Does Marriage Counseling Work?


The short answer is “yes,” marriage counseling does work, but only when it is done well and both the husband and wife are willing to do the necessary work. While even a great marriage counselor cannot help an unwilling couple, it is also vital that a willing couple have a counselor who is capable of helping them.

This article will focus on mistakes that marriage therapists and counselors sometimes make. These will give troubled couples some ideas of what to look for and look out for in choosing their counselor.

Lack of Marriage Counseling Experience

One problem that some counselors have is that they are not specifically trained in doing couples counseling. The bulk of their training and work may come in the form of doing individual counseling. Counseling a single person is not necessarily the same as trying to help a couple work out their problems.

It is one thing to listen to an individual and help them to sort out their thoughts and feelings. It is quite another thing to assist a couple in resolving possibly serious conflicts that they have been unable to fix on their own for years. As complex as an individual may be, the complexity is greatly intensified when you’re dealing with the most intimate of relationships between two human beings.

A counselor who is helping one person may spend a lot of time merely listening and allowing the individual to come to conclusions largely for themselves as to what they should do to solve their personal problem. A marriage counselor must do much more than that.

As already mentioned, a couple with conflict problems has likely already tried to work out the issues on their own, but have failed. They had come to a counselor because they need direction, better communication skills, new insights and so forth. Having not received that from a generalist, they would go away from the counseling session disappointed to say the least.

One specific problem that sometimes happens is that either the husband or the wife gets picked on because they are unwilling to conform to the program of the counselor who stresses the individual over the couple. For example, a husband may have finally agreed to come to counseling because he is afraid his marriage is about to end. He has one purpose for coming to counseling and that is find answers to his marriage problems so he can save his marriage which is on the brink.

The counselor may have a propensity to want to delve into the man’s personality, feelings, and life’s history. Since the husband may have little interest in sharing that kind of information, the counselor and even his wife may decide that it means he is not really interested in saving the marriage. However, the truth is that he does want to save his marriage and wants to be told how.

Counselors who primarily do individual counseling may not be accustomed to handling the intense conflict between a husband and wife in the counseling office. It can be not only very uncomfortable for the counselor, but he does not know how to deal with it in a way that will help the couple. Instead, he is prone to fall back into the individual counseling style that he is most comfortable with. Therefore, he will tend to focus on just one of the persons in the counseling or may even go as far as suggesting that the husband and wife go for counseling separately.

Low Commitment to Marriage Permanence

Another problem that keeps marriage counseling from being successful is that many counselors take what they consider to be a neutral position regarding divorce. In other words, the counselor is not really committed in the first place to helping the couple do all that they can to continue the marriage.

It is rather more a matter of each person determining whether or not it is best for them to stay in the marriage. It is the old what’s in it for me mentality rather than focusing on the commitment to the marriage and to each other.

The problem with this approach is that the couple has likely already had their doubts about whether the marriage can make it or not. And, the propensity of the individual is to be selfish. In addition, the counselor will hear that in the counseling sessions. The husband will give his side of the story along with supporting evidence and the wife will do the same for her side.

If the counselor places the emphasis on the individual then really there is little hope for helping the marriage. While it is inevitable that some marriages will dissolve, especially in cases where there is abuse of some sort, a good counselor is going to focus on the marriage and strive to help the couple work through their issues successfully.

Labeling Persons as Troubled

Yet another damaging approach that accounts for some marriage counseling failures is to begin to label the husband and or wife with some psychological term. Doing so suggests that the person is broken and may be difficult to fix. It can cause that individual or their partner to feel like it is either an impossible situation, or just too much work.

The counselor may in fact suggest that the marriage relationship is not worth trying to repair. They may tell the couple that it was a mistake for them to get married in the first place and that they are so totally incompatible that it would be extremely difficult for them to have a happy marriage.

In speaking individually to a husband or a wife, they may pity them for what they are having to endure in the marriage and in essence give that person more reason to believe their marriage is unsalvageable. Of course, there are reasons why one person might have to leave another including abuse, but we are speaking here of a more general unhappiness that a spouse may currently be experiencing in the marriage. An ineffective marriage counselor picks up on and supports that unhappiness.

What may really be going on here is that the counselor feels unqualified and helpless to assist the couple. Rather than admitting that to himself and the couple, he may decide he is doing the right thing by even directly suggesting to the couple that they end the marriage.

What Should a Couple Do?

Does marriage counseling work? Not always. If a couple seeking marriage help is not aware of some of the pitfalls discussed above, they may wind up with a counselor who is unable to help them.

Husbands and wives seeking help for their marriages should learn to ask lots of questions of potential counselors. The couple should ask questions that relate to the points made in this article. They can ask about the counselors training and experience, as well as specifically how much they have of each of these in the area of marital therapy. They should ask questions to get insight into the counselor’s views of marriage and divorce along with their success rate in helping couples work out their problems.

Generally speaking, licensed Christian marriage counselors will take a high view of marriage and take the approach of supporting the best that they can the couple who wishes to save their marriage.

Another advantage of Christian counseling is that many of the larger churches have professional marriage counseling resources available to the community at reasonable costs. Often the counseling fees of therapists are prohibitive for many people and a church counseling center may offer the services of a professional therapist based on the couple’s income.

For couples who do not access to such services or are limited in some way from attaining face to face counseling help, there are also now online marriage counseling services that may be of value. Some of the same steps suggested above for finding quality help is encouraged.

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