Has marriage counseling made things worse?

If you and your spouse have been to marriage counseling to no avail, you’re not alone. It happens more often than you’d think.

It’s not that there aren’t good marriage counselors “out there”—there are. But all too often, going to a marriage counselor can hurt, rather than help, a marriage.

Here’s an excellent article—written by marriage and family therapist Jed Diamond, Ph.D.—that explains how marriage counseling can actually lead to divorce. Talk about counterproductive!

To be clear: I’m not anti-counseling. In fact, I’m a big fan of individual counseling. It’s marriage counseling I’m talking about.

One obvious problem with it (aside from what Dr. Diamond wrote) is that most husbands hate it. And why wouldn’t they? More often than not, the wife has dragged the husband to counseling—where he’s at a distinct disadvantage since women are much more verbal than men are.

Talk therapy is just a much more comfortable place for women than it is for men, who are action oriented by nature. As a result, the wife ends up doing most of the talking while the husband feels the need to defend himself.

This does not precipitate change. Men don’t like to feel that they’re under a microscope, and that’s essentially what counseling demands. A woman is much more likely to get results by changing the way she responds to her man than she is to talk endlessly about the problems themselves.

In what is possibly the greatest self-help book ever written, How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie explains the fundamental techniques of dealing with people. That’s a broad theme, but it applies to every aspect of life—including marriage.

Several of Carnegie’s principles include: don’t criticize, condemn, or complain; call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly; praise the slightest improvement; give honest and sincere appreciation.

I can vouch that every one of these works, yet it’s not what marriage counseling entails. Most couples are there specifically to hone in on their complaints and criticisms about the other person. Oh sure, you might find a therapist who suggests a couple practice praising each other. But who wants to be praised because someone told your spouse to do it?

My own experience coaching couples together vs. separately confirms the counterproductive nature of working with both at the same time. There’s a great deal of wasted time in that hour, as each partner fights to be heard.

If a couple can’t get along at home on their own, why would they get along in a stranger’s office? That’s why working with couples individually about specific actions they can each take to bring about the desired result is a much better strategy.

So is having the freedom to talk about the differences between women and men without fear of recrimination. There are so many things counselors can’t say, especially to women—such as “Yes, it’s okay to have sex with your husband even when you’re not in the mood,” or “Try agreeing with your husband once in a while”—because it isn’t politically correct.

What’s more, many marriage counselors are single or divorced—and I can’t think of anything less inspiring to a couple in crisis than that.

None of the above is the case with marriage and relationship coaching. So if you’ve tried marriage counseling and it didn’t work, or God forbid made things worse, don’t throw in the towel before giving coaching a try.

Here’s the link you need. I’ll be here when you’re ready.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne is an author, a coach, and a podcast host committed to helping women let go of cultural beliefs that undermine their happiness in life and in love.