Marriage Counseling Can Be
The Pits...

Just read what some very prominent people in the industry have to say about marriage counseling:
  • William J. Doherty, PhD, therapist and trainer of therapists, says that “it is dangerous in America today to talk about your marriage problems with a therapist.”[1]

  • John Gottman, PhD, famed researcher, author and therapist, discovered “It was more likely that couples would get a divorce if they had therapy than if they had no therapy. This was especially true for individual therapy, but it was also true of couple therapy.”[2]

  • Douglas K. Snyder, PhD, professor, researcher and developer of a widely-used test that measures marital satisfaction, says that a “sizeable percentage of couples fail to achieve significant gains from couple therapy or show significant deterioration afterward.”[3]

Well, these guys make marriage counseling sound bleak. And you should be aware of the dangers. But keep in mind that they are in the business, have been most of their lives, and have written extensively on the subject. If there was no upside, these smart people would have bailed out long ago. But there is an upside. They make their case, and I’ll explain it. Done right…

...or Marriage Counseling Can Be
A Blessing

Here are what a few people have to say about their experiences with their marriage counselors:
  • “We walked into our first counseling session with little hope that our marriage of 8 years would be able to be saved. We both had already spoken with our lawyers about a divorce, and both thought that divorce was the only answer. Bing helped us realize that we still had a lot of things in common, and had reasons to stay together.”[4]

  • “When we started in therapy, Mary noticed I was very quiet. She helped me to build my courage to bring out the person I was before marriage. Sometimes we as women fall into the background and put our needs on the side to benefit our husband's needs. Mary helped me to ask for what I wanted out of my spouse, to tell him how his attitude was affecting me.”[5]

  • “When we first went to see David, I felt that my relationship with my husband was, from 1 to 10 (10 being perfect), a 2. After several visits with David I can say that my relationship with my husband is more like a 9. If you want your husband to understand you, if you would like to argue less and you want things to be better, you have to talk to David. I think you will learn a lot in just a few visits, and your marriage and life in general will improve tremendously.”[6]
Even though these are testimonials for their counselors, what is important here is that excellent counseling helped save their marriages.

Should You Do
Marriage Counseling?

You have 5 choices:

  1. Do nothing and hope the situation gets better on its own.
  2. Try marriage counseling now.
  3. Take the self-help route.
  4. Begin a self-help program, and then get a marriage counselor to help you through the times when you get “stuck” (don’t make progress).
  5. Consult with a counselor about planning your self-help program.
The first choice has the least chance of success.

Like an object obeying the laws of physics, your marriage will continue on the same (deteriorating) path unless something forces a change in direction. If you don’t take control of the situation, the outcome is likely to be destructive.

Each of the other four choices has its advantages, so I suggest you read about the advantages and the disadvantages of marriage counseling, and about the self-help that is available to you before deciding which route to take.

Does Marriage Counseling Have to Be
All About Feelings and Dredging Up Your Past?

Marriage counseling helps the two of you relate better
No. Couples therapy is not the same as individual therapy. It does not have to focus on the past, nor spilling your guts out and crying like a baby over life as a 4-year-old. You should run, not walk, from any therapist who says otherwise. It’s a sad fact that way too many counselors and therapists, trained only to provide services for individuals, supplement their incomes by seeing couples. They think their education equips them to handle what is actually outside their scope of expertise.[7] They fail to see that couples counseling is a different animal.

The purpose of marriage counseling is to look at how the two of you relate to one another, and to help make that relating better. There are lots of ways to go about this. Some do have you examine your past, and some don’t. One forward-looking method begins by asking how you really want things to be in your life, and then looks for solutions to get you there. Actually, what your counseling turns out to be like depends on who you select to be your counselor.

Choosing the right counselor is critical. Not just anyone will do. Believe it or not, how well you and your counselor relate is more important than the type of treatment he/she provides.[8] And just because they have a bunch of letters after their names doesn’t mean that counselors or therapists are extraordinary human beings. They are every bit the same as you and me. At any given time only about half are functioning well, i.e., alive, engaged, productive in their work and their everyday lives. The other half are feeling challenged, distressed, or disengaged.[9] And here is another “fun fact.” The divorce rate for psychiatrists is 51%, about the same as the general population.[10]

You need to know how well your counselor is doing personally because it can affect their attitude toward your problems and values, how they guide the conversation, and the advice they give. They can do some real damage to your marriage if you let them.

I've gathered more statistics about counselors and counseling in a separate article. They can assist you in deciding whether or not to take the counseling route, and help you be successful in counseling. If you decide to try counseling, use this Marriage Guardian guide to locate and select a good counselor or therapist.

By the way, there is a difference between “marriage counseling” and "couples therapy," "counselor" and “therapist.” I and many others use the words interchangeably. Knowing the distinction, though, might help in your selection process. The difference could also be important for insurance purposes.

Choosing the right counselor dramatically increases your chance of success.


Some have been referenced above. Others have not.

Statistics on Counselors and Counseling
Marriages go through stormy times severe enough that divorce is likely. These counseling statistics show the good and the bad about couple therapy.

Marriage Counseling vs Couples Therapy
The two aren't quite the same thing. Knowing the difference can help get your expectations met.

The Advantages of, and Resistance to, Couples Therapy
What are the advantages of doing couples therapy or marriage counseling, rather than a self-help program? My spouse resists the idea. What can I do?

Does Marriage Counseling Work? The Dangers and Disadvantages
It didn't work for me because of what I didn't know. Marriage counseling can work when you are aware of the important things that make it go wrong.

What Makes Good Couples Therapy Good? - Part 1
How can you tell if your marriage counseling will be successful? Many who go through it still end up divorced. Know what to look for. Check often.

What Makes Good Couples Therapy Good? - Part 2
What does a therapist need to know about you to help you, and how does he get it? Do you have to understand the theory he follows?

Predicting the Success of Marriage Therapy
What are the chances of saving a marriage with couples therapy? Good, if you pay attention. Are there predictors of success? Well…

How to Find & Choose a Good Counselor

How do you find a marriage counselor? And how do you know if he/she can help you? Use this guide. After all, your marriage is at stake.

Return to Marriage Guardian Home Page

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[1] ^ William J. Doherty, “How Therapists Harm Marriages and What We Can Do About It,” Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, Vol. 1(2), 2002. Note: Emphasis added in quote.
[2] ^ John M. Gottman, "The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples", WW Norton & co., 2011, p. 12. Note: Emphasis added in quote.
[3] ^ Douglas K. Snyder et al., “Current Status and Future Directions in Couple Therapy,” Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 57, 2006. Note: Emphasis added to quote.
[4] ^ July 28, 2011,
[5] ^ July 28, 2011,!.
[6] ^ July 28, 2011,
[7] ^ Doherty, 2002.
[8] ^ Scott Miller et al., “Super Shrinks: Who Are They? What Can We Learn From Them?” Psychotherapy Networker, Nov/Dec, 2007.
[9] ^ Peter Fox, Clinical Psychologist, “How to Choose a Therapist,” July 12, 2011
[10] ^ “Physicians’ Divorce Risk May Be Linked To Specialty Choice,” Mar. 13, 1997,