What are the pros and cons of seeing a marriage therapist?

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For any of us who like doing a cost-benefit analysis when thinking of adding an expense or engaging in a service, it’s important to ask about the pros and cons of seeing a marriage therapist.

Let’s take a look at the costs or the cons first. Note that I’ll be using these terms interchangeably to stick with the theme of the cost/benefit analysis and the pro/cons list.

Potential costs/cons of seeing a marriage therapist.

The biggest potential cost in seeing a marriage therapist is the loss of your marriage.

I know. That seems a little bit shocking.

But, sometimes couples decide in the process of marriage counseling that they will not maintain their marriage.

Here are some of the reasons that marriage counseling can actually lead to the loss of your marriage.

  1. It’s just a checkbox.
    The couple enters marriage counseling to prove that they’ve “exhausted every option” when neither actually wants the marriage to improve or do the work necessary to have a more fulfilling marriage. In reality, if either person in the marriage has determined that they don’t actually want improvement, the marriage could very likely end when they go to marriage counseling. Reason being? The therapist will call you on your lack of willingness to change which can make either party decide enough is enough.
  2. More work than you bargained for:
    One or both persons in the relationship start to realize that marriage improvement will take much more work, time, or energy than they originally expected. The couple might have come in thinking “if we can just improve our communication” or “if we can have better or more frequent sex we’ll be better” only to realize that they have had destructive patterns for years that will take a lot of work to change. If either or both decide that they just don’t have the time or energy to put into the relationship, they can decide in marriage counseling that they’d prefer just going their own separate ways.
  3. Counselor issue:
    Having a counselor that isn’t skilled in working with couples or who simply “listens to your concerns” without providing adequate guidance can lead to a couple splitting. They’ll feel like counseling has done nothing to improve their situation and they will decide to terminate sessions as well as their marriage.
  4. Not aware of what it can look like:
    Not understanding the process of therapy can also lead to a loss of the relationship. Most couples don’t realize that marriage counseling can make things temporarily more uncomfortable before they have relationship improvement. Like any change or attempt to change, there will be some rough edges to smooth out. Expecting things to immediately get better can lead to disappointment and a belief that counseling made the relationship worse. These couples can then decide to divorce or separate instead of working out these differences.

Other costs in seeing a marriage therapist:

  1. Time:
    There’s a time commitment involved in marriage therapy, and I don’t just mean the time that you’re meeting with the therapist. You have to carve out time weekly and daily to connect with your spouse. This may be as simple as text messages during the day, a quick phone call, a bit of physical touch, or a couple of hours on a date night. You have to be willing to put aside some time each week, beyond the couples’ session, to connect in a meaningful way.

  2. Money:
    Marriage counseling is not a free service so expect to put some money on the table. While prices for this service can vary from one therapist to the next, you will be devoting some of your finances to the process of counseling and to date nights while you’re in sessions. Plan for this expense.

  3. Energy:
    Marriage counseling can straight up wear you out! It takes a great deal of energy to leave the world behind during your hourly sessions and spend that time completely focused on your spouse. The energy expenditure can feel a bit overwhelming, but keep in mind that you can vary how often you meet for hourly sessions if weekly takes too much of your energy.

Potential benefits of marriage therapy:

Okay, now that you have a realistic look at the costs, or the cons of marriage counseling, let’s talk a little bit about the benefits.

  1. Your spouse “gets you.”
    One of the bigger benefits is definitely getting to the place where you and your spouse finally get one another. You have more patience for one another, you value one another’s goals and you feel like you’re on the same page. Your spouse can literally become your best friend. Instead of having to complain to your friends that your spouse just doesn’t understand how hard you really do work for the family, you can talk to your spouse about life stresses and difficulties and then work together to make it better.
  2. You’ll start having fun together again.
    For most couples that come to counseling, fun isn’t even on the radar anymore. They just want to get to the place where they’re not fighting constantly. But, most of us can at least admit that there was a time, even if it was in the distant past, that we really had fun with our spouse. Marriage counseling can help you get that back again, or for some couples, have fun together for the first time.
  3. Better sex.
    Why didn’t I start with that one, right?! Many couples that come to counseling are at a place where they feel like they’re roommates at best. It isn’t unusual for couples to find that as the relationship gets more distant and disconnected that they haven’t had sex in years. Or, if they are still having sex, this part of the relationship has become a little lackluster. Marriage counseling can help a couple get that old spark back so that sex is an enjoyable part of the relationship that they both look forward to.

Cost vs. benefit:

Now, in a true cost/benefit analysis we’d take some time to look at the actual cost of adding the service versus not adding the service.

Did you know that the average divorce costs upwards of 30K? And that number is only the cost for attorneys, court costs, and some of your third parties like a tax advisor or real estate appraiser. That $30,000 does not take into account alimony, child support, or other marital property such as the assets in your business if you’re a business owner or the investments you’ve made since getting married.

But let’s be honest here. Money comes and goes. It can be earned again if it’s lost, more money can always be accumulated. While the money can be a big loss, the actual cost of a divorce is exceedingly higher.

  1. Naturally, you lose time with your kids.
  2. You literally have to “start all over” with your home and relationships.
  3. If you’re a Christian, you may find that your church community isn’t looking favorably on you.
  4. Shame and regret can be factors when you consider the loss of your relationship.

And, there’s not really a way to put a direct price on these other variables because you just can’t put a dollar amount on time with your kids or the actual heartbreak of the loss of a relationship.

Now, you should know that there could be some alternatives to marriage counseling that you can also consider. Some couples will rely on books, conferences, e-courses, pastoral counseling, mentoring, or simply spending more time together as a couple. And, these other efforts can be highly impactful when a couple is fairly healthy and they’ve only been struggling for a few months.

However, if your marriage has been in trouble for more than a few months and you haven’t been able to resolve it on your own, it’s time to consider if the benefit of marriage counseling (better relationship, less stress between the two of you, and better sex) outweighs the costs involved in marriage counseling (time, money, and energy). If you decide that marriage counseling is your best bet, you can see this article to better understand what questions you should ask of your potential therapist.

*Dr. Jessica does marriage counseling with couples in the state of VA. For those not in VA, she has a number of services that could be helpful to you. Learn more about working with Dr. Jessica.

Whatever you decide, I pray God’s greatest blessings on you, your marriage, and your intimacy!

Dr. J.

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