STEP 1 You sense there is a problem. Sometimes the fights are getting more frequent or more vicious. Other times you seem to be avoiding each other. Sometimes there is a crisis: an affair, a problem with the kids, alcohol or drugs, money problems. You may try some stuff on your own. Buy a book. Try something you saw on Oprah. Maybe talk to a friend or a family member or a pastor. Sometimes we ignore it or minimize it--"it's just a phase."
STEP 2 Discouraged one of you wants to get help. It's not unusual that the other partner is reluctant. "How's some stranger going to help?' There may be a fear of criticism or judgment. You may have grown up in a family where "we don't air our dirty laundry in public." And it doesn't matter whether just one of you or both of you comes for the first session. There's an old saying "if nothing changes, nothing changes." If the cable's out, you call Comcast and get it fixed. You don't wait a year or two and hope "it works itself out."
STEP 3 The first session. We get to know each other. I tell you a little about myself and how I work. I let you know my wife and I have been to marriage counselors during our 38 years of marriage. I find out what the problems are and what you would like different. I like to hear about how you met and what your first impressions of each other were. I get some family history. I look for what's working and what's worked in the past. Sometimes people think I'm going to be like JudgeJudy and decide who's at fault. I'm a no-fault counselor. I want to help you figure out what's not working and what might work better. Nobody ever leaves the first session feeling picked on or blamed.
STEP 4 I will meet with each of you individually. This gives us a chance to get to know each other and for you to let me know anything that you might not be comfortable talking about in front of your partner at this time. Then the three of us discuss my recommendations and together we come up with a plan of action designed for your relationship. We will set a schedule of meetings and I will probably give you some homework--usually stuff that's fun.
STEP 5 Our goal is to find things that work for you and your spouse to resolve problems at home without me. We'll do that in two ways. First of all, we will work at helping you fill your "love tanks" that is having fun, increasing the good times. Even if its as simple as watching a shared tv show or going for ice cream. As problems come up we can work through them in the neutral space of my office instead of in your busy household. What's more we can "stop the action" and help you "do it over" something that's hard to do in real life.