Marriage therapy is a service that is growing in demand, sadly due to the large numbers of unhappy and/or dysfunctional marriages. There is an arbitrary distinction sometimes made between marriage counseling and marriage therapy. Counseling usually refers to less serious cases where the couple is having some issues and are looking to make some adjustments or improvements to enhance their overall marriage satisfaction. Marriage therapy usually refers to couples that are having serious issues and in many cases one or both partners are considering divorce.
As a psychologist, I have to evaluate the relationship along with the strengths, weaknesses and concerns of each of the partners. If I determine there is a serious individual problem that is causing or impacting the marriage, I need to refer one or both individuals for individual treatment so that the marriage therapy can be most effective. This can be challenging at times. Not only do both participants need to agree, but they need to have the time, money and commitment to arrange for multiple appointments, sometimes within the same week while juggling work and family responsibilities.
At times, I work with marriage therapy issues from the standpoint of being the individual therapist for one of the participants. I might be working with the female on overcoming early trauma issues which are impacting her mood or ability to relate to her partner effectively. I might be working with a male whose anger is over –the-top or whose drinking, drugging or gambling problem is threatening to topple the marriage.
The success of marriage therapy depends first on the stability of the individuals and then the couple’s overall commitment to the relationship and the skills of the therapist working with the couple as well as any collateral therapy with the individuals.
Another complication is the field of marriage therapy is that there are many specialists who perform it, including, psychologists, social workers, marriage therapists, coaches, Rabbi’s and priests, etc. Their orientation, approaches and skill levels may vary widely.
My own approach to marriage therapy is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses more on the here-and-now issues and provides clients with practical skills, exercises and homework between sessions to work on improving themselves and the relationship. Cognitive and behavioral therapy tends to be focused, goal oriented and time limited. In general 12-20 visits that start out weekly and then are spread out as progress is made. I have developed a number of psycho-educational guidebooks I use with clients to educate and support the work we do together. Many clients and couples like having these self help guidebooks to refer to between our meetings.
While not all marriage therapy leads to living happily ever after, the quality of most relationships can be improved with skillful help, commitment and hard work. To save clients time and money and to help them see if there is a potential good fit between what they are looking for and myself, I recommend to potential clients to view my website to review educational videos and read some of my articles and blogs. If I am not the right fit, I am happy to make recommendations to other colleagues who might be.