Alternatives to Marriage Counseling
By the time I was trying to find marriage counselors, things were pretty bad at our house.
I wasn’t looking for suggestions on how to improve a good thing; I was looking for ways to hold the marriage together before it self-destructed.
I remember knowing that we just couldn’t figure it out ourselves really helped me to be brave about deciding to go. It was more desperation than courage, actually.
Of course, marriage counseling didn’t turn out to be helpful for us, and since a study at UCLA showed that 75% of couples who got traditional behavioral marriage counseling were separated within a year, it probably hasn’t been the answer for you, either.
So it makes sense to look for an alternative.
Here are 5 litmus tests to see if the marriage help you’re getting will actually help:
1. Does Your Mentor Have What You Want?
Of course, you don’t want a personal trainer who’s a couch potato. You don’t want a financial planner with a mountain of credit card debt.
The most important qualification for someone who is going to help you with your marriage is that she has the kind of relationship you want.
If you found a counselor who would share openly about her marriage, and the struggles she’s had and how she overcame them, that would really be a stand-out counselor.
Unfortunately, most marriage counselors won’t get into that because, they’ll tell you, counseling is about you–not them.
Certificates on the wall mean they know theories and have learned things in classrooms–just like the flabby trainer and the broke financial planner did.
That’s not going to do you much good, in my experience. It could even make things worse.
Therefore, here’s my best marriage-counseling tip: consider relationship coaching instead.
You might be wondering, what’s the difference between marriage counseling and relationship coaching?
Glad you asked! I happen to have this handy chart:
|Marriage Counseling||Relationship Coaching|
|Assumes there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed or medicated||Assumes you want to become proficient in intimacy|
|Focuses on the problem||Focuses on the solution|
|Provided by someone who has achieved academic (theoretical) mastery||Provided by someone who has had a personal transformation and enjoys the benefits of having the desired skills|
|Explores past hurts||Provides specific actions for the present and future|
|Based on models developed in the nineteenth century||Based on the latest advancements from this millennium|
|Promotes blaming the other person or parents
|Promotes personal accountability|
|Invites you to say hurtful things in front of your husband and a stranger||Promotes emotional safety and respect|
I’ve had the honor of hearing a lot of happy stories from women who have benefitted from relationship coaching. That’s why I consider it such a great alternative to marriage counseling.
2. Is She Helping You Work on You or on Your Relationship?
There’s actually no such thing as working on a relationship.
There’s only working on yourself, and then the other person responds to you in a much better way.
That’s one reason couples counseling is so unproductive. You could be there just waiting for the other person to finally shape up, like I was when my husband and I went to marriage counseling.
It’s tempting and human to want to blame the other person and to point out all the ways that they could improve, but it won’t get you the connection you’re wanting. Ever.
The blame train doesn’t go to happily-ever-after land.
Focusing on the things you’d like to improve about yourself–like being more respectful, laughing instead of snapping or yelling, smiling more, and expecting the best from your spouse and choosing your faith instead of your fear, for example–will get you a tender response and restore the passion a lot faster.
What’s going to make your relationship feel a lot easier is learning the right skills, not waiting for someone else to change or telling them what they need to change.
I already did that, so let’s not both make that mistake.
Life got significantly better when I started focusing on my small corner of the world instead of looking at all that I thought my husband should do differently.
3. Will She Sit on the Same Side of the Table as You?
In order to improve your relationship, things have to change.
If you want things to improve, that means you want to change so things can get better.
What helps nurture change, which can be uncomfortable, is emotional safety.
Knowing you won’t be kicked out of the tribe, shamed or ridiculed is a critical part of being able to make the changes that make your marriage magical again.
You need room to try new approaches and phrases, even though you may feel awkward or foolish at times while you’re trying to learn the new steps.
The way to get that safety is to get help from someone who has also made mistakes and is willing to tell you about the time she tried to tell her husband how to install a dryer hose and ended up flinging a copy of The Five Love Languages at him, for instance.
If you’re going to tell someone embarrassing stories, knowing some of hers too is going to make you feel safer, and therefore braver. And fortune favors the brave.
Having someone who is willing to share her experiences with you–someone who sits on the same side of the table as you and therefore won’t be judging, laughing at or correcting you–can help you make those changes so much faster.
Hearing that your mentor was once ready to divorce her husband, but that he just took her on a romantic getaway weekend to the beach is also proof positive–not just a theory–that your marriage could really get better, too.
Especially if she kinda reminds you of you.
4. Does She Trust You to Make Your Own Choices?
When I hear from a client who tells me she ended her marriage because a marriage counselor authoritatively told her she should because it was obvious that her marriage was over, it always breaks my heart.
I hear about that happening way too much.
You are the expert on your own life, and nobody knows better what you should do than you.
Does that mean you’ll make mistakes? Of course you will. But those are your mistakes to make. You’ll get a lot of things right too, because you know your situation best.
That means that no expert knows what’s best for you–only you know that.
Of course, you will still be open to suggestions, willing to experiment, do exercises and learn new skills.
But you get to decide when to apply those skills and do those experiments. And a good relationship coach is not going to insist that you to take a certain course of action because she thinks it would be best for you.
