Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Does Marriage Counseling work? Rabbi Slatkin answers all the questions you are too afraid to ask.

  • How long will it take?
  • Does it work?
  • Will it work for every couple?
  • Is it worth the money?

How long will it take?-The real fear behind this question is why would I waste my time with years of therapy if the answer to the question, “Does Marriage Counseling Work” is a resounding No!

This is one of the most common questions I receive from prospective couples. The fear of years of therapy, not to mention the cost, is a strong deterrent for couples to get the assistance they so desperately need. If you knew the answer to the question “Does Marriage Counseling Work” was a definite “Yes!” would you dedicate some time to getting the help your relationship really needed?

Of course you would. I also did not believe therapy was very helpful until I learned of Imago therapy. When I was in graduate school to become a therapist, I highly doubted the efficacy of therapy in general. This was based on my own personal experience as well as the experience of others that I had talked to. I really didn’t believe that standard talk therapy was that effective. I was searching for an approach that worked and could actually help people live a better life in less than five years of weekly sessions (I don’t mean to disparage psychotherapy. There are plenty of good therapists out there. This is merely my personal experience).

All of that changed when my wife and I started learning about Imago. Imago was my first experience with marriage counseling (I had studied other modalities in school). After the first session, we were blown away. Although we went in experiencing some conflict, we left the session feeling like we were newlyweds. As we continued our sessions, my wife and I noticed the remarkable connection we once again felt towards each other. It really wasn’t so much about the issues that we were working on but how we worked on them and our desire to be connected. The paradigm shift of Imago fit in perfectly with my own mystical Chassidic perspective of Judaism. In short, it made sense.

After seeing how well we responded to the sessions, our therapist told me, “You should really take the Imago training.” As I was finishing grad school and interviewing around the country for pulpit Rabbi positions, I figured working with couples would be helpful. Divine fate had it that I would take the Imago training, remain in Baltimore, and spend my day helping couples achieve the same success my wife and I experienced.

I am living testimony that Imago works and I share this confidence with my couples. Unfortunately, there are many people who have had horrible experiences with marriage counseling.

Does Marriage counseling work?

One couple came to me after thirty years of marriage. The wife told me that their last therapist would always side with her over her husband. She had to tell the therapist not to side with her as she knew that she could not possibly always be right! They were open to Imago, tried it, and it transformed their marriage.

Many other couples made the shift from typical marriage counseling to Imago therapy and after they experienced the profound difference that Imago had for them over other forms marriage counseling, they were then able to see and report how bad their experience was over the years! They admitted that the other form of marriage counseling was actually more harmful than helpful. More than one couple admitted to me that they would walk out of the room feeling worse than they came in. Does that ever happen to you?

Couples that practice Imago therapy walk out of the sessions feeling so much lighter than they did when they walked in. There is no blame or shaming of each other. No yelling or fighting. In fact, towards the end of one session one wife commented that she was concerned that this session she would leave feeling worse about her husband than when she arrived. This was particularly alarming because after a year of weekly sessions (most couples do not come this long as you will read later) this would be the first time she did not leave the session feeling better about her husband than when she walked in.

Unfortunately, some of these couples are still skeptical and wonder the same thing you’re wondering, whether or not marriage counseling does work. Even though things aren’t getting worse, they don’t really believe things will get better as they never have in the past. This makes therapy much harder.

There are even couples who have done Imago, well sort of… They have been to therapists who are not trained in Imago but have read the book and use some of the techniques. They join me with doubts and are not always open to learning how to do Imago as a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist is trained to facilitate it. They are used to not truly staying in the dialogue process and it makes the therapy process much more challenging.

And what about the couple who has never done marriage counseling but one spouse or both has experience in personal growth? Sometimes, these couples really get it quick. Other times, they are unable to leave the other paradigm behind and truly be open to Imago.

Finally, there are the couples who are so skeptical that they won’t even come. Why should they believe that this time it will be different?

The bottom line for all of these couples is to have an open mind and to be able to trust the process. Trust that your marriage can be better. Trust that Imago is effective because you have read testimonials from successful couples. Finally, trust that the process is safe and that if you commit to doing it, it can work.

Of course, trust is not easy. That may be precisely why we seek counseling. Ultimately, there is no convincing. You are taking a risk, a risk that will be well worth it. That is why I offer a full-money back guarantee for couples that sign up for 12 consecutive weekly sessions and have not found one noticeable difference in their relationship whatsoever. I have done this because I want to remove the risk of committing to your relationship.

Does marriage counseling work and how long does it take?

Although every couple is different, I recommend twelve consecutive weekly sessions. Just like learning how to ride a bike, learning the skill of the Imago dialogue takes time before it becomes natural. Weekly sessions show commitment to this work. (Obviously there are scheduling considerations, though motivated couples usually find a way to get there). I have found that couples who miss a week here, two weeks there, are really not committed to the process. And although they may have good reasons for not coming, including unconscious fears, they are not as successful as my weekly clients. In fact, they are almost always the ones who ask me, “why isn’t this working?”

Remember, sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better. After the initial sessions, which are usually a breath of fresh air, couples begin to feel safe enough to talk about the real issues. This can be difficult and even painful and the walls of resistance can be quickly resurrected. The key is to sticking it out.

I have had couples where they were coming weekly and it seemed like we were going nowhere, until finally we made a breakthrough. The consistent sessions allowed that momentum to build.

Everyone wants fast results, and although twelve weeks seems like a long time. The momentum builds and couples that come weekly in the beginning see faster results and leave therapy sooner. I have no intention to retain clients for life. My job is to empower you to learn the skills so you can do it on your own.

After twelve sessions, couples may come on a bi-weekly basis, monthly, or they may leave all together or return for periodic check-ins.

Every couple is different and I trust you to know what you need to get for your relationship and I trust that you will leave when you got what you came for. (For those of you who want quicker results, a full-day intensive session may be what you are looking for. Click here to read more)

Well what about the money?

Yes, it does cost money. The fact that you are paying helps motivate you to commit to the process so that your hard earned money doesn’t go to waste. Think of it as an investment in your relationship. Given the current economy, it is a far safer investment than most stocks out there.

It is also a lot cheaper than divorce. I am in frequent contact with domestic attorneys as they will refer clients who they think should give counseling a try before dissolving their relationship. One attorney told me that once assets are split and lawyer fees are paid, there is not much left. Now instead of one rent or mortgage, imagine you are paying for two. Many people in this economy can barely make ends meet, let alone pay for a second home. It is just too expensive to rush into a divorce, let alone the money you will be spending in individual therapy for yourself and your children, as well as the heartache.

A cute story: One of my couples was contemplating whether to space out their sessions for financial reasons. When I told them that I typically recommend a minimum of 12 sessions, they were rather surprised. They had just read an article I had written about the economy and your marriage in which I wrote that marriage counseling is cheaper than divorce. They wondered whether that was true so they took out a calculator. They told me they weren’t so convinced as they thought 10 years of counseling would be pretty expensive. They were quite relieved when I told them only 12 sessions. This couple is doing great and surely didn’t need ten years!

So no, it won’t take ten years. It usually doesn’t even take one year to get your marriage to a good place. It does cost money, but it is an investment that is well worth it.

If times are tough and you can’t afford it, please take advantage of our free resources such as The Jewish Marriage Book or our e-courses. Although they are not as effective as the weekly sessions, they can make a difference in your marriage. If you still have questions that you may be afraid to ask, please feel free to contact me by email or by phone at 443-570-7598. I truly want you to get the assistance that you deserve. An unsatisfying or unpleasant marriage takes its toll. Don’t deprive yourself for another minute of the joys of a great relationship!