On Monday, February 23rd, I noticed an article entitled “Why Marriage Counseling Leads to Divorce” written by Jed Diamond, PhD on the Good Men Project website. As my trade includes dating, premarital and marriage counseling, I was intrigued. I first began by assessing the author, Jed Diamond, PhD, who states that he has 40 years of experience with marriage therapy and holds a masters in social work with a doctorate in international health. With ten years of experience counseling couples and individuals, and one month away from completing a doctorate, I felt somewhat humbled by Dr. Diamond’s history and experience. I continued reading the article.
As I read, I found myself becoming more concerned about Dr. Diamond’s rationale for writing the article and the logic of his conclusions. I would like to address these one by one.
Point #1: Most counselors are oriented toward helping the individual, not the couple.
There are many types of counselors, including those that work with individuals, marriage and couples, and families. While I too was trained to focus on the individual, I was also trained around systemic (including couples and family) change. I received further expertise and training around the couples relationship after my graduate education, which expanded my understanding. Many of my colleagues are marriage and family therapists, with training specifically on the system of the family.
Point #2: Most counselors are biased towards divorce because of their own divorces.
This sounds like more like personal divulging of a therapist than research based understanding of the bias and internal operations of counselors. Many of my colleagues are pro marriage and attempt to help marriages to heal. There are counselors that call themselves “divorce counselors” that focus primarily on helping people to divorce. William Doherty, PhD has developed a way to assist individuals in a relationship to define what they want from each other and whether they are motivated to stay married.
Point #3: Counselors have a short term view of love.
Perhaps closer to the truth from my perspective is that our society has a short term view of love. Counselors may be a part of the society, thus may carry that bias into their working with a couple. There are several effective forms of couples therapy (see more later in this article) that have been found to have long lasting effects on change. However, the truth is that often times couples relapse into old patterns in the first year after therapy. Some forms of couples therapy such as Gottman Method Couples Therapy build in a 6 month, one year, and two year followup as a form of accountability for maintaining the changes.
Point #4: Most counseling focuses on problem solving and communication.
Yes, this is true. Many counselors that have not been trained with some of the latest therapies for couples often focus on basic skill building of communication. This may include helping a couple to make “I statement”, increase opportunities for positive behavior exchange, and working with the couple on solving their problems. However, well trained couples therapists do two things. 1. They recognize that the couple must learn to solve their own problems. The goal of the therapy is to assist the couple solving their own problems, not solving them for them. 2. They recognize that the conflict around problem solving is often based upon deeper concerns about security and attachment in the relationship. They focus their attention on promoting an expression of deeper emotions that may facilitate further closeness and promote togetherness.
Point #5: Talking about the relationship drives people further apart.
Dr. Diamond uses an isolated quote from Dr. Stosny and Dr. Love’s book called “How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It”. Dr. Stosny and Dr. Love talk about how men are more sensitive to performance shame and feel bad when their partner is unhappy or making complaints about the relationship. As a result, they tend to withdraw from the relationship, making connection more difficult. The point of the book is not to avoid talking about the relationship. The point is to understand that the MANNER in which a couple talks about their relationship can have an effect on their perception of it, and each other.
Point #6: Most counseling is geared towards the way women communicate.
Ok, here we go! Perhaps a point that we can consider. Yes, often times women are more interested in discussing the relationship and indeed have more interest in working through the emotions related to the relationship. However, the secret about men (I’m surprised that Dr. Diamond did not acknowledge this) is that men have needs too! They want to hear positive remarks about them from their partner. They want to feel respected and liked by their mate. And, they want to feel close to their partner too (really?). Yes! Why do I believe this? Because men often find closeness through a gateway of sex, and this provides them with the sense of connection and closeness to their mate. Here’s the secret: Sex is not just about the release. Sex also helps men to feel closer to their partner. However, men need to know that sex is not the only way to feel close. By becoming more open and real with women, men can also become closer to their partner in other ways.
Point #7: Women are assumed to have more mental health problems.
Dr. Diamond is right, that men are less likely to be identified for their mental health problems. This is why couples therapy can be helpful. It is important that men know that in couples therapy they are not going to be “the problem”, “get nailed”, or be beat up on for their attempts to try to bring the relationship to its best. The best couples therapy is one in which the therapist is not “biased” towards either partner, and can help the couple navigate their relationship without judgment.
Lastly, couples therapy is very difficult to learn. This is why it is important to receive advanced training as a therapist to work with couples. There are two types of therapies for couples that research has proved as effective. They are named Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy and Emotion Focused Couples Therapy. There are also outcome studies currently in the works for Gottman Method Couples Therapy.
So, here is the take home. Dr. Diamond, I’m sorry that your 40 years of being a marriage therapist have been pointless. I have found that couples can and do get better with a well trained therapist and a couple that believes in the process and works on the relationship. Dr. Diamond, please consider writing articles that are more based on current research about interventions with couples and the truth about marriage therapy. And, men out there, be selective about who you see for marriage therapy, because training and education do make a significant difference.
If you would like further data or studies that confirm what I have written here, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.