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Does Marriage Counseling Work?

April 20, 2005

I guess it would depend on how you would define work. I stopped doing couples counseling about ten years ago, because the success rate of Cognitive/behavioral therapy was so small, not just in my counseling experience, but for hundreds of other people I had read.

This article in the New York Times might help to explain why. Listen to this interesting assessment that comes out of the article.

But does marital therapy work? Not nearly as well as it should, researchers say. Two years after ending counseling, studies find, 25 percent of couples are worse off than they were when they started, and after four years, up to 38 percent are divorced.

Many of the counseling strategies used today, like teaching people to listen and communicate better and to behave in more positive ways, can help couples for up to a year, say social scientists who have analyzed the effectiveness of different treatments. But they are insufficient to get couples through the squalls of conflict that inevitably recur in the long term.

Read the whole article. But the reason I don’t do marital counseling is not just because it is relatively ineffective. It is also because I found something that does work. I have found that most people struggle with marriage only because the person they are married to is close enough to get caught up with our real problems; and we are close enough to get caught up with theirs. The real problems we face are based on lies that we have believed about ourselves, about life and about others. We have held these viewpoints since childhood, and unless these lies are confronted, they will destroy not only marriages, but friendships, partnerships, churches and any other kind of relationship.

How can this happen? Very simple. Let’ say a husband believes that he can never trust anyone. He may believe this as a result of having several friends in school cheat him or hurt him. The pain of that memory is still real. Every time his wife comes home later than expected, it triggers that pain. Any time her story doesn’t “seem” to add up, he suspects her and it triggers that pain. Any time she gets angry at him, he feels like she wants to leave and it triggers that pain. Even if she is the model wife, the pain will still be triggered. As he reacts to his pain, he may hurt back. That will then trigger lies that she believes. This vicious cycle will only end when they are away from each other.

But it won’t end. The next person who dares to get close to them receives the same treatment. That is why only 35% of first marriages end in divorce, but 80% of second and subsequent marriages end. We give up easier the second and third time around.

The answer is to let God reveal the lies and speak truth into them. At our counseling ministry here at Gateway, we have several trained people who can help you get to the bottom of these lies.

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