The Scoop: Couples often don’t realize the complexities inherent in their marriage and long-term relationships. That’s why Andrew and Tracy McConaghie recommend that people invest time in therapy before those inevitable issues appear. The couple, both licensed clinical social workers and therapists, founded McConaghie Counseling, and they work with a team of counselors who guide couples through all phases of their relationships. The practice also has specialists on staff who work on family matters, including issues with children. Whether it’s dealing with the fallout of an affair or simply a series of miscommunications, McConaghie Counseling aims to help couples move forward.
When relationships are new, it can be easy to float in the good feelings that come with fresh memories and experiences, and many marriages begin the same way — with a special wedding ceremony transitioning into the honeymoon phase. But the reality is that long-term romantic partnerships aren’t always easy.
Andrew McConaghie, who, along with his wife Tracy, founded McConaghie Counseling in Alpharetta, Georgia, said that most people don’t realize the challenges inherent in marriages and long-term romance until they experience setbacks.
“I’m biased because I’m a couples therapist, but I really believe it is the most difficult relationship you’re going to have in your life,” Andrew told us. “The reason is that it’s so complex.”
People who are married — or living together in long-term relationships — have five different elements of interaction, and none of them are simple, Andrew said. The couples live together like roommates, so dirty dishes, piles of laundry, snoring, and other daily habits must be navigated.
Second, they typically share finances. That can be a significant problem for couples who have different financial philosophies and only discover that incompatibility after they start sharing a bank account.
Next, if there are children in the relationship, they are co-parents. That can be a separate issue, as the individuals in the relationship may discover that they have incompatible parenting styles. That dynamic may cause tension for decades if not addressed.
Couples must navigate all of those while maintaining both their friendship and intimate relationship. Both physical and emotional intimacy are crucial elements of a successful, long-term romantic partnership.
“It’s the only relationship you’ll have in your life that has all five parts to it,” Andrew said. “If one area is suffering, it affects the others in some way. Everyone needs couples counseling at some point. And the earlier, the better.”
McConaghie Counseling helps couples find balance in those five areas so they can prepare for the changes and growth inevitable in their relationships.
A Diverse Practice With a Type of Therapy for Everyone
Tracy said she and Andrew decided to open the practice because it made sense to offer a variety of therapies for regional residents. While Andrew works mostly with couples, she specializes in children, teens, and family issues.
“It’s a nice partnership, not only that we’re married but also that we have those diverse specialties that cover a lot of different phases of life,” she said.
The two share a philosophy that therapists need to offer much more than unconditional acceptance and a good ear. They believe that to help their clients to see meaningful changes, the therapist needs to play a more active role in the process.
“A lot of our clients are frustrated. They want therapists who are more actively involved in giving feedback,” she said. “We try to develop a practice that goes beyond and hires therapists who are purposeful and engaged in what clients want for themselves through this process.”
Andrew and Tracy work with eight other therapists in their practice, and each offers a specialty designed to help clients overcome a specific issue that is impacting their lives so they can be happy and healthy.
The team frequently collaborates, so a family may have the parents working with Andrew while the children work with Tracy or another counselor.
The practice works with children as young as 3 years old and incorporates play as a means of therapy. Counselors also work with older clients, as well as everyone in between.
Common Counseling Issues Include Anxiety and Divorce
Those who haven’t gone to therapy before may be surprised to learn just how common some of their concerns are. Tracy said that everyone could benefit from learning skills for resolving difficult situations.
“The biggest is anxiety in childhood, emotional regulation, tantrums, hard time managing behavior,” she said. “We also do a lot of work with divorce, and that includes supporting children as they are transitioning.”
For divorcing couples who are moving into a co-parenting relationship, plenty of work is necessary for success. Parents need to understand how to talk to their children about the divorce in a non-traumatizing way, and they need to create parenting plans and schedules. They need to know how to resolve differences and agree on what to do during the holidays.
But it’s also important to remember that problems can arise at any phase in the relationship. Andrew said he works with clients who have been married before and are now starting new relationships. He also works with couples who have been married for decades and have children.
He also developed a four-step process that helps the couple recover from an affair if both parties want to move forward. For some couples, one or the other may have already decided they want to break off the relationship. Even in that case, Andrew said couples counseling can be a crucial step before the divorce. It helps with closure and allows them to know they’ve done everything they could, he said.
McConaghie Counseling: Weekly Sessions Help Clients See Lasting Results
The McConaghie Counseling team typically works with their clients face to face in an office setting because it’s easier for therapists to actively engage in the therapy process. They usually meet every week, depending on the situation.
“Sometimes couples therapists are more passive. My belief is that’s not the best setting to be passive when there is a lot of energy in the room,” Andrew said. “I’m right there with them, and there are a lot of emotions.”
Andrew told us that by facing the issues directly, counseling can make relationships stronger — even through affairs and other significant problems. Often, therapy will help to unveil and resolve any underlying problems that may have contributed to the affair in the first place.
In the 20 years since they founded the practice, the McConaghies have noticed that younger couples are coming to therapy more regularly than some older couples, suggesting that the stigma surrounding couples and family therapy is starting to fade as people understand the benefits.
Tracy said that she even sees some clients whose parents came to the practice years ago. That may have been the result of the lasting effects of their parents working out their issues.
“When people get healthier, it doesn’t just affect them. It affects people around them and for years to come,” Tracy said. “It’s such a joy, and it is so satisfying for people to trust us with their journeys and their pain and to see them make positive changes in their life. We love to keep going.”