Counsel Couple

Who do you turn to when your marriage needs help? In the past, counselors or pastors have been the only choices available. With annual divorces reaching as high as 1 million per year for many decades, it is more important than ever to carefully look at who you are getting advice from. Today, with the internet, there are more choices than ever. With those choices also comes a danger of getting help from someone that sounds good, but may not be the right kind of service provider your marriage needs.  

Counsel Couple

Let me start off by saying I really do believe the vast majority of marriage service providers have the best intentions of helping. However, there are serious problems with the industry. Not everyone is getting the job done.

By being part of the industry, I am very much aware of competitors and colleagues. I see things I applaud, and I see things that turn my stomach. In this blog post, I'm going to help you identify which type of service provider is best for you based on your needs.

There are 4 types of marriage service providers. No, it is not counselor, therapist, coach, and pastor. The 4 service provider types are:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

First, I have to make an important distinction. All service providers, including myself, are in business, and therefore must market our services. We all must define who we are, what makes us different from everyone else, describe our services, and how we operate. We are all trying to build a successful business.

The Marketer

The Marketer, however, sees this as a business opportunity, not a calling. They may be presently or at least in the past, sold products and services in various industries. They came to this field as a way of making money.

They have enough business knowledge to know they have to serve customers in order to make that money. They design the business to "scale" to large volumes of clients.

The easiest way for a Marketer to scale in the world of marriage help, is to sell eBooks and online courses that do not involve or have limited one-on-one time. They may appear to offer one-on-one services, but all of their operation is focused on selling products.

The Marketer does not have any certifications, degrees, or specialized training. They do enough research to sound good in their advertising. They may even write a book and get some high-profile endorsements. These efforts are done as steps to make more sales.

The Marketer can be identified by slick marketing campaigns using advertising buzz-words. You'll see words like Secrets, Revealed, and Magic to give an impression that what they offer has been held from you. Being a marketer, they know how to identify top needs and make claims to meet those needs.

They advertise 90% or 95% success rates with no details of how that was determined. Such a high rate is usually gathered at the end of a course when couples better be most happy. They advertise fake or manufactured endorsements like "Voted #1..." or "Ranked #1..." by websites and associations that don't exist or manufactured just to get a link.

They will use scarcity and play pricing games with their products. They use NLP and other psychological tactics to make sales.

As a marriage service provider, I am not fond of the marketer. They dirty the waters for the rest of us who feel called to help couples in distress.

On the plus side, the content they offer can be sound. It can be valid advice, but often lacks any context or direction. In my Marriage Tripod Model, a 3-step approach to improving a marriage, the first step is the all-important foundation. Marketers usually jump into step 2 with best practices, without the context of the 1st step that is required to help make a marriage work. The Marketer's products are often repackaged materials everyone sees online for free.

The Marketer is best for couples without serious issues and only need a refresher of common marriage tips.

The easiest way to identify the Marketer is to dig into their website, click on links, and do the same research you would do for any product or service.

Do you know of any Marketers? They exist in pretty much most fields, especially those found on the internet.

The Adviser

Advisers are similar to the Marketer, except they have a good marriage recovery story. It is their marriage story that attract many people to listen to them.

Like the Marketer, the Adviser has no specialized training, certifications, or advanced degree. They focus on ebooks and online courses. They also rely on advanced marketing campaigns.

The marriage recovery story usually goes something like this. Their marriage was great. Life was good. Then, something happened to seriously damage the marriage. Somehow, they came across some information that pointed them in the right direction. They did some reading. They acted on what they read, and the marriage turned around. Now they want to share what they learned to help your marriage.

Sharing their story is an honorable gesture. The quality of their content is often good since they usually do a fair amount of research.

Like the Marketer, their advice can lack direction and usually only addresses surface issues. They address issues like anger management, communication, sex, and money. Since their advice doesn't address the core issues causing the marriage problems, the advice benefit can be short term.

