Couples Therapy: Proceed With Caution

Each year, hundreds of thousands of couples seek counseling in an effort to save their troubled relationships.

But does marital therapy work? Not nearly as well as it should, researchers say. 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.

Why is this?

Reason # 1: Many couples present for marriage therapy when it’s too late.

Reason # 2: Sometimes one member of the relationship has already made up his mind that it’s over. Consequently, he drops out of therapy prematurely, after he feels he made sufficient ‘effort.’

Reason # 3: Some therapists are passive, and don’t offer objective recommendations.

Reason # 4: Many therapists encourage expression of feelings with no reference to rational thought and action. Saying what you feel often makes things worse, and is an inadequate substitute for encouraging the taking of responsibility by each member of the relationship.

Reason # 5: Sometimes one of the spouses likes and trusts the therapist while the other does not. Consequently, the therapy fails because one will attempt what the therapist recommends, while the other undermines it.

Reason # 6: Sometimes the problem is not a couples issue so much as an individual issue with one or both of the spouses. Rather than talking with the therapist together, the individuals ought to be talking with the same therapist separately. In these separate discussions, the focus is less on hurt and anger, and more about what the individual can do to change his thinking or behavior to make the relationship better. There’s less defensiveness on the part of spouses when meeting individually.

This is also the case with email or written consultation as opposed to verbal back-and-forth.

Given all these factors, it’s quite remarkable that only 25 percent of couples in therapy end up worse off than they started!

Source: Search “Married With Problems? Therapy May Not Help,” by Susan Gilbert, The New York Times.


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