The Failures of “Traditional” Marriage Counseling

Here is an excerpt from an article I saw over at msnbc.com:

Bill Doherty, a professor in the family social science department at the University of Minnesota, said, “Around 30 percent of the couples coming into marriage counseling are mixed agenda couples,” he says. “Divorce is on the table for one of the parties. Traditional marriage counseling has no way to deal with those people. It’s been an area of frustration for a lot of marriage counselors.”

Let me give you those last two sentences again:

“Traditional marriage counseling has no way to deal with those people. It’s been an area of frustration for a lot of marriage counselors.”

Let’s say you take your computer to a guy who says he’s an expert at fixing computers. You spent a lot of money on this computer, and you’d really like to keep using it. The repair guy looks over your computer and says, “you’d really be better off throwing this one away and getting a new one.”

You ask him if he CAN fix it. “Well, I think I can, but what’s wrong with your computer is a real challenge to fix.”

So what do you do? You thought you were bringing your computer to a pro, someone who advertised himself as an expert in computer repair.

The same is true with marriage counselors.

If you’re thinking of seeing a marriage counselor who is “frustrated” by the use of the “divorce” word by one or even both partners, then may I suggest you look elsewhere.

If divorce is being considered, then the factors in this post have NOT been addressed.

You must get to the source of the problem. If you do, things get better. MUCH better.

You must get to the reason for the bad feelings, for the lack of love or romance, for the distance that’s occurring between the two of you.

If you get to THE reason, things get better.

MUCH better.

A New Type of Marriage?

I was at a web site today that mentioned an interesting bill being considered in the Alabama state legislature. The bill “would require couples entering into a covenant marriage to enter counseling before they’re married, and they attend counseling if they want to get a divorce. It also limits the reasons for which married couples can divorce.”

(covenant: a formal agreement or promise)

It’s an interesting idea and I’m wondering, if the bill is enacted, how many couples would take part in this. If you’re currently married, do you feel you would’ve benefited from a legally binding agreement that wouldn’t let your marriage end in divorce unless certain requirements were met?

If you’re not married, do you like this idea? Remember, this law would not you let enter into the marriage without first going through counseling with your future spouse.

I wonder what kind of counseling is being required here. I’d object strongly to counseling that caused two very capable people not to marry when they should have.

All in all, if a married couple has the tools to keep a marriage alive, supportive, and yes, even exciting, then I would think that would suffice. If you haven’t downloaded a copy of my book on marriages (which has many tools to help a marriage succeed), I’m making it available for awhile at no cost. Here’s the link to get the book.

Does Couples Therapy Work?

After reading an article by Elizabeth Weil for the New York Times, I felt compelled to share some important observations with you here. Her article was titled “Does Couples Therapy Work?” Here is a short excerpt:

The fact that couples therapy stresses out therapists has long been an open secret.

“It’s widely acknowledged that couples therapy is the most challenging,” says Richard Simon, editor of The Psychotherapy Networker. “You often feel confused, at odds with a least one of your patients, out of control.”

Part of the problem is that the kind of person who tends to become a therapist — empathic, sensitive, calm, accepting — is generally not the kind of person who is a good couples therapist. “The traditional, passive uh-huh, uh-huh is useless,” Dr. Real, a prominent psychologist, says. “You have to like action. To manage marital combat, a therapist needs to get in there, mix it up with the client, be a ninja. This is intimidating.”

“It’s frightening to be faced with the force of two strong individuals as they are colliding,” he says.

William J. Doherty, a University of Wisconsin professor of family social science, says, “A brilliant therapeutic observation can blow up in your face when one spouse thinks you’re a genius and the other thinks you’re clueless — or worse, allied with the enemy.”

Okay, first things first. A properly trained marriage counselor has absolutely nothing to be afraid of.  If the marriage counselor knows the precise reasons a marriage goes off the rails, fear of what patients may say or do never enters the scene. Read more »

Marriage Counselors…How Can You Tell You’ve Got a Great One?

When your marriage is in trouble, when you suspect infidelity, when things aren’t going well, the last thing you want is a marriage counselor who steers you in the wrong direction. So, how do you know what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” when it comes to working with marriage counselors. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If your marriage counselor lets both of you complain on and on about each other, you’re not going to end up with a great result. If the marriage counselor does not know what lies at the bottom of criticism, then the critical thoughts and comments will continue, even after the marriage counseling is “completed.”
  • If your marriage counselor EVER takes sides, this will always produce a non-optimum result.
  • If your marriage counselor ends a marriage counseling session and either of you are upset,  this is not only poor form and unprofessional, it will have a negative impact on the marriage counseling process.
  • Read more »

Is Compromise the Answer?

Today with most marriage counseling, the marriage counselor will advise the couple to compromise with each other.

In other words, learn to accept your spouse’s faults or quirks. If she burns dinner, that makes it OK that you lost $300 at the casino. If he or she cheats, well, that makes a good number of the other’s faults OK.

An article on Buzzle.com stated “Marriage is all about compromise. Compromise is hard. With or without marriage counseling, married couples need to learn to solve their problems. Counseling can be a place to learn these skills, but should never be the only thing used to save an unhappy marriage.”

But compromising doesn’t really restore the love and passion, does it? To be frank, compromising often doesn’t even restore the enjoyment to a relationship.

I believe that in order to save a marriage that is in trouble, you have to sit down and take a hard look at what your spouse has done to you that was difficult for you to experience or that broke the agreements of the marriage. But you also have to take a serious look at what you have done to your spouse that was difficult for them to experience or that was against the agreements and commitments of the marriage. Considerably more on this is available in my marriage book—and the eBook version is currently available at no charge.

It’s a 2-way street. Everybody knows about the Golden Rule, i.e. not doing something to someone else that you wouldn’t want to have done to you. Well those are the things that can wreck a marriage. If you look at it from both ways, it can really have a healing effect.

You’ve Just Had a Big Fight…

You and your spouse just had a huge fight. You’re absolutely sure you’re in the right and most likely your spouse feels the same way. You have a few options:

  1. You could continue fighting.
  2. You could stop fighting and let the upset simmer for awhile (maybe days or weeks).
  3. You could both take a walk around the block (each in the opposite direction) until the two of you are extroverted from the upset.

I’m going to recommend Option Number 3.

When two people are very upset, it’s difficult to resolve things from that very upset state of mind. If the two of you take a walk around the block, the idea is to walk long enough until you are “extroverted” from the upset. In other words, you’ve popped out of the upset and you no longer want to strangle your spouse. While on this walk, each of you needs to put your attention on things in your external environment: look at plants, trees, houses, other people, clouds, etc. Put your attention on things outside of you and this will produce an extroversion from the upset. And, as mentioned, each of you goes a different direction on this walk.

When the two of you have successfully completed this walk, you can then sit down and take a fresh look at what’s upsetting both of you.

Do not underestimate the effectiveness of this “walk.” I can absolutely assure you it will put the two of you in a better position to resolve the upset before it gets too far out of hand (or goes onto the backburner where both of you stay upset for awhile).

In my book, When the Thrill Is Gone, additional procedures are given to resolve marital upsets. There is also an entire chapter to help people get over the loss and upset of a previous relationship that didn’t end well. The eBook version of this book is currently available at no charge.