You're ready to talk and – finally – so is your spouse. But whom can you trust when your heart, time and money are on the line? Here are 10 things your marriage counselor won't say.
1. I have no business giving relationship advice
Divorce rates for baby boomers have doubled in the past 20 years, with one in four couples older than 50 calling it quits by 2009, according to a study from Bowling Green State University. Some estimates still put the divorce rate for all new marriages at roughly 50 percent. So couples may want to choose their expert help carefully. Experience, after all, can be a cereal-box Ph.D.
2. You're not going to make it.
Dr. John Gottman, who developed the Gottman Method of couples therapy and co-founded the Gottman Relationship Institute, has another claim to fame: He has said his studies in the field enable him to predict within minutes of meeting a couple whether they eventually will divorce, with better than 90 percent accuracy. Just don't expect Gottman or any other therapist to tell you flat out, says Dr. Dave Penner, a licensed clinical psychologist and the assistant clinical director at the Gottman institute. You don't say to a couple, ‘Too bad, you've got all the predictors of divorce,' he says. That's not conducive to therapy, which is about changing those behaviors, he says.
3. I like your partner better than I like you.
Over the course of trying to resolve marital problems during the '90s, John Wilder of Midway, Ga., and his then-wife saw nine different marriage therapists. None of them helped, says Wilder, who has a bachelor's degree in behavioral science and has since trained as a marriage coach. His main gripe: He contends that because the counselors didn't address problems equally, they did more harm than good.
4. I have my own baggage.
Styles can vary widely among therapists, coaches and other practitioners, and that's not something that's typically apparent by looking at their listings in the phone book or on an insurer's website, says Dr. Arshad Rahim, a vice president with physician data and review site HealthGrades.com. Traditional counseling is primarily about solving the problems, but there's also the relatively new field of discernment counseling that has the specific aim of helping couples decide whether to stay together or divorce.
5. Anything you say can be used against you – in divorce court.
Something called therapist-patient privilege typically keeps your mental-health professional from divulging details of your private sessions in a court of law or elsewhere. But that privilege applies to one-on-one relationships, Altschuler said. When a marriage counselor sees two people, arguably there's no confidentiality, because there are three people in the room, he says. State law on that point varies.
6. You really should've come to me before you tied the knot.
Brent Goren, a contractor in Milford, Conn., has seen couples counselors on and off for the past decade – nearly every time he got serious with a new girlfriend. The sessions served as a check, he says, to see if the early relationship problems were fixable and to find ways to better work through them.
7. This is going to hurt – your wallet.
Hourly rates for a marriage coach or therapist can top $200, and that entire fee may be out of pocket. Insurers' policies vary widely.
8. I'll keep seeing you as long as you show up.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, couples undergoing counseling have an average of 12 sessions – one fewer than the average for an individual who attends therapy sessions. But the group also found that 66 percent of clients undergoing marriage counseling have up to 20 sessions, and another 20 percent schedule between 20 and 50.
9. Got an urgent issue? I can fit you in next January.
Experts say real-world couples are lucky to get an hour a week to hash out their issues with an expert. Clients say sessions are difficult to schedule, says Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for review site Angie's List. Complaints there often note that the practitioner runs late but still ends the session on time – resulting in a shorter session for the money, she says, and that makes clients feel like they aren't a priority. An unresponsive therapist or one that can't fit you in for regular appointments is unacceptable, Ruskin says.
10. Don't leave me alone with your spouse.
Despite the name couples counseling, it's not uncommon for a practitioner to schedule a few separate sessions for each person, or to take on one partner as an individual client as well. In reviews, however, couples often complain that the split sessions made them feel like the therapist picked a side, Reed says