A few years ago, I wrote a review of Save the Marriage, a newly published book by David Steele and responded to several of the comments that were made in the book. After reading the comments, I realize that many of the comments made are not really that far off in their realities. In fact, many of them may even be slightly true to some degree. It has been my experience that many therapists and couples who often go to marriage counseling sessions, have found that there are many issues that come up that can’t really be resolved unless some type of therapy is used. And, there are some therapists who simply don’t have the skills necessary to work with certain groups of people.
This is the general theme of Save the Marriage, but it is also the case that many in-office therapy agencies are simply not trained adequately in mental health issues that are commonly faced by couples in long-term relationships. Because the authors recognize that some couples require outside help and feel uncomfortable bringing their problems to an in-house setting, they have included several pages that describe the kinds of mental health issues that can arise in long term relationships. The author recommends using mental health therapists or couples’ support groups to deal with such issues as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anger, guilt and other emotions. There are also brief sections on healthy sexuality and the importance of maintaining a positive mental attitude.
I think the author’s description of in-house marriage counseling is accurate and helpful. Most family therapists simply do not have the skills necessary to help some couples and do not have the empathy necessary to work with others. Even individual family therapists can benefit from learning these skills, but it is often difficult for even an experienced family therapist to deal with a group of married couples. It is also important to recognize that marriage counseling reviews often leave out several of the most challenging issues facing married couples, which calls into question the validity of the review. In addition, many family therapists simply do not have the time to devote to private therapy with couples, so they rely heavily on group therapy. In my opinion, the best marriage and family therapist are a blended professional who combines individual and group therapy with a special expertise in family and marriage counseling.
Even the most successful marriage and family therapists will have difficulty dealing with some of the more challenging aspects of marriage and family relationships. One of the biggest challenges I have seen couples counseling where neither spouse is willing to accept the problems and conflicts as personal problems and resolve them in a meaningful way. This can be particularly problematic in a relationship where one spouse has deep emotional issues and the other is more comfortable blaming the other for their problems. Often, family therapists will try to work through these issues by suggesting that both spouses take personal responsibility for their part in the conflict resolution. Unfortunately, this rarely works because most people simply will not take personal responsibility for their negative feelings, behaviors and actions-particularly where those actions are caused by fear, anger or resentment.
In addition, some of the most effective marriage and family therapists will find it very difficult to change attitudes, behaviors that have become ingrained over time. This may mean that the couple has had the same problems for years and the only thing that has changed is the environment or circumstances that encouraged these behaviors. Other times, a couple may begin talking about their problems but are unable to resolve any of them because they are stuck in a behavior pattern that has been consistent over many years. The bottom line is that it takes a long period of time and effort to change ingrained behaviors.
So, you should look for good counseling relationship advice when you are looking for a therapist. Make sure that the therapist is a good match for your marriage and for you as an individual. If you have a good match, your relationship and marriage will reach new levels of success.