Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Benefits of Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling is like assembling an airplane in flight. It is highly stressful, highly volatile and potentially explosive. Not all psychologists are trained to work with couples and if not, they can do more harm than good. Unlike traditional therapy for individuals, the most effective couple’s therapy does not plumb the unconscious or delve into the past or seek to identify the psychopathologies causing people to behave in destructive ways. Couples therapy works best when it focuses on the perpetuating patterns that are driving couples apart and what positive steps each person can take to change them.

I saw a couple where the husband was a quiet, stoic guy and the wife was more verbal and emotional and wanting him to open up and communicate more. It was important to point out that his seeming indifference was driving her panic and her panic was driving his indifference. They both needed to not assign blame, e.g., “Everything would be better if he would change”, or “Everything would be better if she would just change”, but to understand that both people needed to make changes.

It is important not side with one partner or even give the perception of siding with one partner, as that hurts the cause. It is important to build a bridge between two people. People should not stay miserable, but there is a lot of psychological research showing that the pursuit of happiness is self-defeating. Happiness is a byproduct of a life well-lived, of good relationships, of making a difference in the world.

I believe that if both people want to work on the marriage and will hang in there and do the homework that I give them, the marriage and their relationship will succeed. I am the last person to give up on a marriage, not the first person to give up.

3 Things to Consider When in Marriage Counseling:

  1. We say that you should be able to tell early on if the therapy is helpful. Within the first couple of sessions, each partner should feel that the psychologist understands his or her point of view and is actively structuring the sessions. The relationship should be improving in five to eight sessions.
  1. About 30% of couples who seek counseling are not on the same page about seeking counseling or believe their marriage can be saved, e.g., one person is more committed to saving the marriage than the other. When marriage counseling is done right, however, about 70% of couples show positive change.
  1. Going alone to individual counseling for marital problems increases the chance of divorce, research shows. That’s because the client is telling only one side of the story to an empathetic therapist, so it becomes a gripe session about how unhappy the person is in the relationship and the absent partner starts to look like even more of a monster, exacerbating the couple’s polarization. That is not to say it is never appropriate to see an individual therapist for relationship problems. For example, if one partner’s depression or commitment issues caused the discord, that person might benefit from individual counseling to work on those personal issues (though if the marital problems came before the depression, couples therapy is the way to go). It can be helpful to bring in the partner for a session or two.

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