Arnold S. Perpetuates Huge Myth about Couples Counseling

On a recent Howard Stern show, actor/ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger claimed that going to couples counseling (with ex-wife Maria Shriver) was “the biggest mistake I ever made.”

What Arnold likely meant – it’s pretty safe to assume – was that couples counseling not only did not save his marriage, it actually contributed to its demise. This assumption perpetuates one of the biggest myths regarding relationship counseling: It will make your relationship worse off, and may even end it.

As happens in any profession, less than competent therapists, unfortunately, do end up working with couples. Although I have no knowledge about Arnold and Maria’s couples counselor’s expertise, it’s more likely that this high-profile couple chose a well-recommended professional with impressive credentials.

Also unfortunate, Arnold isn’t the only person who believes that the purpose of couples therapy is to resuscitate marriages that are on life support. (Couples wait an average of six years before reaching out for help.) This type of (faulty) reasoning allows one to conclude that whenever a relationship ends after couples counseling, the therapist was incompetent and somehow caused it.

Or to put it in technical terms, if event “B” frequently follows event “A,” this doesn’t mean that A actually caused B. When many couples decide to reach out for counseling after years of resentment, it’s foolish to then label the counseling or couples therapist as the cause of their relationship demise.

Couples therapy can help some marriages get back on track, sometimes even if they were on the brink of calling it quits, but it can also help some relationships end amicably. In some cases, it may actually be best, for the health of each partner, for the relationship to end. As research by Dr. John Gottman points out, couples counseling does a much better job of helping moderately-distressed couples than it does helping severely-distressed couples. From media reports, Arnold’s marriage likely fit the latter category.

Here are some other popular counseling myths floating around:

1. “Getting counseling is a sign of weakness. It means we can’t figure this out ourselves.”

The reality: Seeking professional help, i.e., utilizing available resources is a sign of one’s strength, not weakness.

2. “How can someone who doesn’t even know us, help us?”

The reality: A competent (couples) therapist is able to quickly assess you and your situation, in order to provide appropriate care.

3. “If we go to couples counseling, the therapist will take sides” or “the therapist will change my partner’s mind about leaving me.”

Truth: A couples counselor is not a miracle worker and cannot change people’s minds. Therapists are unbiased listeners and facilitate communication, they don’t take sides.

4. “Our problems aren’t bad enough.”

It’s an unfortunate truth that many couples think they must be on the brink of divorce or other disaster, before counseling would be worthwhile. As mentioned above, Dr. Gottman’s research proves otherwise.

5. “My aunt/cousin/neighbor, etc. went to counseling and it didn’t help him/her, so I’m not going.”

Reality: One person’s experience (such as Arnold’s) does not impact other totally different situations and can’t be generalized.

6. “If I go to couples counseling, everyone will know and it will be so embarrassing.”

Therapists are ethically obligated to honor client confidentiality. The only other people who will know are the ones you or your partner tell.

7. “It’s just not worth the money; it takes years of therapy sessions to get results.”

The reality, contrary to Woody Allen movies, is that counseling does not go on forever. And isn’t saving or improving your marriage worth the money!?

8. “Couples counseling will fix us.”

Truth: Sometimes people show up expecting that their problems will magically get better, without any work on their part. This is a totally unrealistic expectation, as effort and hard work are required by both partners to make changes that last.

9. “The therapist will end up telling us to stay together or split up.”

Reality: A couples therapist is not a judge who deems your relationship good or bad, but a trained professional who tries to improve relationships by working on less healthy aspects of your partnership.

10. “Marriage counseling can help you fall madly in love again, like the first year or two of your relationship (the honeymoon period).”

Reality: Unfortunately, therapists don’t have time machines with this capability; however, couples counseling can help you reconnect with your partner. This can certainly lay the foundation for a stronger bond, and sometimes does lead to re-experiencing the passion in the relationship. Although unlikely to actually recreate the honeymoon phase that occurred years ago, couples counseling can provide a stable base for building a much more satisfying future together.

Too bad Arnold didn’t prepare for couples counseling by researching the facts!

Category: Couples · Tags:

Comments are closed.