Marriage counseling has been around for many years. Many couples turned to marriage counseling has a way to improve four save a marriage.
Before you decide to do marriage counseling, however, you should understand the benefits and pitfalls of traditional marriage counseling techniques.
How Marriage Counseling Can Work – The Good
Chad and Emily went to a marriage counselor because they had “communication problems.”
Emily felt like Chad just “didn’t understand her” and “didn’t support her enough.”
Chad felt like Emily “didn’t appreciate him enough” and “never wanted to have sex.”
Their marriage counselor focused on communication.
The counselor taught them:
- How to use “I emotion” language. She taught Chad to say “when you say you don’t want to have sex with me, I feel sad and rejected.”
- How to listen better. She taught Emily to say “I hear that you feel sad and rejected.”
- How to “not hold things in” and “let your spouse know what you’re feeling.” She allowed Chad and Emily to yell at each other during the session to “vent.”
Chad and Emily both felt a little bit better after the sessions. And as they focused on communication at home, things got a little bit better.
For a little while.
Validation in Couples Therapy
Much of couples therapy focuses on getting validation from your spouse.
The main goal is for you to express yourself and your spouse to understand, accept, and validate you completely.
For example, Emily would say “When I do the dishes and you don’t appreciate me doing that, it makes me feel bad.”
In couples therapy, Chad is then supposed to say something like “I didn’t know you felt that way. I will try to appreciate you more.”
Then, when Chad gives Emily more appreciation, their marriage is supposed to get better.
And it did get better for Chad and Emily. For a little while.
But, eventually, Chad got tired of trying to give Emily appreciation all the time. And Emily got tired of trying to give Chad sex all the time just to make him feel better.
Here’s where the problem happened.
If you are constantly relying on your spouse to validate what you want and need, you are in a bad situation.
It’s bad because You can’t feel good about yourself or what you are doing or what you are feeling and less your spouse says it’s okay.
This leads to two big problems.
The first problem is that you are dependent on your spouse to feel good about yourself.
That puts your spouse in a position of total control over you.
You are not an agent to yourself anymore at that point.
You have really given away your power.
The second problem is that it puts your spouse in the position of always trying to build up your self-esteem and manage your anxiety.
This is draining for your spouse.
Your spouse cannot and should not be responsible for your sense of self or your emotions.
Make trades and contracts in marriage counseling
Chad and Emily’s therapist also recommended they make certain contracts with each other.
Chad made a commitment to start washing the dishes more. Emily made a commitment to be more open to sex.
This worked for a little while. Chad did the dishes more and Emily was more open to sex.
But, one day Chad did not do the dishes. Emily then felt justified to not be open to sex.
Emily started blaming Chad for only wanting sex. Chad started to blame Emily for not caring about him.
And now, they were back in their same old pattern.
The problem with contract marriage counseling is that as soon as one party breaks the contract,The other party feel justified in breaking their end.
And we always fail sometimes in these contracts.
How Marriage Counseling Fails – The Bad
Too dependent on other people
We have already discussed why did depending so much on the other person is a problem.
If we are not solid in our own sense of self and managing our own anxiety, we try to make our spouse do that for us. And eventually they get tired of that.
As human beings, we need both connection and autonomy. We need to belong to someone else, and belong to ourselves.
Most marriage counseling focuses too much on the connection aspect. It recommends a merging to a point that is not very healthy.
Another problem with traditional marriage counseling is that typically the therapist will require that husband and wife to be part of the therapy.
However, often this is not possible.
It is very common that one person wants to work on the marriage through marriage counseling while the other does not.
End Goal Problem
Probably the biggest issue with traditional marriage counseling is the definition of the end goal.
Many couples therapist to believe that the ideal marriage is one where there is complete unity and oneness.
Where there is little to no conflict.
Where are you both support each other and know each other completely.
This goal sounds very nice and is the focus of many romantic movies and shows.
Chad and Emily were caught in this idea. That a good marriage meant losing themselves and becoming a connected one.
However, it neglects the need for her autonomy in life and marriage.
For marriage to thrive, there needs to be both separateness and togetherness. You need to belong to yourself and to your spouse.
A good marriage is like water.
One of you is hydrogen. The other is oxygen.
When you come together, you make something bigger and better than either of you could have done alone.
But, you are still hydrogen or oxygen. Water includes both as unique and individual parts, but the bond between them and makes them something even better.
Marriage Counseling Success Rate – The Ugly
Because of these problems, the unfortunate truth is that marriage counseling has a relatively low success rate.
Somewhere between 50-85% of couples do not have a “successful” experience in couples therapy.
According to a New York Times article, two years after ending counseling, studies find, 25 percent of couples are worse off than they were when they started, and after four years, up to 38 percent are divorced.
New approaches have been more helpful as they have started to understand the importance of respecting differences between partners in trying to understand them.
However, these are still depending upon both spouses being part of the treatment.
Marriage Counseling Alternatives
What are the alternatives to traditional marriage counseling?
Some people consider individual therapy hasn’t alternated to couples counseling.
However, this can lead to problems.
Traditional therapy will often focus on validating the patient.
This means that when you complain about your wife, your therapist will say “that must be really hard. It sounds hard that your wife does not appreciate you.”
Well you feel better after these sessions, and it oftenCauses more problems in your marriage.You feel like someone else can validate you but your spouse cannot.
Again, and this goes back to the idea that for you to feel good about yourself, someone else has to validate your emotions.
Some counselors doing individual therapy even recommend a divorce without ever meeting or knowing the spouse.
Coaching – A Better Solution
Many people do not understand the difference between coaching and therapy.
There are definitely similarities. However, to me there are a couple of main differences.
Focus on results and tools
In therapy, the focus is often on understanding your past and how that influences your future.
Traditional couples therapy will often look very closely at your past and may even assign blame to your parents for your current marriage problems.
Unfortunately, marriage counseling and other traditional therapies sometimes do not give tools that will be helpful in changing the situation.
Coaching on the other hand is focused primarily on fixing problems now and creating a better future.
There is much more focused on getting and using tools to make your situation better now.
We still may look at your past, but we will try to “heal the past in the present.”
As you understand your current thinking and behavior patterns that are causing problems in your marriage, you will find that you may be able to fix more relationships than just your marriage. Including relationships with your parents or siblings.
Some marriage counselors will tell you that your marriage is broken because something is wrong with you or your spouse.
The approach that I take is that the problems in your marriage are normal and part of a developmental process.
We often do not learn the skills that we need to create tea passionate hand loving marriage.
We usually tend to focus either more on the other person’s happiness, or our own happiness.
We can either be too selfless or too selfish. And often we go back and forth between these two things.
My focus is helping us develop the ability to see ourself as equal to our ourselves.
Not more important, not less important.
Is also about learning to be okay with who we are and not need her spouse to give us our sense of self esteem or manage our anxiety.
These are lessons that we get to learn in marriage.
The problems you’re having are expected. This is a process of becoming a stronger person. Marriage is the place that makes this happen.
I work with men to help them become more spiritually, mentally, emotionally and sexually strong.
To respect themselves as equal to their wives.
To not lose themselves in the marriage, but to find and develop an even deeper sense of strength and self confidence.
And in the process, develop the skills that will create an even deeper connection with their wife.
If you are struggling in your marriage right now, I’d love to see if I can help.
Mike Frazier, MD