I think it's noble for the Adviser to share their story. My issue with the adviser as a marriage service provider is that, like the Marketer, they are often not qualified to advise couples who need real help. The premise is flawed. No two couples are alike. Everyone's backgrounds, values, and beliefs are different. Just because they turned their marriage around doing "x" has no bearing on whether another couple can do the same. It takes advanced training to discern a proper course of action.

The Adviser is best for couples who don't have serious issues and need a simple refresher of common marriage tips. 

The Professional

When most people think about getting marriage help, they often think about counseling, family therapy, or a pastor. These service providers have been around the longest and make up the largest quantity of marriage service providers.

For a comparison between counseling and coaching, a newer form of service provider, please read my blog post comparing the huge differences in how they operate.

The Professional sees the work as a calling. This is their profession. Professionals have at least a certification and usually have advanced college degrees. The Professional takes their work seriously.

Counselors focus on one or two techniques. This is where it gets tricky for couples seeking help. The Professional stays within the guidelines of the training they receive. They try to make the world fit their training.

The Professional will focus on one or two of the following Counseling techniques:

  • The Gottman Method
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
  • Positive Psychology
  • Imago Relationship Therapy
  • Communications Analysis
  • Unconscious Roots of Problems
  • Enhancing Intimacy
  • Individual Counseling
  • Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy
  • Strategic Family Therapy
  • and there are others

All of the above have strengths and weaknesses.

From my research, because the Professional tries to make the world fit their training, results greatly depend on finding the right Professional for the issues involved.

Here are some of the issues couples have with the Professional:

  1. 1
    They don’t provide a strategic, evidence-based, couples-specific road map to solving the issues.
  2. 2
    They focus on one person’s issues or mental health diagnosis as the cause of the relationship problems.
  3. 3
    They let you just talk (and fight) in couples sessions without any direction or guidance.
  4. 4
    Their recommendations are too simplistic and focus on symptoms (surface issues) rather than the core problems.
  5. 5
    When their approach fails, they tell you you’re just not compatible and should probably get divorced. They then will offer their counseling services to help you through the divorce.

I really have an issue with #5 above because to me, that is a conflict of interest.

There are good Professionals out there that can help. They can solve a wide range of marital issues. The key is finding one that:

- is research based, relying on what is known to work.
- has the training on the techniques that are suitable to your issues.
- will only work on your marriage and not attempt to counsel your divorce.

The Expert

There are several characteristics of an Expert:

  • Does extensive research and/or has extensive practical experience.
  • Thinks outside of the box by using multiple techniques or disciplines, not just one or two.
  • Creates their own model to explain how things work based on the extensive research and/or practical experience.
  • Is a leader in the field.
  • Sees the world more black and white based on research and results. They stand firm on what they see that works, not giving in to political, cultural, or professional correctness.
  • Results oriented.
  • Always a student and adapting.

An expert can be a coach, counselor, or pastor.

The one drawback to an Expert is that they tend to be more expensive compared to other service providers. The expert makes a great marriage service provider and should get the best results.

Which Service Provider Do You Choose?

When considering any service provider, take a serious look at the materials they make available. Look at the website, blog, videos, social media, etc.

  • Are they saying what everyone else is saying, or providing a new perspective?
  • Do they refer to just a couple resources or do they quote many people from many sources?
  • Do they freely share information or are they cryptic, making you pay to get any value?
  • Inspect any claims in marketing materials to make sure they are not manufactured or paid.
  • Do they address why the divorce rate has been so high for so long?
  • Lastly, based on your review, would you consider them a Marketer, Adviser, Professional, or Expert?

About the author

Mark Jala is a certified marriage coach, researcher, and consumer advocate. Certified in Strategic Interventions, Mark bases all of his services and advice on verifiable research. With nearly 40 years of problem solving experience, Mark has developed a holistic approach to marriage coaching which provides a context and execution plan not seen in ordinary marriage services.

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