Quick post: On supporting marriage.

Sociologist Phillip Cohen, who writes the excellent blog Family Inequality, appeared on Talk of the Nation recently as a guest alongside the head-desk worthy economist Isabel Sawhill who recently brought single-mom bashing into the 21st Century.

He points out that many of the tangible benefits of two-parent families are things like stable housing, greater economic security, and health insurance, slyly implying, I think, that if government really wanted to support children and families, they could go “direct to the source” and just work on equalizing access to these resources instead of focusing on marriage as their proxy.  Why go through a middle man, especially such a fraught and unreliable one as millions of individual couple relationships?

I have to note that, for all the interest in “promoting marriage” that has been spouted about in the past decade or two, rarely has anyone ever asked Marriage and Family Therapists (the marriage experts?) about how to sustain and support existing marriages.  I’ve got a two-part plan for you:

1) National health care
2) Stop excluding couple therapy from health care coverage under the false belief that health care coverage should only treat individual DSM diagnoses using individual therapy methods*

distressed couple
*(There is more than adequate evidence that many “individual” diagnoses are effectively treated with conjoint or family therapy.  And there is more than adequate evidence that couple conflict, parenting problems, etc. are not just “problems in living” germane to the “worried well” but are in fact major stressors that impact both physical and mental health.)

In a nutshell:  make couple/marital therapy affordable so people can have the benefit of relationship counseling before and during marriage.  Evidence based treatments like Emotionally Focused Therapy find that 73% of distressed couples recover (become non-distressed) over the course of therapy, and over 80% improve (the gap between the two numbers is largely accounted for by couples where one or both partners have trauma histories; longer courses of EFT are proving helpful in closing that gap).
Weirdly though, I’ve never seen anyone interested in promoting and preserving marriage actually talk seriously about making it affordable and accessible for married people to get help in sustaining their relationship through difficult times.  Go figure.  Let’s urge people into marriage and then… leave them to flail at it.

(Echoes of the pro-life stance here I feel, where it’s Incredibly Urgent that every pregnancy be carried to term, but Incredibly Unimportant to care for the children who are born as a result.)

And meanwhile in other “What’s really good for children?” news, when anti-same-sex-marriage folks can’t keep claiming that gay and lesbian households are bad for children based on the research (because it doesn’t exist), they lie.  What is this, a day with a “Y” in it?

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9 Responses to Quick post: On supporting marriage.

  1. Ron says:

    Where did Ms. Sawhill bash single mothers?

  2. Coyote says:

    Where did you get your figures of 73% and 80% above?

    Marriage and couples therapy is especially useless in reality; most couples wind up divorcing anyway.

    • Dr. Sheila says:

      Those figures are from the extensive outcome research done on Emotionally Focused Therapy that has been published in peer-reviewed journals. (oh look, the “improvement” number has actually increased to 90% I guess!)

      And while you’re entitled to your opinion about couple therapy, the research doesn’t support your conclusion; no matter what model is being tested, therapy always shows better results than no therapy (see the extensive meta-analyses of conjoint therapy for various issues published in “Effectiveness Research in Marriage and Family Therapy” in 2001, and other meta-analyses of MFT effectiveness). It’s also fair to ask the question, is the only “good” outcome of couples therapy, staying together? Sometimes in my experience, supporting a couple while they decide to go their separate ways, and helping them do it in a humane, kind way rather than tearing each other to shreds in the process (particularly if they have children to co-parent after the split) can be a very good use of therapy.

      There’s also the reality that most clinicians doing couple therapy have little or no training in it and yet it is probably the most difficult and stressful type of therapy to do. When friends ask me for referrals to a couple therapist, I always strongly suggest that they start with looking at AAMFT Clinical Members, though thanks to quirks of California law, there are a lot of practicing “MFTs” who also have little if any supervised training with couples, but at least it’s a place to start.

  3. Coyote says:

    Actually, I kind of cringe at what kind of “therapy” you are going to be dishing out to married couples.

    A man who is just over-burdened and over-stressed, constantly working and trying to find new ways to make money to keep his wife happy, is very unhappy himself and starts telling his sit-at-home wife to get some responsibility and also get a job if she wants to have nice things.

    I can just picture you explaining to him that he has male privilege, and he better unpack it from his knapsack and stop bothering his wife with his miniscule problems – as compared to her problems, being an oppressed victim who watches Dr. Phil and The View every day.

    You are so wedded to the idea that men have intrinsically better lives that you just can’t see any type of reality at all.

    I’m not a troll, that is really my opinion. Women like you … just don’t get it. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes for once instead of being selfish, self-righteous and narcissistic.

  4. Coyote says:

    I have a feeling that my statement above is just going to blow past you with no acknowledgment or enlightenment on your part at all. And this is the only thing that people with your specific major supposedly do, “Dr.” Sheila, is sit around and talk about feelings.

    You can’t chart the motion of Mars with celestial mechanics, you can’t explain space-time invariance, you can’t prescribe medicine, you don’t have a good grasp of history or law or literature and you can probably barely even balance your checkbook or add fractions, but you co-opt the title “Doctor” as if you actually know something. And it does fool stupid people.

    And you cling to your notion that men just have better, more privileged lives with an almost unbelievable arrogance. And you undoubtedly push all your own misguided beliefs and internal turmoil on your “patients”.

  5. Lorie says:

    I saw your post on Alas, A Blog. You say “I stand ready, willing, and able to personally act as one of the leading supporters of strong, stable marriages and couple partnerships, using methods proven to actually increase couple stability and well-being, but I never seem to see my field and what it has to offer acknowledged or encouraged by the ‘marriage supporters.’ ”

    You are very sure of yourself. You seem to find it unfair that people do not call upon you for your “proven” methods.

    Changing a lightbulb: Just stand there with the bulb in the socket and expect the world to revolve around you and twist the bulb into the socket.

    You can’t even imagine that you may well be talking shit and the “world” recognizes it. That will probably never be an option for you, because then you have to admit that all the “work” you’ve done is … bullshit. Worthless. Stupid. And that lots and lots of people recognize you for what you are.

  6. Lorie says:

    Yup, I have anger. Anger at being used by these Charlatans until I discovered what they were. But they took a lot (a LOT) of money before they were identified.

    You are what you are, Sugar Plum. If you have no conscience, then you are REALLY dangerous to others.

  7. StaightGrandmother says:

    Well if my marriage were breaking apart I would definitely seek couples counseling. Because if my marriage ultimately failed and I divorced, there would be somebody to blame, I would for sure be blaming the therapist. This way I don’t have to take the blame of a failed marriage, I would just blame it on the therapist, how handy foe me.

    • Dr. Sheila says:

      It’s true, some people do come to couple therapy so they can say “well we tried and it didn’t work.” I try to sniff that out early on when I’m assessing people’s goals, and I’ll tell people occasionally “if you’re here so you can say ‘we tried,’ and you’ve really already decided to divorce, you have my permission to tell people you tried without spending your money and time here if you don’t really want to stay together. Or we can spend our time together working out how to have the most humane ending to this relationship possible.” Therapy to turn the relationship around when one or both partners have already decided it’s over is obviously not that helpful.

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