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Does Marriage Counseling Work?

By carolyncastiglia |

4 Day Marriage Intensive.  To Save Your Relationship.  Marriage Counselor?  You Can Stop Your Divorce.  Those are the desperate first words you see in the sidebar of a Google search for “marriage counseling.”  But does marriage counseling really work?

Yesterday Karenna Gore and her husband Andrew Schiff “confirmed to various media outlets that they had been separated for several months and were in couples counseling,” the Daily News reports, then adds, “friends wonder if they’ll be able to find enough common ground to save their struggling marriage.”

In their coverage of the story, Famecrawler quoted ”recent studies saying there’s a higher incidence of divorce in couples when the wife makes more money than the husband. The Gore girls’ husbands made plenty of cash — Schiff is a doctor who now works as a Managing Partner at a biotech-focused private equity fund — but there’s a definite fame deficit on (his) end of the relationship.”  A family friend told the Daily News, “I’m not saying they didn’t love each other, but they got married so young, and I think what kept them together was their action-packed lives.”

I can certainly relate.  I met my ex-husband when I was in college.  I was a charming, 21-year-old co-ed, he was a handsome, 34-year-old first-year prof.  And boy did our relationship teach me a lesson!  Like the Gore-Schiffs, we led a life filled with travel and excitement – he commuted back and forth to the city from a job in Western New York and I had just started doing stand-up.  In all the flutter, it was easy to overlook the fact that in reality, we didn’t actually want the same things out of life and that our moral compasses were not pointing in the same direction.  (Mine points North – towards God – and his points South, towards his… pockets.)  

But Gore and Schiff, like so many couples who know it’s over but want to put in one last ditch effort, are in couples counseling.  The Daily News says a source close to the couple says their future is “TBD: to be determined.”  I hate to sound pessimistic, but really?  I’m pretty sure everybody who goes to marriage counseling after deciding to split ends up splitting.  I don’t have any data to back that opinion up, and there don’t seem to be any hard numbers online regarding the effectiveness of marriage counseling.  This quote by relationship coach Suzanne M. Alexander echoes the general sentiment about the ability of therapy to save your marriage:

“Couples are most likely to avoid divorce if they regard a counselor as a helper and themselves as responsible for changing their words, attitudes and behaviors.  Often couples seek counseling long after they first need it, and when they see a counselor, the marriage is already in deep trouble.  The couple sees the counselor unrealistically as a final savior.  The earlier you seek help, the more likely it is to be successful.  It is also good to recognize that a marriage can turn around even if only one person is seeking help.”

Gah!  That last sentence makes me want to punch myself in the face.  If you are the one person seeking help for a failed marriage, THE OTHER PERSON IN THE MARRIAGE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOU, SWEETIE!  Argh. 

The first day I walked in to marriage counseling with my husband, I needed someone to take my side.  To hear me, to tell me what I was observing was real, that I had been wronged.  I wanted Tom Papa on The Marriage Ref as a defense attorney.  Instead I got a small, sweet, snappily-dressed South Asian man who spoke in a slow, sugar-coated voice that made me want to scream.  I had been betrayed, our marriage was over, it had been over – but I needed someone to tell me it was okay to walk away.

Obviously this is a personal issue for me, so I want to know what you think.  Does marriage counseling work?  Has anyone out there saved their marriage using therapy?  I think since most people wait until things are irreparable to seek help, marriage counseling becomes like a religious rite of passage, a ceremony you have to go through.  It’s as if the therapist rocks you gently and whispers, “It’s okay.  You guys can get divorced now.  That’ll be $5,000.”

Photo: Growth Point Therapy

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About carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Carolyn's latest posts →

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9 thoughts on “Does Marriage Counseling Work?

  1. lucy says:

    i just contacted a therapist yesterday to try and heal my relationship after i found out my partner was cheating, timely? yes. hopeful? gulp. no.

  2. TC says:

    Marriage counseling isn’t about the counselor taking sides and being a referee. It’s supposed to be a way for a couple to communicate better and enhance the marriage. About seeing the other’s point of view and coming up with an understanding.

    My husband and I have a great marriage. We have ups and downs, but we know that it’s important to work on a marriage and not take the other person for granted. A counselor has helped us from time to time work on issues, but has also helped us to keep communications open and effective when there weren’t issues.

    If you’re only there to “prove” your SO is wrong, then you shouldn’t go.

    I also agree with the point of one person going solo (to start) as if you change a behavior within, that other people will feed off of that and you can see improvements.

    I strongly advocate going to a marriage counselor. It never hurts to keep communication alive and work on keeping a marriage strong.

  3. Comstock says:

    Seems to me divorce might be a fine outcome to therapy. The goal should be honest connections between the partners and the therapist. Sometimes people will find healing in that, and other times people will find that their marriage is over. Therapy should be about helping people find ways to be more mature, insightful, empathetic individuals. Through that process, people find ways to deal with their problems. Therapy isn’t going to fix a marriage unless couples are engaged and searching for ways to fix it. Therapy facilitates change, it doesn’t cause it.

  4. anon says:

    we yell it out and then have make up sex…or, I talk to my mom…we are too weird for someone to successfully analyze and I am one who thinks its better to deal with issues privately…we had some serious issues…we found some “self-help” books for couples, read them together, talked it out, and moved on…to me, I think the bond between the two in the couple has to be supreme and perhaps a little mysterious such that an “objective outsider” would just be in the way…but, I think it might work for some people who are more normal and conventional

  5. anon says:

    I do agree that BOTH people have got to want to make it happen…and both must agree there is something wrong in order to fix it

  6. Kim Leatherdale says:

    Comments TC is so right, the therapist is there to facilitate, teach, and provide structure. Therapy isn’t about proving yourself or it isn’t therapy. A therapist isn’t your personal defense attorney. If you wanted support and the chance to look at your own choices, then you needed to see an individual therapist.
    Probably the “failures” in marriage counseling are because people go to couples counseling seeking what you wanted rather than to fix anything. Some people do go to show they “gave it our all.”
    I’d rather work with the ones who come early and motivated to treatment.

  7. LindaLou says:

    I agree with you, TC. My husband and I have been together for 23 years. We’ve gone to short term couples therapy, let’s see, 3 times in 23 years when we needed help. The truth of the matter though, is that we were never “headed for divorce” to being with.

  8. marriage counsiling says:

    Ditto. Thanks.

  9. ToppHogg says:

    Marriage counselling always boils down to the “counsellor” siding with one partner against the other. If the alliance is with the partner who pushed for counselling, the other partner doesn’t want to go but does because he doesn’t want to be blamed for ending the marriage because “he didn’t try to save it”. But if it goes the other way, she will quickly decide that there isn’t any need for counselling and ends the sessions ASAP.

    Lived through both experiences. Marriage died anyway.

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