I recently came across this article by Laura Doyle entitled “6 Reasons Marriage Counseling is BS.” While I actually found myself agreeing with many of the author’s comments on marriage, I obviously disagree strongly with her contention that marriage counseling is baloney. She says:
1. It starts with calling your spouse a loser
Doyle contends that going to marriage counseling is an automatic criticism of your spouse. This is definitely not true. Many couples recognize that there is a problem in the way they interact, and wise spouses acknowledge that both of them have been imperfect. If you are dragging your spouse to counseling because you believe s/he’s a loser, you certainly have a problem on your hands – but it’s not the counseling.
2. Some marriage counselors are failures
Well that’s definitely true. But that is a far cry from saying that marriage counseling is worthless. There are some doctors that are quacks, but I’m going to guess that Ms. Doyle does not recommend avoiding doctors in general, nor avoids them herself.
3. Any fool can complain and most do during marriage counseling
If your marriage counselor encourages or even allows a session to revolve around complaining about your spouse, you have a lousy marriage counselor. See #2 above. Marital therapy should be about adjusting the ways you speak to each other, learning to see your spouse’s perspective, addressing the concerns that underlie the usual complaints – not bellyaching. When sessions focus on these and other deeper issues, couples stand to gain a lot from counseling. When they focus on complaints and resentment, much less so.
4. It’s a hideout for hypocrites
Doyle criticizes marriage counseling for being a forum where you focus on changing your spouse and not yourself. She is right that often people come in to watch as the therapist magically fixes their spouse; it is the therapist’s job, however, to address this situation and emphasize that couples counseling is about both parties working on themselves and on the relationship. I never let one party sit and dump all the blame on their partner while they tout themselves as the saint. Every relationship has flaws, and virtually every relationship’s flaws are created and sustained by both partners, if not always equally so. (One important exception is abusive relationships, in which the problems frequently are attributable entirely to the abuser and not at all to the victim.)
So, if hypocrites are hiding in the therapist’s office, a good therapist will out the problem and help the couple address it as part of the therapy.
5. Men are not big, hairy women
Right. Helping men and women understand each other is a vital component in most marriage counseling situations. But you know what? Doyle’s contention that men are unwilling or unable to express their feelings just perpetuates too-rigid gender stereotypes that only make it more difficult for a couple to connect. It is certainly true that women generally find it easier than men to share their feelings; that doesn’t mean that men can’t or won’t. And frankly, I don’t see how she expects anyone to have a happy marriage with someone who’s not telling their spouse what makes them happy, sad, angry. That’s a tall order.
6. It’s the most expensive way to try to control your spouse
Didn’t we already take care of this? Controlling your spouse is NOT what marriage counseling is about. It’s about two people working together with a professional helper to better understand and communicate with each other, to resolve problems both superficial and deep that are embedded in the marriage, and ultimately to change themselves in ways that change the relationship for the better.
Marriage counseling is not a magic wand. You can’t walk in and expect all your relationship problems will disappear. But it does work. It saves a lot of marriages. It improves many more. And if you think it might be right for you, for the love of God, don’t listen to Laura Doyle.