The Advantages of Self-Help
To Solve Marital Problems

For a variety of good reasons, one or both of you may not want to see a marriage counselor. And that’s okay, because the advantages of self-help can outweigh those of therapy.

Talking to others about your marriage problems can be embarrassing, and feel like an invasion of privacy. A big advantage of self-help is that it is anonymous. Many people, especially men, have a lifelong aversion to “opening up” to others. Is that your spouse, or perhaps even you? Your relationship, as distant as it may feel at the moment, may be the most intimate either one or both of you has ever had. Pressuring your spouse into counseling will only make matters worse between the two of you.

A self-directed approach to dealing with your relationship issues can bring the two of you closer together just in and of itself. If he/she has not yet agreed to “work” on the marriage, don’t be discouraged. Know that your proactive efforts are what your marriage needs, and take pride in that. You are seeking what is better for the two of you, and your spouse will (eventually) recognize that. If you are both on-board with the idea, you will be proud of and appreciative of each other’s efforts, and your love will grow because of those efforts. It is satisfying to see improvements to your relationship taking shape.

Another advantage of self-help is that when you begin to analyze and work on your problems, they will not appear as overwhelming as they seem right now. You will get a psychological boost as you take charge of solving your marriage problems, and as a side effect, will gain self-confidence as you discover workable solutions.

The plan you devise will reflect how you desire to approach your problems. You won’t have to explain yourself to a marriage counselor whenever you don’t like his “homework assignments.” And you won’t be concerned about whether the marriage counselor is in top form. Did you know that at any given time only half of therapists are in a state of mind that can be described as alive, engaged and productive?[1]

Marriage counseling can work if you find the right therapist, if you get the right therapy, and if you both want to go that route. However, many therapists give up on their clients too easily.[2] And with the wrong therapy, the odds of remaining married over the long term are not as good as they should be. Four years after receiving only behavioral treatments in marriage counseling, 38% of couples divorce.[3] (However, don’t let that dissuade you from trying marriage counseling. Marriage Guardian has an entire section on marriage counseling, its advantages, and how to make it work.)

The last major advantage of self-help is that, on a practical level, it’s a lot less expensive. For the cost of one or two therapy sessions, you can buy a very good self-help marriage program or a whole library of self-help books. And the cost of marriage counseling is a top reason many choose the self-help route. However, if you have insurance, marriage counseling may be a covered benefit. If your insurance limits the number of sessions, you may want to consider doing self-help, and use a counselor only as an advisor to your self-help program and to get you through the more difficult parts.

The Downside of Self-Help

As with anything, the advantages of self-help to resolve your marital issues are counter-balanced by disadvantages.

Self-help for your marriage relationship is a DIY (“Do It Yourself”) approach. You have to find the books and programs that will help you, and summon the will to follow their advice. Even though Marriage Guardian is designed to assist by pointing you to the better materials, you must decide what will work for you. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single, simple answer that fits everyone’s situation. And while books and programs can take you step by step through their processes, you decide whether you are doing it right and making progress.

Self-help requires vigilance so that you “get it right.” You may dismiss an important idea because it doesn’t match with what you believe or feel. It might just be that it is that belief or feeling that needs to be dismissed, or at least altered. You have to be objective with yourself, think things through, and analyze without the benefit of a live counselor. (Of course, you could use a counselor in conjunction with your self-help plan.)

As you read, watch or listen to self-help material, you may also skip over an important idea, not realizing just how important it really is.

As you become more self-confident using the self-help route, you may meet increasing resistance from your spouse if he/she had not originally agreed to work on the relationship together. It is a challenge to remain loving and not get discouraged when your spouse doesn’t respond as you might want. Your confidence may wane as you search for the words and actions that will produce the responses you desire.

If you seek out a family member or friend to confide in, that person may, in taking your side, inadvertently say things that pull you away from thinking about the marriage and switch your focus to only yourself. Unless you know in advance what that person’s attitude is toward marriage and toward your spouse, that he/she believes strongly in marriage for the right reasons and cares about you and your spouse equally, you are better off not confiding.

The same can happen if you seek help from marriage forums . Because you don't know the persons giving you advice, you must be objective and critically analize what they offer. And that is hard to do when you are emotionally vulnerable.

Another disadvantage of self-help is in misidentifying problems. For instance, you may think your problem is communication. That is what lots of people think is their biggest marital problem. But that is usually not the case. Marriage therapist and author Lee Baucom, Ph.D., says that learning communication skills will only make you better at fighting unless other, unrecognized issues are dealt with first.[4] Another example is that you may believe the two of you argue too much. Many people, and even marriage counselors, think that it is important to reduce arguing. However, marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., found that arguing can actually be healthy for your relationship![5] If it is done correctly and is counter-balanced with positive interactions, arguing keeps your marriage together and makes you happier. This is not some jerk’s dumb advice, and it’s not junk science either. Gottman’s conclusions are well-researched using scientific methods, and are well-respected in the marriage counseling profession.

A final example in misidentifying problems: Do you think the problem is with your spouse? Could the problem be with you and you are projecting? Again, self-help requires that you be honest and objective with yourself regarding your own personal issues, as well as your marital problems.

As the Therapists Say:
”So, how do you feel about that?”

There you have it – the major advantages of self-help to solve your marital problems, along with the major disadvantages. Is self-help the way to go, or should you take the marriage counseling route? Or is a combination of the two approaches better? If you haven’t already done so, read my other self-help articles, and then read about marriage counseling and its advantages and disadvantages. Decide for yourself what is right for you. Either way Marriage Guardian is here to help.


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[1] ^ Peter Fox. “How to Choose a Competent Therapist.” July 12, 2011. peterfox.com.au
[2] ^ William Doherty, Ph.D., "Bad Couples Therapy: How to Avoid Doing It," Psychotherapy Networker, Dec. 2002.
[3] ^ Douglas K. Snyder et al., “Current Status and Future Directions in Couple Therapy,” Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 57, 2006.
[4] ^ Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D., Save the Marriage, Even If Only You Want It to Change, 2001, savethemarriage.com.
[5] ^ John M. Gottman, Ph.D., Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last, Simon & Shuster, Inc., 1994. NOTE: While this book contains lots of useful information, it is better suited as background material for Gottman's The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you read only one, read The Seven Principles.
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