Marriage Counseling Is A Red Herring

One of the touchstones of saving a troubled marriage is heading off to marriage counseling. Unfortunately marriage counseling can often be a time and money wasting red herring. On one hand it’s supposedly about communication, but often troubled couples are communicating to each other just fine, it’s simply that they aren’t attracted to each other. So all marriage counseling does in those cases is explain in greater clarity that they aren’t attracted to each other.
It’s the old thing where if the husband stacks the dishwasher wrong… if the wife is horny for him she just restacks the dishwasher and runs it. Maybe she playfully tells him off about it, but it’s as much to instigate sex as anything. If she isn’t hot for him she screams that he’s an asshole and can never do anything right. Then he restacks the dishwasher and she still isn’t happy about it and does it herself anyway.
If those two go to counseling, the wife is going to complain about is inability to help around the house – especially the dishwasher screw ups. Then the counselor will likely suggest to the husband that he should really pay more attention to the household chores etc. After all, there’s good research that shows that husbands that help out around the house get on better with their wives. But it’s never actually about the dishes, so he’s stacks the dishwasher right for a while and she still isn’t interested in him sexually. So the problem of their low attraction continues.
Plus sometimes I suspect marriage counseling is just a social rite of passage before a divorce as a way of making the divorcing partner look better. “We tried everything! I’m not a bad person, we tried marriage counseling but he just wouldn’t listen to what the counselor had to say! I FOUGHT to keep this marriage together. Even the marriage counselor agreed he was too stupid to stack a dishwasher.”
Unless both sides of the couple really want to work and listen and are going to a counselor that works on the process of short term objective goals, (see Solution Focused Brief Therapy as a starting point)  it’s all just a waste of time and money in my opinion. Especially for the man if the counselor wants to do nothing but talk about the past and feelings. That’s likely just means he’s going to lose the arguments he’s already lost with his wife again, but this time for $150-200 an hour.
But even so, $150-200 a half a dozen times could likely be more productively spent on gym memberships, a couple of sexier outfits, date nights, some flowers, a couple of sex toys and the teeth whitening place at the mall. In any case, if you can get together in the middle of the day or evening without the kids in tow, getting a hotel room for an hour and just having sex is cheaper anyway. I’ll bet my way does more to fix a relationship than just talking about your relationship problems with a counselor does. Action beats talk everytime.
And maybe I’m just cynical…  but one of the vocations with the highest divorce rates is marriage counselors! Isn’t talking to a marriage counselor about your marriage like going to a dentist that has crappy teeth?


  1. Well said. From what I know of marriage counseling, it often treats the symptoms, not the disease.

    Great post.

  2. David Collard says:

    The husband's basic mistake starts at the doorstep of the marriage counsellor. He is ceding his role as husband to a higher authority. And a human authority at that. Maybe even to a strange woman, who is inevitably going to be a feminist.

    He will be told he is a male chauvinist pig who needs to supplicate harder, and help with the housework more. Somehow, this will not work. He will still be a chump, just a more feminised chump.

  3. I am somehow getting the sense that you've been lucky enough never to need marriage counselling. This is so not how therapists work in any other realm; I don't see why they'd suddenly become totally incompetent in this one area and focus only on superficialities whilst ignoring deeper issues.

    I read these bitter guys in the PUA corner of the internet talking about how all marriage counsellors are hacks, and I wonder if their reports are skewed by being told things they didn't want to or weren't mature enough to hear.

  4. I am of the mindset that nearly all counseling is a waste of time. money and energy. People are never completely honest when retelling the stories in their lives, especially when they are whining.

    Work it out with yourselves, you're both adults, act like it.

  5. Educational Psychology as a profession was invented simply to give psychology students something "useful" to do with their degree. I honestly believe counselling has similar origins.

  6. "This is so not how therapists work in any other realm; I don't see why they'd suddenly become totally incompetent in this one area"

    Bwahahaha! "Counselors" are incompetent hacks in EVERY realm of "counseling" — why should they be any different in the marriage counseling realm? Only third rate intellects become "counselors" and "counseling" is a bogus pseudoscience and a total scam.

  7. There is a great bias in counseling that the man is always the problem, because he is not sensitive to her needs. A woman counselor will innately avoid hurting the feelings of the wife and it becomes an all out effort to reform him and wussify him. This exacerbates the problems and grants the wife justification for her rationalizations.

