I was dismayed to read an article in the Huffington Post today titled “Marriage counseling Made my Marriage Worse” . The writer, an anonymous woman with the pen-name of ‘Deja-vow’ wrote about her less than positive experience in marriage counseling.
She describes how her couples therapist allowed the experience to be “a knockdown, fist-flailing hate fest”. It sounds like a complete nightmare and I cannot blame her for wanting to trash marriage counseling as an option for couples struggling to get it right.
Without knowing the marriage counselor involved in her treatment, I can say without hesitation that there was a failure to provide a truly safe and respectful environment for a couple to make sense of their mess. As a couples therapist, I won’t tolerate hostility of any kind in my office, and I set firm limits with aggression and respectfully demand that both parties refrain from attacks.
Criticizing or shaming your mate is an adult way of crying over unmet needs from childhood. What a couple in crisis needs is a different experience from what they are able to create on their own. A good marriage counselor balances the need to solve problems while also helping a couple to create new positive experiences of each other through an environment of respect and increasing emotional clarity and understanding.
A good couples counselor works on healing old wounds while helping both individuals to know themselves better. Sometimes, this newly found clarity leads to separation and divorce, as individuals realize that their partner isn’t the right one for them. Sometimes couples counseling brings people closer through deeper understanding and renewed respect.
To say that marriage counseling didn’t help you because you and your spouse ended up getting divorced implies that the goal of couples counseling should be only to keep a couple together. As a marriage counselor my goal is to help both parties become clear in their emotions, and more aware of what core wounds they are bringing to the dynamic. Sometimes a couple isn’t meant to be together. At the very least, a good couples counselor will help both individuals to understand their unconscious role in the dynamic, and what core wounds they are attempting to heal so that they don’t find themselves in the same situation some years later with another person.
A sign of a healthy relationship is when both partners can learn to act as each other’s healers. This sort of emotional evolution cannot happen from just doing things differently, or just not focusing on what is wrong. There is an educational piece to this work that makes the difference between a successful treatment and a failure. If your couples therapist is not integrating any psycho-educational component into the process, then it is likely that the treatment will fail.