I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that most of you could use some good marriage counseling. Yes, you.
“…do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” –Alma 60:21
I have run into two groups (although there are more) of couples in the church. One group has tried marriage counseling and found it to be mediocre, a waste of money, and even damaging. Unfortunately, this happens. Another group of couples has not really considered it. They may feel like their relationship is pretty good, or don’t see how therapy would help. For this group I often quote the verse above – Marriage counseling is a means that God has provided for us. We cannot afford to “sit upon our thrones” (i.e. our pride) and not use therapy as an available means of improving THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF OUR ETERNAL LIVES.
So what’s the problem?
First, some marriage counseling really IS a waste of time and money. Some of it may even make your relationship worse. This is not something you can just walk into. For those who have tried counseling and had bad experiences, consider yourself validated.
Second, as mentioned above, there are many couples who do not believe their relationship warrants marriage counseling. Many of them may indeed have relatively happy marriages, and could live out their lives without any extra help. They don’t see how counseling could make their relationship even better. Some couples may actually be quite distressed, but still don’t see how counseling would help. These are all valid concerns.
In a study on why people don’t go to counseling, the top two reasons were money and lack of belief that counseling will be effective. That old standby, social stigma, is actually not much of an issue anymore (I think it came in at #18). We are more open, for the better, about psychotherapy.
We can’t afford it
I don’t know what to tell you about the financial aspect. If you really can’t afford it, or you have no insurance that will cover it, my heart goes out to you. Family Services is an option, however, and fast offerings will cover at least part of your fees. If you DO have the money, and still think it’s expensive, I urge to you check your priorities. Do you spend money on golf lessons? Are they more important than your marriage? It IS an investment. You do need to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth though.
Will it actually help?
For the second concern – whether it will actually help or not – you need to do your homework. If you have been caught in one of the cycles I mentioned in my post last week, it is a necessity that you find a therapist that can address these cycles. You will be wasting your time talking to a counseling who tries to teach you “communication skills.” Who can do communication skills when they’re standing on the edge of a cliff? You need someone better.
Not all therapists (even at Family Services) are equally effective. Talk to people you trust who have been to a marriage counselor, and ask about their experience. Talk to any friends who are therapists – they often have some good ideas and/or referrals.
While many therapists do not follow a particular model of treatment, marriage counseling requires a carefully planned set of techniques and goals, with a structure that the therapist can follow as he or she begins working with you and your spouse. Find out what kind of training and experience the therapist has had specifically in working with couples. What is their approach? If you hear things like “skills” you may want to be a little skeptical. Marriage counseling that focuses on learning skills may work in the short-term, but has a woeful relapse rate.
Some therapists will adhere more closely to a particular model of treatment. This may or may not mean they are more effective. It all depends on how good they are at the model. Currently, the only two models of marriage counseling that are heavily supported by research are Behavioral Marital Therapy (also referred to as “Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy,” “Cognitive Behavioral Couple Therapy,” or “Traditional Behavioral Couple Therapy”) and Emotionally Focused Therapy (also referred to as “EFT” or “Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy”).
For particular models, I admit my bias. In my work with couples I mainly use EFT. According to about 20 years of research, 7 out of 10 couples experience “recovery” from distress. 9 out of 10 experience some amount of improvement. These numbers are huge. Most marriage counseling is about 50% effective, with high relapse rates. EFT has very low relapse rates, and many couples continue to experience gains in their relationships years later.
While EFT is effective for couples in general, certain couples seem to experience the most gains. If you fall into one or more the following categories, you may experience the most improvement:
- couples who are over 35 years of age
- men who would be viewed by their spouses as “emotionally inexpressive”
- women who, despite the distressed relationship, still have faith that their husbands care for them.
What is EFT like?
EFT is largely based on attachment theory, which suggests that we all have needs for safety and connection from infancy to the day we die. The ways we go about getting these needs met can sometimes cause problems in our relationships. I highly recommend the books “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson and “Becoming Attached” by Robert Karen if you are interested in learning more about your relationship and attachment. Those books can be especially helpful for couples who are not distressed, but would just like to improve things.
An EFT therapist will help you understand the pattern that you get caught it, and help both of you experience the emotions underlying the pattern (these are discussed in the post last week). After a while, you and your spouse will be able to see the pattern as a common enemy you fight together, and it will still happen but won’t be as intense. You will be able to interrupt it. This is the first big change, but is not enough to last. The therapist will then work almost solely with the more withdrawn partner to help them feel safe and explore their unmet or hidden needs and emotions that drive the pattern. This partner will eventually “re-engage” in the relationship. Next, both the newly re-engaged withdrawer, along with the therapist, will help the pursuing/blaming partner to explore their underlying needs and emotions, which eventually results in a blamer/pursuer softening. I believe that these two events—the withdrawer re-engaging and the pursuer softening—are next to impossible without something like EFT. After this process has been completed, THEN you may work on specific issues, if they are still a problem. Parenting difficulties, in-laws, money, sex, use of time – all these issues become easier to solve when your cycle or pattern is no longer a problem. Naturally, there are bumps along the way. EFT can take anywhere from 12 to 40 sessions (or more) depending on how distressed you are, and if there is any trauma in either you or your spouse’s history.
This is a very brief and simplified explanation of the EFT process. Naturally, it has also been rather cognitive. This is stuff you cannot do in your head, which is why the therapist must guide you through it. There are EFT therapists in many different countries, and in many states in the U.S. If you are interested, go here to find one. Next to each of their names it will show their experience, from just receiving the basic training if EFT, to being a certified EFT therapist or supervisor. Most certified EFT therapists are probably skilled enough to help most couples.
Whether you choose EFT or some other type of therapy or therapist, choose wisely. It is a big decision. At the same time, don’t put it off! Couples wait way too long before they go to therapy. For all those husbands who don’t think they need marriage counseling, all I can say is repent and listen to your wives! Let go of your pride. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you have failed, it means you care.
May we all be proactive in improving our relationships, in whatever way we may choose to do so. May we let go of our pride and fear and anxiety and make use of the means the Lord has provided for us.