She knows better.
It wouldn’t work anyway because of human nature, which is that nobody likes to be told what to do. We’re an autonomy-loving species, and most of us will go way out of our way to NOT do something if someone else says we should.
A good relationship coach is happy to be your guide, remind you of your commitment, share her experience, bring encouragement and inspiration, and ask powerful, perspective-changing questions.
She will be your mirror. She will acknowledge and celebrate your progress.
But she recognizes that she knows only a little about you, and she trusts you to find your own way without her telling you what to do.
5. Does She Know The 6 Intimacy Skills?
I used to think my relationship problems were based on deep childhood issues that I couldn’t quite sort out.
And, of course, that my husband was a loser-face.
But it turns out that I just didn’t have the training I needed.
I hadn’t learned the skills that contribute to intimacy.
Now that I know those skills, my marriage and all my other relationships seem so easy, pleasant and gratifying.
It really blew my mind.
So I can’t understand why the 6 Intimacy Skills aren’t taught in every school. After all, we are all going to have relationships. Isn’t that pretty critical to having a good life?
Just learning those skills is such a fantastic alternative to couples counseling.
Having a relationship coach who can help you learn and apply them is a huge shortcut to getting the playfulness and passion back in a relationship.
I know of no better investment to make in your marriage, your personal development and your happiness than working with such a relationship coach.
13 replies on “Alternatives to Marriage Counseling”
Hi Laura, I appreciate these emails. I’ve bought your book and it has helped a lot. We just can’t seem to get our sex life going. I married a recovering sex addict (porn)and sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever have a normal sex life. I’m sure I need a coach but have to wait till we can afford it.
Carol, Sorry to hear the sex feels like a struggle. Which book are you reading? You might find some insight in The Surrendered Wife. One big key for me was releasing expectations. Woody Allen said, “there’s no such thing as bad sex,” and that’s a great place to start from in my experience.
What are the six?
Hahn, Here’s a good place to learn more:
Your both books are amazing. Im implementing the Skills,however my hubby is very sceptical.
i cant wait for my discovery call next week! Im also loving The Passion shift programm im listening too on my way to and from work! That counts as my self care!
My question in the meantime would be- my husband switched his anti depressant( his idea) last week. Since then, his sex drive plummetted and when we did have sex it seem to only last literally 1 min. What should i do about it if anything? He is aware of that. He used to be the one wanting it every day…i feel rejected….our sex life only came back last november after almost a year of aweful dry spell where he rejected me as we went through the worst year for our marriage…
NB, Sorry to hear about the challenges in the bedroom! I can see why you’re not happy about 1 minute sex for sure. For me, the Passion Shift and the 6 Intimacy Skills are more significant factors in the quality of my sex life than any medication my husband is taking, so I’m happy to hear you’re studying and practicing those. Sounds like you’re pretty new since your husband is skeptical. That’s normal! If you keep practicing the Intimacy Skills I predict this challenge will solve itself. If you want some support with that you can apply for a complimentary discovery call here:
Thank you Laura for your encouragement! I went and googled that med- Cymbalta and cried all morning. The reviews all say that men who take it loose their sex drive to almost non existent level. What do I do?? He made the switch a week ago and i do understand the transition takes time. But he acts really strange and not himself. In addition to 0 sex drive in comparison to just a week or so ago where he was the one initiating every day to twice a day! How can I do anything in this situation?
I do have a discovery call scheduled for next week.
NB, I’m so happy to hear you have a discovery call scheduled! In the meantime, consider approaching this situation with the medication with faith. This too will pass. Here are some blogs that might be helpful to read if you haven’t yet:
Somebody, anybody out there, answer me this. How can a marriage, divorce and/or relationship coach be taken seriously if they have never even been married or divorced?
BoE, I certainly would not take seriously the advice of a relationship or marriage coach who doesn’t have what I want in my relationship or marriage. The divorce part is not something I want so that wouldn’t make them more qualified in my mind.
Thank you, Laura. Your books and other resources are simply the best! Thank you for encouraging me! You are so right about having faith with the new medicine! I read the depressed husband blog and am putting the tips from it into practice along with the rest of the 6 Skills. Im going to read the other blog as well. Thank you again Laura for taking your time to answer me. That means so much to me!
I need your help so bad. I am the husband of a broken marriage
I cheated. Regret it …it’s a long story she moved out with my daughter I’m here with my 17yr old son. I’m so broken desperate ashamed worthless every minute of everyday is a struggle
She says she doesn’t want divorce wants me to fix myself. Well this situation has made me nuts. I’ve lost all I have it my life.
James, I’m so sorry to hear about your family being pulled apart and the shame you’re experiencing after your infidelity. It’s heartbreaking to hear. I think it’s a very good sign that your wife doesn’t want a divorce because that tells me she is willing to work on the relationship. I wrote a blog where I give step-by-step instructions on how to introduce the 6 Intimacy Skills to your wife and that is my best suggestion for how you can reunite your family and go back to being the good husband and father you want to be. Since you’re living apart you may need to skip a couple of the steps, but I suggest you read them all anyway. I’m here to support your marriage if your wife is wanting support from me or my team!