Q. My wife and I saw two different marriage counselors and neither one was helpful to our marriage. One counselor wondered why my wife stayed with me since she was so unhappy. Another counselor saw us separately and told me that maybe we should separate. We don’t want to separate or divorce. We just want to learn how to solve our marital conflicts. Marriage counseling almost tore us apart. Does marriage counseling ever help? What will help us?
A. I was a marriage counselor for over thirty years and I’ve heard many similar stories. Unfortunately not all marriage counselors are trained to help couples change the way they interact with each other. Also, not all marriage counselors view marriage as a life-long commitment which most of us make before God, family and friends.
Some therapists as well as our society, think that marriage should “make us happy” not understanding that all marriages have some low points and all marriages take work. Most couples can identify some positives in their relationship and don’t want to break up their marriage. They just don’t know how to fix it.
William J. Doherty, Ph.D. gave a presentation called “How Therapy Can Be Hazardous To Your Marital Health.” He is appalled, as I am, at what some counselors tell couples. He describes one couple who saw a therapist together. The wife was clinically depressed and medication was begun. In a later individual session with the wife the therapist told her she wouldn’t recover from her depression until she “trusted her feelings” about the marriage. Then the therapist suggested a separation. The wife protested saying she loved her husband and was committed to him. The wife was stunned and didn’t return to the counselor.
Next she talked to her priest. He urged her to wait and see whether the depression was causing the marital problems or the martial problems were causing her depression. If things improved with the medication then all was well. Then he told her if it didn’t work out he would help her get an annulment! Again, she was stunned.
They finally saw a competent marital therapist who helped the couple. Dr. Doherty says that this couple “survived two efforts at “therapist-induced marital suicide.”
Other examples of things incompetent therapists may say:
- “Your marriage isn’t working any more.” This is like saying my car isn’t working anymore and it’s not worth repairing.
- “Maybe it’s time to move on.” That’s what we say about a job.
- “You deserve better.” Friends, not just therapists will say this about a marriage.
- One therapist refers to “starter marriage.” Starter marriage? We refer to a starter home? It’s a little home you plan to leave!
Dr. Doherty suggests that “this kind of language represents the invasion of a consumer ethic into marriage in addition to focus on individual fulfillment and satisfaction.” He encourages couples to take marital education classes and I would agree with him. I have seen more change happening in couples marriages through marriage education than through counseling though some couples need both. Locally, I’ve been involved with The Third Option group for married couples. I recommend you and your wife find a Third Option group or go to Weekend to Remember.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you.” Proverbs 3:3