In a recent New York Times Magazine cover story, Elizabeth Weil spoke to therapists and discovered that couples therapy is stressful even for the professionals.
"It's widely acknowledged that couples therapy is the most challenging," said Richard Simon, the editor of the trade magazine The Psychotherapy Networker, in the NYT story. "The stakes are high. You're dealing with volatility. There are often secrets. We were just trying to make explicit something people who've done couples therapy already know: You often feel confused, at odds with a least one of your patients, out of control."
William Doherty, professor and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota, said in a Networkers article that there's "an ever-present risk of winning one spouse's allegiance at the expense of the other spouse's."
"All your wonderful joining skills from individual therapy can backfire within seconds with a couple," he wrote. "A brilliant therapeutic observation can blow up in your face when one spouse thinks you're a genius and the other thinks you're clueless -- or worse, allied with the enemy."
Does couples therapy actually work? Weil and Doherty will join The Daily Circuit Thursday to discuss how the business is changing and what it means for the couples themselves.
"At the end of the day it is you and your partner," Weil said in Mother Jones. "And you just have to create a good life for the two of you. Sometimes we saw outside wisdom that wasn't positive for us. It was us trying to conform to someone else's idea of what our marriage should be like."
VIDEO: Liz Weil talks about marriage
Have you been to a marriage therapist? Did it work? Why or why not? And for the couples therapists listening-are you using new techniques to help couples?
The term "couples therapy" as used in the article above seems inclusive of all types of couples, whereas "marriage therapist/counseling" seems a bit hetero-oriented. Is that on purpose that Kerri is using term "marriage" on air and that the title of this chat uses the same?
Ed: We are talking about couples therapy; people in long-lasting relationships. We'd love to hear from all kinds of couples. I, myself, am in a two decade long relationship with no wedding rings.
Nine years ago my husband & I separated & were headed toward divorce.
Thankfully, we found an excellent couple's counselor & she helped us put the pieces of the puzzle back together. We had never learned how to communicate & grow intimacy by telling each other about the little things in our days that seemed insignificant & unimportant. I had reserved those conversations for girlfriends having been socialized by my father to believe "men don't the have time or interest to listen to those stories". It took a professional to help us untangle the unspoken norms of our families of origin & how those "rules" weren't working for us in our marriage. I do also believe we had a counselor who was committed to making marriages work. We have since referred at least 6 other couples to this woman & she has helped save 5 of the 6 from divorce. Not a scientific study, but good enough research for me.
My wife and I (currently separated) tried couples therapy after she first left the house. We found that it was ineffective because we each had our own internal issues that prevented us from opening up to the idea of counseling at all. The therapist seemed to want to find easy, quick, surface-level answers to complex, deep-rooted problems. She would try to quickly summarize the issue, and present a simplistic solution.
"Do you think that would work?" she would say. I think therapy is supposed to expose the issues to help overcome them, but in our case, the issues were known, but as individuals, we couldn't get past them without an objective advocate. I think that counselors try so hard to not lean towards one spouse or the other, nor whether to stay together or not. This dispassionate observer method isn't as effective as support from family, friends, and other social groups.
Couple therapy is ineffective -- very -- because life can not be live by text book.
Therapists, most of them, have no real life experience of what the couple is going through. Given that every situation is different, it is the responsibility of the couple to work it out on their own. If they can't work it out, they were not meant to be together.
I do think it's vitally important to find the RIGHT therapist to help you.
Do NOT give up on your marriage prematurely.
ALL marriages take hard work & lots of it-- just as all things in life. If you take the time to work things out, your relationship will deepen & improve in ways you never knew were possible, but that only happens with a commitment to just stay together when the going gets tough.
Life isn't easy.
We think it's supposed to be. It's not. The sooner we realize that & decide to salvage what we have, dig deeper & do the work needed to recover, the better off we'll all be.
I agree with the first commenter that the therapists are so committed to treating the "couple" or "the relationship", that it prevents them from identifying blatantly damaging behavior from one person, calling them on it, and addressing it. The "there are no victims" attitude prevents them from fixing situations where there actually IS a victim.
Important to know-- girls are socialized on how to behave around men by the relationships they have with their fathers. If they have a difficult relationship with their fathers, at some point there WILL be tranferrance. It takes a skilled therapist to figure those things out & gently teach the couple how that is impacting their relationship.
