April 7, 2010
Marriage Counseling Increases Odds of
“We did everything to save our
marriage, such as going to a counselor. But we still got divorced.” How
often have you heard couples say that?
Has it ever occurred to you
that couples who go to America’s 100,000 marriage counselors actually are
“substantially more likely to divorce, than couples who forego this
That’s the shocking conclusion
of a very reputable study published as a recent book, “Covenant Marriage:
The Movement to Reclaim Tradition in America,” by Steven Nock, Laura Sanchez
and James Wright. The study examines the impact of a Covenant Marriage Law
passed by Louisiana championed by a then-obscure Rep. Tony Perkins, now
President of the Family Research Council, the lobbying arm of Focus on the
Almost exactly 40 years ago,
California became the first state to allow a divorce without any evidence
that a spouse was guilty of a major fault, such as adultery, abuse or
abandonment. One simply alleged that there was an “irremediable breakdown of
Pushed by feminists and
lawyers eager for business, virtually all states quickly passed similar No
Fault Divorce laws, allowing unilateral divorce. The number of divorces,
which had already doubled in the 60’s, jumped again from 639,000 in 1969 to
1,039,000 by 1975.
Covenant Marriage, passed in
1997, was the first law in America designed to restore traditional marriage.
It gave every couple in Louisiana a choice between a conventional marriage
that could be ended easily and a fortified marriage that, for the first
time, required premarital counseling and was significantly harder to
Couples choosing Covenant
Marriage agreed to take all “reasonable steps” to preserve their marriage,
including marriage counseling to heal any crisis. They waived their rights
to No Fault Divorce and agreed to either prove their partner was guilty of a
major fault, or to live apart for two years, while a conventional marriage
required only a separation of six months.
Covenant Marriage is “the
first comprehensive legal reform in at least a century intended to make both
marriage and divorce more rather than less difficult to obtain,” write the
authors. I praised it a column, hoping other states would pass similar laws.
Arizona and Arkansas did so.
With what result?
What is most disappointing is
that only 2% of couples chose a Covenant Marriage. Why? Only a third of
clerks in marriage offices asked if couples wanted one or gave brochures
according to confederates of the researchers posing as marriage applicants.
Most clerks were indifferent or hostile, often saying,” All marriages are
However, the deeper problem
was most clergy did not advise couples to choose a Covenant Marriage “to
give your marriage the extra protection it offers.”
Indeed, the Catholic Church,
which marries 53 percent of Louisiana’s couples, actually opposed the law,
because it implied that the standard marriages are inferior, “marriage lite,”
an imitation of the real thing. But that’s what standard marriages are,
requiring no counseling before marriage or divorce, allowing one person to
file for divorce unilaterally.
“More significant, the
Catholic Church also objected to the premarital counseling provision because
it required a discussion of divorce, which the Church does not recognize.”
This is profoundly short-sighted. Since the church
opposes divorce, I would think it would only perform Covenant Marriages
which are more likely to succeed.
In fact, in studying 700 marriages,
half from each category, over four years, 8.6 percent of Covenant Marriages
ended in divorce vs. 15.4 percent of standard ones, James Wright told me.
What’s most shocking, however, is found
on page 122: “All forms of marital counseling are associated with a two- to
threefold increase in the likelihood of divorce.” Why? “Many couples sought
and obtained (ital) divorce counseling (cl ital) (rather than
counseling to avoid divorce.) “
Dr. Bill Doherty of the Un. of
Minnesota, says, “A lot of people doing marriage counseling are not trained
and are incompetent. Even Christian counselors and pastors recommend
divorce.” He has created marriagefriendlytherapists.com which lists 260
Another answer is to train couples
whose marriages once nearly failed, to mentor those in current crisis. A
couple who survived adultery is uniquely gifted to help a couple through
Covenant Marriage was a valiant attempt
to reform marriage and divorce law. It prompted the Bush Administration to
give $100 million a year in grants to strengthen marriage.
However, Tony Perkins, its creator, now
says he favors replacing No Fault with Mutual Consent in cases involving
children: “No Fault leaves one spouse powerless over their future. Mutual
Consent would give a voice to the powerless.”