Two Approaches To Marriage Counseling

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

As our readers know, we've been researching and writing about successful marriage for more than three decades. Our work has taken us all seven continents of the world. No small accomplishment, indeed. On our travels we've discovered many of the wonders of the world — human or otherwise!

Needless to say, we're grateful for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, to study amazing marriages and relationships, and to help struggling marriages achieve success. Our work has been our labor of love. Our 47-year marriage to each other has allowed us to engage in our work while spending most all our time with each other. We're blessed to say the least.

Because of our personal experience of creating and sustaining a healthy marriage ourselves for so many years, and our almost non-stop marriage work over the decades, we're often asked, "When marriages start to falter and fail, is there an approach to marriage counseling you have found to work best?" We believe we know the answer. But first a childhood story.

Charley had the good pleasure of growing up along the Missouri River as a child. For endless hours, he would sit on its shore on a driftwood log and just watch the majestic river flow towards Saint Louis, Missouri where it meets the Mississippi River, and flows on out to the Gulf of Mexico near New Orleans.

In watching the river, Charley always found himself asking two questions: Where does the Missouri River begin and where does it end? When you think about it, these are two very profound questions, and have much to do with the topic of this essay.

Later on in life, he discovered where it ended — Saint Louis, Missouri. But where did it begin? Always wanting to know the answer to this question, we headed off to Big Sky Country this past summer to discover the truth. Several days later we found ourselves standing at the Headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana.

The Missouri River is formed by the Jefferson River, the Madison River, and the Gallatin River. The confluence of these three rivers forms the Missouri River. It flows for nearly 2400 miles toward Saint Louis. We knew where the Missouri ended, now, we stood at the point where it all began. Like life and marriage, a great river has a beginning and an end.

Standing at the confluence of the three tiny rivers that formed the "Mighty Mo" we had an epiphany — there's a lot to learn about marriage by understanding how great rivers flow. Approaches to Marriage Counseling come in two basic modes — what we call the "upstream approach" and the "downstream approach." Let's illustrate with a story.

A marriage counselor is fishing on the Missouri River. Every 30 minutes or so he/she hears a voice from the water shouting, "Help me, help me. I'm drowning!" He/she throws down their fishing pole on each occasion, swims out into the river, and saves the drowning person. This episode happens over and over for several hours. Then, it happens again.

At about the time of the next "drowning," along comes a second marriage counselor. The second marriage counselor keeps on walking upstream to the astonishment of the first marriage counselor who, indignantly asks, "Why aren't you helping me save this drowning woman?" To which the second counselor replies, "No, I'm going upstream to find out who is pushing all these people in!"

There you have it — two distinctly different approaches to marriage counseling. And if you've followed our work over the years you know which approach we favor! The old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" applies here — better to keep a marriage from getting into trouble in the first place than trying to fix it when it's in trouble.

This kind of thinking on our part has led to 32+ years of research around the world and to the writing of four books about marriage. Our new book, How to Marry the Right Guy (released on January 6, 2014 and available exclusively by pre-order on Amazon.com now), is focused directly on this notion — get it right the first time — marry the right guy in the first place.  And trust us, there are ways of knowing!

In our new book, we have included a 33-item "How to marry the right guy quiz" based on our marriage research project. Our work has always focused on "What does a great marriage look like?" This more positive approach focuses on what's right about a marriage as opposed to what's wrong. An "upstream approach" if you like.

Our debate with "downstream" therapists centers around the best way to create a good marriage as opposed to fixing a bad or broken marriage. In the case of our new book, the "Quiz" helps a women decide if her potential marriage partner has the human ingredients, the raw stuff required for building a great marriage. 

Frankly, we like the efficacy of our "upstream" approach as opposed to the "downstream" version. Do your best to get it right in the first place (upstream) rather than trying to invest all your energies in fixing your marriage later (downstream). 

We aren't naïve enough to believe than there isn't merit to both approaches, but marrying the right guy in the first place will go a long way to ensuring marital and relationship success. Upstream is better!

Creating a successful marriage is not always the easiest thing to do. Your visiting our blog suggests you are highly interested in making your marriage work! And truthfully, we've learned over 30 years of marriage research that there are proven effective ways to ensure a happy and healthy marriage. In fact, we took hundreds of tips from the thousands of happy couples we interviewed and put them into our award-winning and bestselling book, Building a Love that Lasts.

**Today, you can see how you stack up to the best marriages around the world. Take the Marriage Quiz to assess your chances of achieving a successful marriage of your own.

By Drs. Charles and Elizabeth Schmitz

America's #1 Love and Marriage Experts

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