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Marriage counseling usually doesn’t work. What’s up with that?

______9481242James T. Horning © 2014

Marriage counseling generally doesn’t work any better than going to a doctor to learn how to live longer. They seem to be inefficacious because counselors aren’t trained in how to have a great marriage and doctors aren’t trained in how to live a healthy life. Go figure? [no offense to the few exceptional marriage counselors and medical doctors out there for whom we are very grateful].

I say this tongue in cheek because in reality, most couples don’t go to see a marriage counselor until divorce is already on the table and at least one of them has emotionally disconnected themselves from the other. In fact, in many states, the only reason couples seek marriage counseling is because it was mandated by the court system as a prerequisite for divorce. So what do mandated counselors do? They help you decide whether divorce is really for you. Kind of like a doctor helping you decide if surgery is really the answer to your problem. The problem is that the doctor doesn’t make any money unless she’s doing the surgery. A definite conflict of values but that’s another story.

Statistics vary, but couples have the best success rates with marriage counseling by doing it preemptively before marriage problems get serious. However, of those that seek marriage preemptive counseling, 35-40% are still getting divorced after 4 years. Of those that remain married, many have learned to “reconcile their differences”, “cope with their situation” and/or maintain an “acceptable level” of marital existence. Yuk!! Don’t you get the impression that marriage counseling keeps people from getting a divorce but doesn’t teach them how to have an extraordinary marriage? In my opinion, if I’m going to be married, I want to have a great marriage. How about you? A mediocre, average marriage that just “works” is not my idea of a quality life. In fact its down right depressing.

What people need is NOT counseling. What they need is education and a paradigm shift that motivates them to pursue their relationship with excitement and anticipation. Let me ask you a question. If you are an entrepreneur and your business is on the verge of bankruptcy, what would you do? Traditionally, you can do one of two things: You can give up and go bankrupt (i.e. metaphorically get a divorce) or you can seek out the “advice” of a bankruptcy prevention expert (i.e. metaphorically see a marriage counselor). The “expert” will advise you on what you can do to avoid bankruptcy which in the short term will help you buy time. Right. What they won’t do is teach you how to never be in this position again. A real business consultant is going to teach you how to make your business thrive so that bankruptcy is not even in the equation.

Correspondingly, a great marriage coach is going to teach you how to make your marriage thrive and be the most rewarding part of your life. Therapists are so preoccupied with what makes marriages fail that they overlook what makes them succeed. If you want to learn how to “cope” with “issues” and “compromise”, marriage counseling is definitely for you. And while you’re at it I would consider hiring a good divorce attorney.

Note: I want to make a point here that I had fun writing this short article and took a bit of literary license. That said, I want it to be understood that there are a lot of good therapists out there that can make a real difference in your marriage. It is my belief, however, that they are the exception and not the rule. But that goes with any profession. By the definition of average, half of all people are below average. Of those that are above average, only the upper 5% at best in any profession are outstanding at what they do. And of those 5%, only a few have that certain “Je ne sais quoi”.

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