Success has two essential components:
1) You have to want it to work and 2) you have to be going to a skilled therapist who you like, respect, and trust.
My wife and I have done "couples counseling" since we were dating, and have done marriage counseling off-and-on in our 21 years of marriage. There have been long periods where (from my point of view) it was more of a "care-taker" marriage for the sake of our son. But we've kept trying, because we genuinely love each other and both have that "soul-mate" feeling about the other.
People are complicated - relationships even more so (you're dealing with two people, after all). You have to be willing to "work" in order to make the relationship/marriage work. And you have to admit to yourself that it's not all about the faults of your spouse or their "irrational" response to things - you are 50 percent of the relationship/equation. Both have to change, both have to compromise, both have to have the capacity to say "I'm sorry" and mean it, both have to have the ability to instigate a "repair" when the relationship calls for it. It's like all good/great things in life - hard work, but the outcome is worth it.
Any couples therapy that is not preceded by and concurrent with individual therapy of both parties is doomed to fail.
It is effective, but you have to have the right therapist.
My partner and I are currently in therapy, we first had a very ineffective therapist, when we realized that and switched it made a huge difference. We saw results immediately when we switched therapists. But both partners need to be committed to it for it to work.
My ex husband and I were having a very rocky patch with co-parenting last year. We decided that it was in our child's best interest to attempt what is called post-decree couple's counseling. This was not court ordered but rather our decision.
We were lucky to find the right therapist on our first try.
If two people have the same goal - moving forward together - and are willing to be honest with each other and have a good 3rd party moderator who can reflect what she hears and help both people hear each other, it can absolutely help.
How do you know if you need couples counseling versus individual counseling? Is it better to do both at the same time?
@KerriMPR Wrked for us!Was ready to get him to see I was right.Realized I was the one who needed to do most of the changing. Great therapist
@kerrimpr Couples counseling worked for us (not yet married). We both wanted to be there. Now we're much happier and work better together.
We have been married 21 years. For 15 of them we have participated in a couples group that meets once a month.
The group is modeled on the marriage encounter. Its a proactive way to deal with issues. Men, in particular, are able to hear that other men have the same types of issues, often ones they don't share with their closest friends.
My husband and I found a wonderful therapist that helped turn our relationship around 180 degrees. Now we have a dream relationship. Our therapist taught us how to listen and communicate with one another respectfully and compassionately. We both wanted to be there, though, and were both putting in a lot of effort to make it work. I think that is most important.
If you start out with a couple's counselor who isn't working out, it's VITAL that you find a new therapist who can help.
I think people need to talk about this stuff more so everyone knows there are dark days in EVERY MARRIAGE. Once children enter into the relationship EVERYTHING CHANGES. The marital satisfaction curve drops dramatically & many couples don't make it through.
If you want to read more about the research done on this, check out the book, "After the Baby: Making Sense of Marriage After Childbirth. It's a great book & is really important people know the statistics at play in their current life stage. If you hang on, get some help & work hard, you'll get through it.
DON'T GIVE UP!
By the way, if you do give up & you don't get therapy to understand what your role was in the collapse, you WILL be bringing those issues with you into your next relationship with the new person. Wherever you go, there you are. ;)
My fiance and I decided to do couple's counseling because, although we love each other very much, we sometimes struggle to get along and have catastrophic fights.
Couple's therapy has helped us to understand each other better, fight less often, and in turn it has strengthened our commitment to each other. When we marry, we will do so with a solid foundation which couple's therapy has helped us build.
I am a therapist who works a lot with couples. It's critical to find out what the couple wants and their level of commitment in achieving a successful relationship that works for both partners
@KerriMPR Counseling only works when BOTH spouses want it to. Sadly, mine didn't, but I don't consider it a total waste. #dailycircuit
I have been with my partner for 13 years, and we're on our 6th couples' counselor. After all those counselors, I can FINALLY say that this guy is FINALLY the only competent one we've had. So true that these counselors need training!!!
As a therapist in training, I am familiar with the common factors research that suggests that 40% of the change we see in clients can be attributed to factors that occur OUTSIDE of counseling.
Only about 15% of the change we see can be attributed to the counselor's techniques or methods.
This is important for couples to remember- therapy does not provide a quick fix to long standing and complex concerns. BUT with time and investment from both parties, couples therapy can be highly effective.
My wife and I have counseled on and off over our 15 year marriage. Our counselor was the most empathetic person I have ever met.
