The Article “6 Reasons Marriage Counseling is BS” is…BS!
Nothing like getting fired up on a Monday morning. I read a miserable article yesterday by an author who wrote a book called “The Surrendered Wife” saying that marriage counseling did her marriage more harm than good and that her marriage only improved once she and her husband left counseling. Yikes! Why does anyone need to surrender in a marriage? Can’t marriage be a place where people mutually respect each other and get their needs met? I will now rebut this foolishness to restore some sanity to the discussion of marriage therapy.
#1 “Saying you want to go to marriage counseling is saying to your husband you are a loser” Huh?!
Well this throws the counseling profession back to the 1950s and this is not at all what I am hearing from clients. Fortunately more and more clients are moving away from this Neanderthal way of thinking of therapy and realizing that counseling can be a resource, a place to learn how and why things are not going well and to discover new ways of interacting that are mutually satisfying for everyone.
Women are not alone in their desire to be heard and understood. I get as many if not more calls from men these days wanting to come in and work on their relationships. Because we have not as a culture historically done a very good job of teaching men how to emotionally connect doesn’t mean they don’t see the value in it or don’t want to. Trust me they do! It is insulting to men to suggest that they would be so threatened by the mere suggestion of going to counseling. I have many clients who are thrilled that their wives want to focus on their marriage.
#2 “Some marriage counselors are failures in their marriages”
Well nothing too judgy here! Some therapists have had failed relationships and yes some thin people have struggled with their weight. These people may bring knowledge and experience with their struggles to the table. We don’t know why another persons relationship didn’t work. Maybe there were factors beyond his or her control. We don’t know. What we do know is that therapists are not laypeople. Therapists go to school and study for years and have to have years of experience in order to become licensed and practicing. Are there bad therapists? Yes! Are there therapists working with couples who have not received specific training or gained specific experience? Yes! I just wrote an article describing my belief that couples therapy is a specialty and not something to see a general therapist for.
But to say consulting a happy wife is a better resource than a trained professional is ignorant. There are research based approaches to marriage counseling such as Gottman couples therapy and EFT which are able to demonstrate their effectiveness. Can your happy neighbor say the same? ” happy wives” may have things to share but let’s not confuse that with professional help.
#3 “Any fool can complain in therapy.”
Well according to this author if you don’t like something in your marriage just shut up and deal with it. Husband working too much? Don’t talk about it just accept it. Well what kind of babies does she think men are? Relationship expert John Gottman has shown that complaining is actually good for marriage. Criticizing is not but trust me neither is squashing upsets. Sometimes couples don’t understand the difference between complaining and criticizing. But news to our author friend-they can learn!
People are capable of making healthy changes and hearing truth from each other. And men are not so fragile if they are spoken to respectfully. And as for making comments of appreciation? This is something I work with couples on all the time. This is not a new idea to a good couples therapist. A good couples therapist works to increase goodwill in the relationship and help couples reconnect to the friendship and fun they once shared. Every good therapist knows the value of pointing out what works well for a couple and builds on that. Which is why date night is often part of therapy even though this too is disparaged by the author.For a lot of couples this has to do with restructuring the importance of the relationship in the family. I see so many problems arise when couples get lost being parents and they need the reminder to put energy in each other.
#4 “Marriage counseling can’t work because the focus is on changing your partner and the only way to get your partner to change is to get him to go to hundreds of couples sessions.”
Nonsense! The author is right that oftentimes people hope therapy will be about changing the partner. But any couples therapist I know makes it clear that you can’t force another to change. You can request change and again that is a healthy, grown up thing to be able to do in a relationship but I always ask each person to be accountable for themselves. An intervention I frequently use includes the first step of identifying what part of your partners complaint can you take accountability for.
And as for hundreds of sessions-again this is disparaging. I have seen couples change in a matter of weeks or months. Some issues such as working through infidelity may take much longer and there are some therapy situations where the couple becomes dependent on the therapist to help them navigate issues. The goal in Gottman couples therapy is not to create a perfect marriage but for couples to work until they are able to manage conflict themselves and not need the therapist.
#5 “Men are not big, hairy women.”
The author equates men talking or sharing feelings to some kind of torture. This dividing of the sexes is so unfair to everyone. I have just as many women who don’t want to talk about feelings as I have men who really want to. The bottom line is that people do seem to want to connect and a marriage is made up of two people who may need different things. But if you are a man or woman who values talking and sharing feelings and your partner wants to be with you then they need to work on meeting your needs too.
It comes down to finding ways to respect and honor each other and that may mean both partners have to reach beyond their comfort zone. And not all people want to articulate every emotion but I have met very few people who haven’t come to really value and appreciate feeling heard and understood by their partner and I have been able to help many people do that over the years.
#6 “Counseling is an expensive way to control your spouse.”
I’m starting to feel sorry for this author. No therapist I know is suggesting partners should be controlling each other at all. She is also saying money spent on counseling could be spent on self care. Well some people see counseling as a way of providing care to the self and the couple. I have heard many people say that they feel better since coming to see me and starting to really address issues in their marriage for the first time in a productive way.
Yes it is important to take care of yourself and make yourself happy but is that magically going to give you better tools to handle conflict? Is that going to help you learn to communicate in a healthy way rather than shoving problems under the rug and building resentment? The answer is no. People can learn to be happy individually and still be no better at figuring how to connect deeply to people they love. I see it all the time. We do a poor job of teaching relationship skills and a lot of problems I see are because of this. Counseling can be an effective way to learn and practice these skills and I have seen how figuring out how to connect can be a huge relief to people and bring them a tremendous improvement in quality of life.
This author clearly had a bad experience with couples counseling. But she has been involved in all of 1 couples therapy situations. I have been in this field for 19 years and have seen countless couples and have had the privilege of training with and working with very talented and knowledgeable colleagues.
If marriages just got better by shutting up and just asking happy neighbors how they do it then I suspect my profession would have dried up a long time ago. And one last note to the author. Perhaps it is unfair to talk about therapists taking people’s money when you are selling books and offering relationship “coaching” yourself. Come now isn’t some of your “intimacy coaching” nothing more than a regurgitation of tried and true couples counseling teachings? It is right out of John Gottman to teach increased appreciation and decreased criticism. So maybe our profession has some value after all. It does seem to have given you some tips to pass on in your writing.
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