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Does Marriage Counseling Work?

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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