I get a surprising amount of enquiries that begin with the question; Does marriage counselling work? Between you and I, I think that is a really intelligent question to be asking. Let me share something worrying with you; according to John Gottman who’s a gifted marriage counsellor, researcher and author, roughly 50% of all marriages fail. I say roughly because lots of couples continue to live in a relationship that just doesn’t work. I think it’s fair to consider them a failure too so it’s higher than 50%.
This has been true for the last 60 years. People have been getting marriage help from counsellors and therapists specialising in this area for the last 40 years and shockingly, there has been no movement in that 50% failure rate. So, little wonder people ask does marriage counselling work? What the heck is going on? Keep reading you need to know this stuff.
There are key indicators that your relationship is in serious trouble that have very little to do with the skills a traditional marriage therapist is trained in.
John Gottman states that there are six indications that signal a couple really needs couples counselling.
- The couple see their marital problems as severe
- Talking things over appears useless
- Contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling have become part of every disagreement.
- The couple have started living parallel lives
- A deep sense of loneliness has begun to set in
- They no longer remember the good times they had
If any of the above are true for you then I’d suggest that you get qualified help in the very near future. If for no other reason than the fact it’s such a miserable way to live. Most couples wait around six years to get help with their marriage and by then it’s often too late. I mean you wouldn’t wait that long to get assistance if the oil warning light came on in your car would you? Your marriage is a much bigger investment and you deserve the best service available.
A bad marriage will kill you.
I have some bad news for you. Research suggests that in an unhappy relationship you’re 35% more likely to get sick. There is also the chance that it may shorten your life by up to 6 years, particularly if you’re female. Your tricky marriage is literally killing you. Think about that! You’re potentially going to end up dependent on, or looking after, someone you can’t even get along with.
If that’s not bad enough then consider that in relationships where contempt, criticism and controlling behaviour are the norm the kids end up with chronically elevated levels of stress hormones. This is true of children living through a messy divorce too. This kind of stress has been demonstrated to cause long term differences in brain function in children.
If you need help then make darn sure you get it soon and that it’s really going to make a difference.
How does marriage counselling work?
According to John Gottman who researched relationship health in what they referred to as ‘The Love Labs’ there comes a point where it’s obvious the couple are in trouble. Gottman is really worth listening to as he’s the only therapist to have carried out in depth research into what’s really going on when love breaks down. He totally disproved the worth of so much of the work a traditional marriage therapist will do with you.
If a therapist starts leading you down the path of conflict resolution and communication skills then the model they’re using is totally outdated. If they aren’t approaching your relationship from a family systems or relational empowerment model then they’re probably going to do you more harm than good.
Gottman says that couples in crisis have generally reached a point where it is nearly impossible to communicate about or repair problems. A couple that is in this much trouble is living with the expectation that they’re going to get stuck in a battle every time something needs to be discussed. As a result their marriage has become tortuous. Do you ever feel that way? Have you ever? This is why working on conflict resolution and communication skills is pretty much the worst thing you can do with a couple in this state. It just makes it worse as you fixate even more deeply on what is wrong between you both.
Fondness and admiration as a shortcut to freedom.
There is a much better way. As a strategy that you could put into place right now I’d encourage you to begin to think about rebuilding the sense of being best friends again. When you first got together with your partner I’m pretty sure you felt very differently about them. For whatever period this person was the love of your life and you had big dreams about where you would go together. I suspect you’ve mostly forgotten this and when you do remember it’s upsetting.
Maybe this person was what you considered to be your ‘soulmate’ but lately they feel more like your cell mate. I know that you’re probably very sad and in a great deal of pain that it’s come to this and I want you to know it can be fixed so long as both of you are willing to do a little work. Just don’t let anyone tell you it’s about learning how to communicate better and resolve conflicts more effectively as that’s very hard work and if you look at the research it doesn’t work. We still have that 50% divorce rate.
As a starting point start I’d help you think about your partner and deliberately focus on building a sense of fondness and admiration. If you can do that, then most things can be worked out because there’s a lot more positive feeling in the room. Deliberately begin to think about the things you love about your partner or that you used to love about him or her. I know this sounds a little too simple to be true but it makes a huge difference. We are all very sensitive to criticism and contempt. Fondness and admiration is the best antidote you’ll find.
What you really need.
If you find you just can’t get out of your negative spiral then work hard to find someone who can provide more progressive marriage help. In my experience anyone trained in John Gottman,Terry Real, Harville Hendrix or Sue Johnson’s model is going to be doing work that makes a difference.
If your enquiry leads to someone talking about communication skills or conflict management then run for the hills. You’d be better off paying for a trip to Disneyland together as at least you’d be building some new memories to feel fondly about. I feel pretty strongly about this and you can get even more insight into why most couples counselling is doomed to failure here.
If you’re wondering ‘does marriage counselling work?’ you’re clearly already in trouble. Get relationship help as soon as you can if you need it, don’t wait, it will only get worse due to neglect. Are you aware of any of those 6 warning signs I shared with you at the top of this article?
Has your relationship turned into a place of pain. If so check out the ‘5 Relationship Crimes’ and see which ones you can begin to stop right now. You’re welcome to forward it to any of your friends that are struggling as it’s really easy to begin to feel better.
If you need help, please just get in touch.