Whether your marriage is on the brink of divorce or you’re just trying to work out a few problems, you may be wondering if it’s better to go to marriage coaching or marriage counseling and what the difference is anyway. Which one will help you solve the problem you’re having? Well, that depends on a few factors, so let’s talk about each.
It might be helpful to know first of all that toward the beginning of the last century, professionals who helped you with your marriage were very focused on keeping loving families intact and helping adults work together to raise their children and enjoy each other. Then, when the psychology boom of the 1970s happened as it became more accessible, the focus shifted to individual happiness. The mindset changed from ‘we need each other’ to ‘you don’t need anyone.’ Where a marriage therapist was focused on helping you work out your differences before, today they can have wildly different opinions and biases about what you should do, often believing that you should just eliminate anything from your life that doesn’t “make” you happy.
In my opinion, the only person that can help you is someone who doesn’t join you in blaming the other person for your unhappiness. Because, let’s face it, you only have power and control over yourself. For you to experience happiness again, you have to focus only on what YOU can do about it. If you’re confused about who to choose, that’s totally understandable. Let’s compare marriage coaching and marriage counseling so you feel a little more confident as you make this choice.
A marriage coach is someone who gives you individual attention and assists you in achieving a desired result. Think of a personal trainer at the gym; you hire them to work with you regularly to get those big muscles or the nice round bottom you haven’t been able to get on your own. They motivate you, educate you, and then take you through the specific action you need to take to get where you want to go. They monitor your progress and make adjustments when needed. If you fall off track, they remind you why you started and where you’re headed.
They have either achieved the results you want to achieve or have been educated on how to help someone get the results you want to achieve or both.
A marriage coach helps YOU get to the result you want to get to. Another analogy would be to imagine that you want to get to the summit of a mountain but you have no idea what to do or what you’ll need, so you pay a sherpa or guide that makes the goal possible. That payment gets you where you want to go.
Now in both of these examples, the person you hire isn’t doing the work for you. They’re just there to guide you along the way and try to support YOU in achieving YOUR GOAL. Conscious marriage coaching (what I do) focuses on addressing what’s holding you back from creating what you want in the relationship. So rather than get you to change into someone who has perfect relationship skills, they help you figure out what’s preventing you from using those skills in the first place. They want to understand why you feel angry or resentful so you can heal that first and learn about healthy relationships skills later. They’re a healthy mix of doing the individual/self work AND the relationship work when it’s time.
Just like a sherpa wouldn’t let you summit Everest if you were completely out of shape and had no supplies, a good marriage coach is going to make sure your individual condition is ready for the challenge of a relationship journey.
Coaching is not a regulated industry, but there are many organizations offering training out there. A marriage coach costs anywhere from $60-$500 a session, though their fees can be hard to break down into a per-hour rate. Most coaches offer a program that includes education, resources, at least a weekly 60-minute phone call, and then email or text support between sessions. Some will also send the client tangible products, like books or journals, that support their journey as part of that program.
So while their 3 or 6-month program may seem expensive, you’d likely spend the same or more on ONLY one-hour sessions with a counselor (with no program, support between sessions, or extra products to help your in your journey).
Coaching differs in that each coach is on their own. Unlike counseling, there are no practices, hospitals, or other forms of distribution channels that are feeding clients to a coach. They not only coach their clients, but they’re also busy building programs, marketing, nurturing leads, and everything else involved with a solo business, or also hiring and paying support staff to do that for them. A professional marriage coach is running a business, not just taking phone calls as a hobby.
Pros – Marriage Coaching:
- Marriage coaches help you achieve a result, whether that’s saving your marriage, having a better marriage, or feeling happier and in control inside your marriage
- Most coaches see clients remotely all over the world so you don’t have to get dressed or leave your house
- You can learn a lot about your coach by following them on social media, their favorite platform like YouTube, a blog, or podcast, or their website to make sure you’re a good fit
- Coaching may include a course or other training to assist you in getting to your goal
- Many coaches offer a sliding scale, payment plans, or offers of varying prices to accommodate all budgets and needs
- You can find reviews or testimonials on your coach or take in their content to see if they really know what they’re doing (and ideally, have achieved the result you want for themselves!)
- Usually, a marriage coach only needs to work with one of you to change the relationship dynamic
- A good marriage coach also focuses on helping you heal from your past so you can bring your best self to the relationship
Cons – Marriage Coaching:
- Even with sliding scales and payment plans, coaching can still be out of reach compared to counseling or therapy, which can sometimes be covered by health insurance
- Coaches want to help you achieve an agreed-upon result, even if that’s only session by session, so if you just want someone to vent to it’s not the right choice
- A marriage coach should be a balanced mix between self & relationship and tactics & strategy, but it can be time-consuming to learn enough about them to see if this is true
- If you want a third party to change your husband’s behavior, know that a coach does it by focusing on YOUR change in behavior… marriage coaches don’t mediate conversations
Marriage counseling is also known as couples counseling or couples therapy. The focus here is on just the relationship and mostly on tactics; noticing bids for connection, turning toward your partner, being a great listener — all things you probably know are great but chances are good that you need to do far more individual work before you even care about using those tactics.
