. Muse points out that if you are having a baby, you do not go to a general practitioner. “When choosing a counselor, you need someone who focuses on relationships. About 95 percent of my client caseload is couples. I would advise to choose someone who has advanced training in couples’ therapy. Also, the atmosphere should feel caring and non-judgmental. I get this from couples a lot when therapists take sides.”

While children do not attend counseling sessions for couples, the benefit they will reap as their parents learn to communicate, interact and understand one another can be remarkable.

Addressing Mental Health Concerns

Oftentimes, there is an underlying cause for the breakdown of a relationship within a family dynamic. Even though Ms. Muse herself does not address specific facets of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or bipolar education, there are a lot of different aspects to uncover, and while working with couples, she has to make sure that all factors are considered. “If there are mental health issues, getting those managed along with the relationship is key,” she advises. “It is fairly regularly that I see issues like anxiety and depression, both in males and females. Those, too, impact a relationship significantly.”

Note, that if it is suspected that a child in the family is struggling with a mental health issue, it is vital for everyone, especially the child, that the correct treatment and therapy is in place.

Sometimes, questions about the time associated with and cost of treatment are of concern. Couple Zone Dallas maintains that the length of treatment is determined on a case-by-case basis, with the average distressed couple being in therapy for 12 to 15 sessions. Less distressed couples seeking to regain intimacy and connection may require fewer sessions, while more highly-distressed couples, perhaps dealing with infidelity issues, substance abuse or trauma histories, may require more sessions. When the going gets tough, it is important to consider how a divorce or separation will impact the children and the rest of the family. This, also, may require counseling, so everyone’s feelings are considered and understood.

Prevention is Key

Frisco has another marital service for the prevention of unhappy marriages, mostly for engaged couples and newlyweds. Kara Shade, M.A., CFLE, is a relationship educator with Verge Relationships, which offers research-based tools and skills necessary for lasting, healthy marriages. Her work is educational and skills-based. Just like homes and cars need maintenance, she stresses to couples that relationships also need regular maintenance and attention. She gives the comparison that when you move into a new home, everything is fine, just as when you move into marriage. Soon, you may realize that the grass needs cutting, a dripping faucet needs repair and painting needs to be done. What do you do? You call in outside help. The same applies to marriage. Little things start happening. The wise couple seeks direction and advice.

Ms. Shade notes that often there is a common misconception that relationships are intuitive and people just “know” how to do them well. Those with divorced parents or with married parents who were hostile and at each other’s throats will be at a decided disadvantage. Even those who grew up with great marriage role models may not know what their parents did to communicate effectively, maintain closeness, cope with stress and manage conflict well during their marriage. “Too often, couples wait until problems are insurmountable before they consider seeking help or bettering their skills as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage,” she says. “Most couples wait six years before seeking help for marital problems, but nearly half of divorces occur by year seven — many by year four.”

A couple with whom she worked with compared her prevention services to professional development, in that most individuals will invest in annual training, webinars or conferences to stay abreast of changes in their field and try to acquire new skills or tools to do their jobs better. Unfortunately, that mentality does not always translate to personal relationships. “The couples with whom I work are generally happy and satisfied in their relationships and want to keep it that way,” Ms. Muse says. “They are guarding against the tendency to become ‘too comfortable’ or complacent. I believe, wholeheartedly, that marriage is best suited to lifelong learners. Once I learned that nearly 70 percent of marriages on the path to divorce are savable, I shifted my efforts to prevention and became bound and determined to use my training in relationship education, conflict management and communication, to reach couples early, before trouble creeps in,” she says. “I am passionate about healthy relationships and marriages and love my work.”

One of Ms. Shade’s clients shares, “Communicating has always been a problem for me in a relationship because I am an explosive person. I cannot hold it in, and when I let everything out, I do not think clearly. Being aware of the way I word things has made such a big difference. When hurt, I would aim to cut with my words. Respecting my partner and remembering that I am bringing him down helps me contain myself even if I am hurt. I also became a better listener and allow him to talk before responding or trying to defend myself.”

As to her work in aiding Frisco residents, Ms. Shade feels that she is strengthening and contributing to healthy relationships by empowering residents, often with couples who are in romantic relationships. She also consults and trains in a variety of areas. “So much of our relations with others are effected by a healthy marriage, work, etc. I think I give people a good tool with which to work.”

Regardless of whether a family problem results from an unhappy marriage, a mental illness, drastic change, abuse, grief or life transitions, it is important that families recognize when they need to seek the help of a professional. Is your family worth it?