    Even if the husband bends over backwards to do what he is advised to do and appease the complaining wife, it will end in failure. Whatever he does will never be enough and what is advised is not consistent with masculinity. Everything in counseling is the exact opposite of LTR Game. Since LTR Game works, then is it any wonder that counseling achieves the opposite result?

    Male counselors are little better because there is still little confrontation of the wife’s behavior. The counselor knows that a woman will easily refuse to continue counseling, if her entitlement fantasies are challenged. Thus no further income for the counselor.

    I have been through this and the counseling does great damage to an already bad relationship and ends up in divorce anyway. The wife is merely justified because “He didn’t feel the way he was supposed to feel and the way she wanted him to feel.” If I had know LTR Game back then, there may have at least been a chance, but probably not because there is nothing works with a women that has BPD traits.

    Counseling is about as effective as trying to teach Austrian Economics to liberals.

  8. If the PUA crowd seems unimpressed with marriage counselors, it's because marriage counselors show no awareness of the workings of the sexual marketplace and what actually keeps couples together — attraction.

  9. Anon 6:11 – no I have never needed marriage counseling.

    I do work professionally in mild association with counselors working in adjunct to psychiatry usually. They are usually quite unimpressive and at times we've had to drop both the counselor and therefore associated psychiatrist because the counselor was so counter productive.

    I do however agree that we only typically hear one side of the story in the PUA/MRA posts and comments that can be very one sided. As a gross dramatization a man might call foul that his wife left him and screwed him in divorce and took the kids and that may all be true, but he might omit to say that he couldn't hold a job and was also arrested for possession of pot during a DUI stop that really triggered things.

    I've seen a few times on the Talk About Marriage boards where one half of the couple tells their story, then the other half of the couple discovers the site and their version is quite different…

  10. The Social Pathologist says:

    Very Good Post Athol.

    I agree, for many, counseling has become a rite of passage in the divorce process. I've often been left with the impression that many of my female patients want counseling just so they can form a favourable impression amongst their peers. It's usually obvious from discussion with these patients that the outcome has been predetermined. They want to be able to say "they tried everything"

    Some counselors are very good, but they are also very rare. And they usually have atypical backgrounds and they're frequently hard-assed and cynical. The really toxic ones are the "touchy-feely" ones.

    The problem with mainstream marriage counseling is the conceptual framework in which it operates.
    The contemporary framework seems to be feminist/legalistically based and sees marriage as a negotiated contract. The problem with this framework is that it is wrong, and while there is a certain contractual dimension to marriage there is an animalistic component that is totally ignored.

    Several of my patients have expressed to me their mystification of their own behaviour. They're surprised that whilst their husband may be doing all the right things after counseling, it still fails to elicit romantic feelings in them, in fact it tends to aggravate them more.

    I also agree that many men are pathetic, even the so called "tough guys", some women are quite justified in their actions.

  11. Miles Anderson says:

    My experiences are that ya'all are generally way off.

    A piece of what is being talked around here is part of the problem. There is various types of selection bias in the marriage counseling.

    1) People that go are already failing. If you took an unbiased sampling of married couples and had them go to marriage counseling then I think you would see a net positive.

    2) Marriage counseling selects for those that can't help themselves. I think if you took a selection of people that went out on the net and looked for relationship help they would benefit from marriage counseling _more_ than those that slump there shoulders and go. The drive to help yourself correlates well with the drive to pick through what others offer and find that works for you.

    3) We have studies and statistics for how marriage counseling does. So it looks bad. We don't have statistics for how any other approach does. So the grass is greener…

    My personal experience is taking my wife to a female AMT (American Marriage Therapist) and getting positive results. I wasn't held up as the problem. The therapist didn't burnish the turn on what we already did well. She did work well with building tools that we could use to improve our relationship. I've got balls though. I guess if you walked in with your shoulders slumped and your head down you might think you got run over.

  12. The irony here is that Athol is a Counsler that teaches behavioral modification. Some people follow his advice, some try to follow but don't understand, and some view this site and never return. I believe Athol may have even pulled some of his own advice from this site because it was not well received. Some get it, some don't, Counslers and Patients alike.

  13. Behavior modification is one facet of my approach. The post that I pulled was written in the wake of Dad's death and poor quality.

  14. Hey Anthol,

    Great post. I'd love to see the source on the marriage counselor divorce rate statistics. I get an intuitive sense that it's true given my experience with counselors of all shapes and sizes but am interested in seeing the data.