Marriage counselors also usually see you both at once. You take turns complaining about the other person, getting their defenses up or watching them give empty apologies or lie about their commitment to you. Perhaps right before it’s time to go, some shred of truth comes out and the counselor calls them out on it, but by then resolving things seems impossible. The appointments are a breeding ground for even more conflict as each person is shamed or humiliated in front of this third party, who may or may not have great techniques for deescalating the situation.
One or both of you could leave the marriage counseling session feeling angry that you still weren’t heard, frustrated to know what your spouse really thinks, and hopeless about the future.
Marriage counseling costs an average of $75-$200/hour and is likely not covered by your insurance. Many couples spend at least 2 hours in counseling a week for months or even years.
Pros – Marriage Counseling:
- Some counselors may be skilled at mediating necessary conversations
- Counseling doesn’t have a “goal” so you can vent about your situation and continue to go as long as you want
- Marriage counselors have a license to practice and an educational background in psychotherapy so there is at least some standard minimum of knowledge
Cons – Marriage Counseling:
- Marriage counselors tend to be biased: toward one spouse, or toward one outcome (staying together vs. getting divorced)
- Marriage counselors depend on their education as their credential… you have no proof that they’ve done the work themselves
- You may have no way of really getting to know a marriage counselor prior to working with them as they restrict what they put online due to their regulations, though some have written books
- With health insurance unlikely to cover marriage counseling, it may be just as expensive or even more expensive than marriage coaching
- Marriage counseling is not individual therapy so you may not heal from your past during your sessions
- Venting about your spouse in front of them can make your relationship even worse than before you start sessions
- Pre-Covid at least, you had to get dressed and go to a building to see a marriage counselor
- You have to get your husband’s buy-in to go with you to marriage counseling
So, Which Should You Choose?
Unfortunately, this is one of those decisions where the wrong choice could create a lifetime of damage. It’s important to take into consideration what your goal is, how ready you are to do the work, and whether or not your partner wants to be involved in this process.
It’s no wonder that most men hesitate to go to marriage counseling. It tends to be unsuccessful and favor divorce AND it doesn’t feel great to have someone bash you in front of another guy in a tie.
Things to consider before choosing marriage coaching or marriage counseling:
- What your goal is
- How ready you are to heal and do the work to change things
- Whether or not your partner wants to be involved in the process
- Whether formal education or results matter to you as their credential (have they achieved what you’re trying to do?)
- Whether you want to depend on them (counseling) or learn how to change things even after your time together is over (coaching)
- What kind of payment options your top 3 choices offer if that matters to you – be sure to email them and ask as it’s not always listed on their website!
- If one of you is on medication or has a condition that affects the relationship and is beyond a coach’s scope (schizophrenia, bipolar, or severe addiction, for example)
What Do I Recommend?
I recommend Marriage Coaching in almost all cases.
Well, obviously I’m biased as a marriage coach, but I think you can see a clear winner when it comes to marriages already in a lot of conflict and contempt. How do you think dragging your husband to a counselor and complaining about his behavior will work? When I was early in my journey, I did go to a therapist who provided absolutely no healing or relief and only served to diagnose my husband with ADHD. When we sat in her office, she’d tell him to do the things he needed to do, but did he? Did he get enough sleep, eat enough, go do physical exercise? Heck no!
A great therapist would have been focused on helping him heal from all the trauma that happened to him in the few years before our marriage tanked. And a great therapist would have been helping me check and resolve my anxiety, not diagnose it.
I’ve also been to counselors. I remember when I was a teen after my parent’s divorce and we were living with my grandma. She and I didn’t get along at all, but it actually had very little to do with her and everything to do with my pain. While in the session I was told to be nice or to apologize and she was told a certain way to ask me things, but no one was addressing the fact that my heart had been ripped out of my chest only a few years before by the divorce, then by our move, then by my mother’s absence while she tried to start a new career. We never even went back after that one lousy session. My mom’s only goal had been to make the complaints stop.
Counseling can miss the black swan, the thing beneath the thing that’s ACTUALLY causing problems. I don’t know if all coaches are like me, but I’m always looking for that black swan, that piece of information that will change everything. I don’t want to just tell you to give your husband empathy when you’re currently giving him the finger. Those skills come later on. First, we figure out what’s really going on with you.
Not only have I done and continue to do the work in my own life, but I’ve also been trained and educated in multiple ways in every aspect of what I teach my clients to do. My education spans child development, psychology, sociology, emotional intelligence, neuroscience, attachment science, spirituality, communication, quantum physics, ADHD, and more. As a conscious relationship coach, my work is a mix of western medicine and eastern philosophy.
If your marriage is suffering, please take my Should I Get Divorced? quiz to see what work YOU can do. It focuses on your own growth and healing and shows you where you still have the power to change things. Or, to check out the many resources on my Marriage page, just CLICK HERE. You can also read my books, The Authentic Wife: Uncaging Yourself Through Marriage or Love Him Again.
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