Recently, the effectiveness of marriage counseling has been called into question by a few Huffington Post contributors. For instance, in an article entitled "Marriage Counseling Made My Relationship Worse," the author leads with: "Does anyone have a good experience with marriage counseling? I hope so. In my experience, marriage counseling actually made things worse."
While I appreciate this author's candor, the premise of the article—that marriage counseling doesn't work simply because it didn't help the author— seems simplistic and it's not based on research.
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The truth is that there are many factors that can impact the potential success or failure of marriage counseling for any given couple. Understanding these factors is important in determining whether or not seeking therapy for problems in a marriage is the best decision.
Findings from a recent study in the "Journal of Marital and Family Therapy," report that marriage counseling helps seven out of ten couples find great satisfaction in their marriage. However, not all research is that optimistic. In his summary of a consumer reports study, E.P. Seligman Ph.D. reports that marriage counseling is not as effective as other treatment modalities.
Why do some studies show limited success when evaluating the merits of couples counseling? Most experts agree that couples counseling is a relationship between three individuals and it's not the therapist's responsibility to fix the marriage.
Author Linda Bloom writes, "Your counselor is a consultant, not a fixer." Early detection is also a big plus. Renowned marriage researcher John M. Gottman claims that the average couple that enters marriage counseling has experienced marital difficulties for over six years.
It makes sense that the longer a couple waits to seek assistance, the more deeply entrenched the communication problems; thus, making them more resistant to treatment.
Here are certain conditions under which couples counseling may not help a couple repair their marriage:
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- The problems in the marriage are too ingrained and longstanding for the counseling to be effective.
- One or both partners have already decided to end the marriage and he/she uses the counseling as a way to announce this to their partner.
- Addiction or mental illness is having a major impact on the marital relationship because it has not been treated prior to attending sessions.
- Verbal or physical abuse is an issue in the marriage and one of the partners is fearful about their safety or well-being so clams up in sessions.
- One or both partners are unwilling to complete homework assignments necessary to reverse negative relational patterns.
- The therapist is not qualified to treat couples due to inadequate training or credentials; or there isn't a good fit between the therapist and the couple.
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