She had the goal of helping our marriage, which we had agreed was what we wanted. Both have to be committed to the marriage.
I made many errors, but had been blaming her. We combined our therapy with spiritual guidance also and the two, saved our marriage.
My spouse and I did a pre-emptive round of couples counseling that focused on basic couples skills right after we got married. We were surprised about how little we really knew about keeping a relationship together. I think it saved us a lot of heartache.
I'd suggest people should get as much training for their marriage license as they did for their driver's license.
Couples counseling worked for me.
My former partner and I started seeing a counselor with the intent to strengthen our relationship. After our third or fourth session we left with an assignment to work on honest communication and came back the next week with our decision to end our relationship permanently. When the counselor asked us how the communication assignment worked, my partner and I look at each other and giggled. We continued seeing the counselor for a few more sessions and she was a phenomenal resource during the transition and I often brag about having break-up counseling now.
After try on my own for a couple year and then having a horrible experience with a marriage counselor, I have had the pleasure of participating discernment counseling at the U of M. While it helped define the issues in our 15 year marriage, it ultimately solidified my spouse was still in denial about our issues and he couldn't relate he was 50% of the equation. I am in the process of starting the divorce process after 16 months separated.
Tagging on an earlier comment. Yes, Kerri it was scary to allow someone to see all the dirt and be 100% honest and an open slate, but it was what saved our marriage
Couple's therapy was a success for our relationship when needed, but I believe a key componet for the success was an extensive work in individual therapy prior to couple's. Having a different therapist for the couples part was also a key to our success.
"Every spouse is a difficult spouse." Dr. William Doherty
There's no such thing as a soul mate!
Wouldn't it make sense for each spouse to have a separate therapist as an advocate in a couples' session. That way there's no fear of sides being taken. Thoughts?
You're not only marrying that special person, your also marrying their 'special' or not so special Famiy.
Any thoughts on polyamory :)
My parents are the best couple I've ever witnessed. Their love and support for eachother really inspire me. I know (because they were open about it) that they have been to a couples counselor before. They've taught me that marriage is wonderful albeit hard work.
It is good to have an outsider's perspective.
Ultimately, both partners have to be willing to put in the immense amount of work that it takes to fix a broken marriage first and foremost. Being a spouse that was cheated on, it was nice to have your feelings validated and not feel like you were being evil and vindictive because of what was done to you. A therapist can help you learn how to communicate as a couple better. They can teach you what you were missing that helped get you to the place that you were in.
Meditation, tantra and regular erotic entheogenic connection is is helpful, maybe essential.
Best book on and marriage workshop I've gone to is Harville Hendrix "Getting the Love You Want". www.gettingtheloveyouwant.com My husband and I have done it twice in our 25 year marriage. Well worth it.
My husband and I sought counseling, and it was the best thing we ever did. She has helped us see patterns we were blind to, helped us get unstuck.
She would step in when one or both of us went on down a path that was not productive, identify it, and help us recognize it outside of therapy. It was having that skilled 3rd party to see what we could not that made her so valuable.
Before I got married in OCt 2011, my wife and I had been dating for 6+ years, and we went to couples therapy while we were DATING starting in 2009.
I would have never been ready for marriage without it. Saved our relationship. Our counselor was amazing. I recommend it for everyone.
Take the Myer Briggs before marriage... N's and S's are are wired differently. $2K for therapy....$40k for divorce. Marriage is a legal contract, but the legal system is the wrong place to settle things.
@KerriMPR I have GREAT in-laws,my fiancé got the short end of the stick. My mom could really use therapy, gets offended when we suggest it.
I have my husband a "coupon" on Valentines Day for marriage therapy- we both want to go, but are bewildered by how to find a good - and affordable!- therapist.
Ed note: Dr. Doherty says check out this site.
How long should therapy be expected to take to reach a result (stay or divorce)?
my husband and i hardly ever argue about anything. sometimes i wonder if we are normal.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, and one of Dr. Dohertry's students I completely agree that couples therapists need extensive training, and to be active in the sessions - teaching tools and assessing the relationship.
I am currently working on my dissertation studying what helps in couples counseling, interviewing women who considered initiating divorce, went to couples therapy and decided not to divorce. Thanks for an interesting and helpful conversation!
Address mental illness, especially depression, in one spouse. If your spouse CANNOT be happy, should you suffer too? How many years?