Our View of Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling or couples’ therapy can be helpful to couples experiencing problems in their relationship.  You may feel that you are on the verge of a divorce, there may have been infidelity in your relationship, or you may simply be struggling as a couple.  If you are experiencing any of these difficulties, you are not alone.  Most marriages struggle at some point, and many marriages struggle for decades.  Almost half of first marriages end in divorce, and a higher percentage of second and third marriages end in divorce.  While no therapist can promise that your relationship will improve with counseling, marriage counseling often helps marriages become more authentic, intimate, loving, and satisfying. 

I have more than 30 years’ experience as a therapist, and in that time, I have developed a unique approach to marriage counseling. I draw on the work of leaders in the field such as John Gottman and Harville Hendrix.  I also use a personality system called the Enneagram in couples’ therapy; the Enneagram will help you and your partner understand yourselves and each other better, and this usually leads to reconciliation and healing in the relationship. 

If you would like to initiate couples’ therapy with me, please click on the link below, and you will be routed to my office phone. 

Q. What is marriage counseling and what does it consist of? 

A. According to the Mayo Clinic web site: 

Marriage counseling, also called couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy. Marriage counseling helps couples of all types recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Through marriage counseling, you can make thoughtful decisions about rebuilding and strengthening your relationship or going your separate ways.  

Marriage counseling helps couples of all types recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships..  

Q. When should you seek marriage counseling? 

A. There are several points at which you might seek marriage or relationship counseling: 

  • Some couples seek premarital counseling to get their marriage off on a positive footing, to identify and head off potential trouble spots in the marriage, or to develop relationship skills that will enhance communication and contribute to a positive, healthy marriage in the coming years.  Sometimes clergy require premarital counseling when they marry a couple; when this is the case, the minister or priest may carry out the premarital counseling or may refer you to a therapist for the counseling. 
  • Marriage counseling is most commonly sought out when difficulties in the marriage are significant enough that one or both parties feel the need for outside help in the relationship.  This can occur when there is excessive conflict or quarreling in the relationship on an ongoing basis.  It can also occur when the relationship has become distant or disengaged, and the couple would like to become more intimate again. 
  • John Gottman, Ph.D., a marriage therapist and researcher, has identified “The Four Horsemen”, four communication styles that are toxic to relationships and will predict the end of a relationship with 93% accuracy unless the couple changes their communication styles.  The Four Horsemen include criticism, making ad hominem attacks on your partner or his/her character, contempt, communicating in a mean, disrespectful, ridiculing manner, defensiveness, playing innocent victim or making excuses, and stonewalling, withdrawing from interactions and refusing to respond to your partner.  If your relationship is characterized by any of these qualities (and particularly contempt, which is the most toxic of the four), I would recommend seriously considering marriage counseling.  If the Four Horsemen continue unchecked, they are likely to lead to the end of your relationship.  However, there are antidotes to the Four Horsemen, and couples’ therapy can teach you those antidotes. 
  • Some couples also choose to come to couples’ therapy to enrich a marriage that may have become dull or tedious, to encourage growth in a marriage that has become stagnant over the years. 

Marriage counseling is most commonly sought out when difficulties in the marriage are significant enough that one or both parties feel the need for outside help in the relationship.  Some couples also choose to come to couples’ therapy to enrich a marriage that may have become dull or tedious. 

Q. Can counseling or therapy help a relationship? 

A. Yes, it can, but successful marriage counseling depends on many factors including the couples’ commitment to the therapy and both partners’ openness to change.  Research shows that successful couples therapy involves five basic principles: 

  • Changing the couples’ understanding of the relationship, for example, ending the blame game. 
  • Changing dysfunctional behavior, for example learning to take a time out rather than allowing conflict to escalate.
  • Increasing intimacy and decreasing emotional avoidance, for example expressing important feelings and ideas to each other that may have been previously avoided due to fear of intimacy and vulnerability. 
  • Improved communication: learning to listen actively, empathetically, and non-critically. 
  • Building on the existing strengths in the relationship. 

And, of course, the Four Horseman must be dealt with. 

For marriage counseling to be effective, the couple must be willing to be do the sometimes challenging work of addressing the above, with the help of their therapist.  

Yes, it can, but successful marriage counseling requires commitment to the therapy and an openness to change. 

Q. What is the success rate of marriage counseling?   

A. Some research has shown the success rate to be about 75%, but success depends on both the skill of the therapist and the willingness of each spouse to do the challenging and rewarding work of couples’ therapy. 

Q. Are there any situations in which you would advise a couple against beginning marriage counseling? 

A. In my opinion, a couple is not suitable for marriage counseling if one party in the relationship is being abused by the other spouse.  Marriage counseling requires a situation in which both parties feel safe, are not being traumatized, and are able to interact as equals or are able to learn to work together as equals; these conditions simply do not exist in an abusive relationship.  And therefore, relationship change is almost impossible.  One option here is divorce.  Another option involves the abusive spouse attending individual therapy and learning to cease the abusive or intimidating behavior.  If individual therapy successfully addresses this problem, it may be possible to then initiate successful marital therapy. 

Q. How much does marriage counseling cost? 

A.  The cost will vary with each mental health professional.  I charge $150/hour for marriage counseling and couples’ therapy. 

Q. How do you do marriage counseling and couples therapy in your practice?  

I enjoy helping couples find their way out of old fixed patterns of interacting and into a more authentic, flexible, compassionate, and accepting intimate relationship.  I consider marriage counseling an opportunity for a couple to clear up long standing misunderstandings and a chance to find one another again.  Marriage counseling can be both a means to heal old wounds in the relationship and the beginning of a lifelong adventure of discovering one another anew every day.    

In couples’ therapy, I make use of the work of John Gottman and other evidence-based approaches.  I also make use to some extent of the work of Harville Hendrix.  In addition, I emphasize the use of the Enneagram in couples’ therapy.  I find that the Enneagram helps people understand themselves and their partners better, and this understanding often leads to greater empathy, caring and compassion for their partners, which is enormously valuable in couples’ therapy.  The Enneagram, when used with an experienced guide, can create powerful opportunities for growth, healing, and reconciliation in relationships.  

I enjoy working with couples of all sexual orientations. 

References 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/marriage-counseling/about/pac-20385249

Benson, L. A., McGinn, M. M., & Christensen, A. (2012). Common principles of couple therapy. Behavior Therapy43(1), 25-35.   

Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999, 2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Random House, LLC: New York.   

Johnson, S., & Hunsley, J., & Greenberg, L., & Schindler, D. (1999). Emotionally focused couples therapy: status and challenges. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, V6 N1, 70-73.   

Riso, D., & Hudson, R.  (2011).  The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types.  Bantam Books, New York.