  15. I was talking to my sister the other day and she was complaining about how her husband doesn't load the dishwasher.

    I doubt she had any idea just how much she was telling me about her (lack-of) sex life… After reading this blog for awhile now- I know more about other people's sex lives than they would ever knowingly confess to me.

  16. Yeah it can get spooky after a while Anon.

  17. Badger Nation says:

    I think we need a new class of psychological professionals, called "coaches" or some other term that implies they are supposed to help with actions and goal-setting.

    One big problem with the field of counseling is the premise itself. This idea that you can "talk out your problems" is the feminine-oriented approach. (I see teachers try this all the time, have kids who hate each other "talk it over.") You need both sides, the understanding AND the masculine action/goals. That's not to say many counselors don't do this as well, but the profession is so feminized and non-judgmentalized that it's probably swimming upstream for a counselor to really work that angle.

    Miles Anderson's perspective is important, and I'm glad it worked for him – I'm curious if the semantics of "taking her to an AMT" has something to do with the success. That puts him in a position of authority, to tell his wife we need to fix things, which alone will up his alpha and comfort-beta points and thus contribute to improvement.

    Social Pathologist makes a brilliant point that a successful marriage can't be "negotiated" rationally – you need to acknowledge the primal/subconscious factors that make it work. You can't set up a bargain like "well how about you load the dishwasher more, and you have sex with him more often and I'll see you in two weeks for another $200?"

    Backing up comments here, I've read a LOT of stories on the Internet of men whose wives wanted marital counseling, but dropped it as soon as the therapist told her something she didn't want to hear… i.e. lots of wives who just want a third party to validate their frustrations.

    In that case, it's just paying for what you can usually get for free from your mother/sister/cluckster friends – "all my FRIENDS think you're being a mean man!!!"

    What really blows my mind is how feminized "conservative Christian" marriage advising has become…they've taken the man's traditional "position of leadership" in the marriage and twisted it around to make him accountable for his wife's fickleness. What bullshit.

    "I'd love to see the source on the marriage counselor divorce rate statistics. "

    I find it difficult to believe anyone who works in the "divorce industry" (which includes a lot of counselors, whether they want their clients to divorce or not) could compartmentalize that kind of interpersonal stress and not have it affect their own marriage. Except the rare person who will come home and say "honey, thank GOD we're not like any of my clients!"

  18. Miles Anderson says:

    I think the divorce rate thing is a red herring or at least very weakly correlated. Coaching (funny, a word I was thinking as I was writing my original comment) doesn't have to come from an expert. In fact if we look at most of our coaches they are failures. I've never been trained by a world class athlete. Until college I only took one class from a world class academic. Most coaches in professional sports were not world class athletes themselves.

    My experience might be a little different from most because I grew up around social workers and counselors. I was encouraged to think about how people think. Something that I find many people are uncomfortable with. I was also encouraged to think of help in this area as I would any other type of help. It is something you are involved in and should think critically about. I tend to treat the traditional medical world like I do counselors. They provide me with a professional opinion but I am responsible to make sure it fits me. Related to this train of thought and somewhat related to this blog the basic health (e.g. diet) advice provided by the medical establishment these days sucks.

  19. Anonymous says:


    (I'm new to your blog but I've read enough to know that you appreciate those types of sounds coming from a female)

    You are dead-on. We saw a sex and marriage therapist and *I* got fussed at by the therapist, not him. It accomplished nothing but giving me the right to say that I tried everything. It was too little too late. I haven't left yet, but it's coming.

    I must add that if husbands aren't getting the sex they want from their wives and are getting yelled at about the dishes perhaps it is because the guys are really horrible in bed. For a woman/wife to subject herself to really bad sex is soul killing. As a good evang. christian wife, I vowed to myself to never tell him no. We were wedding night virgins and it was BAD that night and didn't improve over 10 years.

    If she's telling you no, maybe it's time for a long conversation and an honest look at your skill.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I support getting professional assistance when needed, but you're absolutely right about this: "Unless both sides of the couple really want to work and listen and are going to a counselor that works on the process of short term objective goals, it's all just a waste of time and money".

    Jennifer 6

  21. "Unless both sides of the couple really want to work and listen and are going to a counselor that works on the process of short term objective goals, it's all just a waste of time and money".

    My ex and I went to 4 different counselors in 10 years. During the whole time he never said one word about his cheating on me.

    I don't feel like it was a complete waste of time … it was at our second to last session that I realized he would *never* understand how to be a proper husband. That was when I realized the marriage was dead, and had been for a long time.


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