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A Look at Marriage Therapy

separator Are you experiencing problems in your marriage and wonder whether marriage counseling might be helpful? If so, your best chance at success is not to wait until things get worse, but to address your issues as soon as possible. Research shows that couples wait an average of six years from the time problems start before going for outside help. At that point, one person is often ready to leave the relationship and is agreeing to therapy as a last resort. By then, it may be too late.

Changing approaches to therapy
The field of marriage therapy has been searching for ways to make the process more successful for couples. One of the newer types of therapy, called “integrative behavioral couples therapy,” showed in one study that couples who used this approach saw significant improvement in their relationship. This technique teaches couples how to argue in a less hurtful way and to accept each others’ differences. Many of the couples in the study had been in other types of therapy and had not seen good results.

Another approach is marriage education programs. These programs traditionally offered to help prepare engaged couples for married life. Now, couples who perhaps did not find traditional marriage therapy helpful are trying a marriage education program. These are courses that come in various formats—2-day classes, evening classes, 4-hour classes, etc. They give couples the skills to recognize behaviors that are harmful and to replace them with behaviors that are more loving. The programs can be both faith-based or secular.

If you’re interested in marriage education, go to to find a listing of programs.

In some cases, actual couples therapy is likely to be more effective than marriage education. Problems such as infidelity, depression and addiction are generally best address in a therapeutic environment.

Types of couples therapy that have shown success
Couples therapy, which is also called marriage therapy or marriage counseling, is conducted by psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and marriage and family therapists. There are three types that have shown more success than others:

  • Behavioral marital therapy teaches couples to be kinder to each other, to improve their communication with each other and to improve the way they resolve conflicts.
  • Insight-oriented marital therapy helps couples understand the power struggles, defense mechanisms and other behaviors that cause tension in the marriage
  • Emotionally focused therapy, the newest approach, teaches couples to break free of the destructive emotional cycles they experience over and over again.

Studies have shown that about half of the couples who use the first two types of therapy see initial improvement but relapse in about one year. With the third type, one study has shown that about 70 percent of couples reached a point where they were satisfied with their relationship. The satisfaction lasted for the duration of the study, which was two years.

For those interested in a Roman Catholic program
Retrouvaille is, according to its Web site, “a live-in weekend and post-weekend program for married couples. The emphasis is on a technique of communication between a husband and a wife.” Retrouvaille is not marriage therapy, which is what makes it appealing to some couples. During the Retrouvaille weekends, participating couples view presentations given by married couples and a priest. Presentations focus on a specific area of a marriage relationship. Each person in the couple views the presentation in private and then discusses it with their spouse in private. During the weekend, couples are encouraged to put the past behind them and to begin to start rediscovering each other again. Post-weekend sessions are designed to follow up in greater depth the work that began during the initial session.

Visit the Retrouvaille Website to find contacts near you.

A healthy marriage is good for you
There have been lots of studies showing that people who have good relationships with their spouses experience greater health benefits. And people who are married tend to have better health than people who are not. In general, separation and divorce are hard on everyone. If things aren’t feeling right between you and your spouse, it may be time to explore ways that can help you get past the problems and create a more loving marriage environment.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy; Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy; The New York Times, “Married with Problems? Therapy May Not Help,” 19 April 2005; The Relationship Research Institute.
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