Marriage Therapies Explained

Perhaps you and your spouse or significant other have been having problems for quite some time. Perhaps you are discovering the person you thought you wanted to live with for the rest of your life is not who you thought he or she is. Perhaps you are confronting and dealing with infidelity or extreme anger issues. Perhaps there is emotional and or verbal abuse, continual sarcasm that you have been trying to deflect or manage, but you are finding that is not working out so well. If there is physical abuse in your relationship, you need to find a safe house as soon as possible and take haven there. Go to a relative’s house, a friend’s house, or a shelter if you need to hide from your abuser. Help is available.


If you are in a situation that is safe, and you have decided to pursue couples therapy, then the next step is to look for a licensed therapist and sort through the different personalities and therapies in which they have training. There are so many types of couple therapy out there, with differing names. It can be confusing to choose!


The goal of relationship therapy is to modify anger, helplessness and criticality in a relationship to assertion, feelings of self-efficacy and action, and affection. Sometimes there can be an identified mental illness, such as major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety that is interfering with the couples ability to relate.


In your internet searches in your area, three of the methods that you will probably find many couples/marriage counselors are trained in are Gottman Couples Therapy, Imago Relationship Therapy and Emotion Focused Therapy. Many therapists are trained in several methods, but have not chosen to get fully certified in any one method, as it is very expensive and time consuming to go through the hoops, and then one’s practice is tied to a copyrighted method.


What are the differences between these methods? I will give you a hint, there are more similarities than differences, and therapists generally have a broad range of additional training to support their work with you.


The Gottman Method is based on 30 years of research in which John Gottman, PhD. D., is actually one of the principal researchers. Dr. Gottman and his colleagues studied hundreds of real-life couples in minute detail, recording behaviors and emotions. Gottman discovered that the prevalence of four emotions/behaviors predict divorce. The fours emotions/behaviors, which he calls the Four Horsemen, are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. In the therapy, the therapist and couple work to identify strengths and areas of improvement in the relationship, and identify exercised to reduce/eliminate the Four Horsemen. Communication and relationship skills are taught.


The Imago Relationship Therapy is based on the idea that we unconsciously choose our partners as a way to repair the hurts we experienced as children, and to fill in emotional gaps. For instance, we long to feel bliss and connection, so in the rush of romantic love, we feel deeply loved and cherished by our partner. Our partner may also be outgoing where we are more reserved, so we also unconsciously choose partner who has qualities we do not have. As the relationship evolves, we find that our partner cannot meet all our unmet needs, and we begin to negotiate, cry, manipulate for what we want. Disillusion and anger sets in. Imago therapy is based on learning the Imago Dialog, a method to experience deep listening, sharing and understanding.


Sue Johnson, PhD. D, developed Emotion Focused Therapy. EFT is based on 20 years of empirical research regarding marriage relationships and adult love or attachment. The therapy uses exercises based on client-centered techniques and family systems work in order to restore the attachment bond between the partners.


The best way to know if a therapist is a good fit for you is to call up and ask for a 15 minute consultation over the phone. Couch shop. Ask some questions about their experience, how they practice, what methods they use. Therapists are trained to quickly establish rapport with a client. That is their job. If you do not feel comfortable talking with the therapist on the phone, then find someone with whom you do feel comfortable. Try to choose someone close to your home or work. If the office location is not convenient, you won’t be able to make the sessions. Remember you are allowed to couch shop, but don’t use the selection process as a way to procrastinate. Narrow down the phone choices to three or so. Chances are you will find someone pretty quickly. If you are in a densely populated area, there are usually quite a few therapy offices near you. Often the best referrals are from a friend or relative.


Let me know if you have any questions or comments, I’m glad to help out!