Marital Therapy: What Does the
Research Say ?
society is now beginning to recognize the importance of marital
providing healthier relationships and saving marriages from destruction. Marital
counseling has now joined the ranks of individual, family and group therapies in
providing a continuum of mental health treatment options. You can never
underestimate the importance of marital happiness or the happiness that any
couple shares, to an individuals overall health and well-being. In his book on
the Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work,ads.js">
stated that "Recently my laboratory uncovered some exciting, preliminary
evidence that a good marriage may also keep you healthier by directly benefiting
your immune system, which spearheads the bodyís defenses against illness" (p.
5). He concluded that researchers have known for at least a decade that divorce
can depress the immune systemís function. He continued in commenting; "Now we
have found that the opposite may also be true. Not only do happily married
people avoid this drop in immune function, but their immune systems may even be
getting an extra boost" (p. 5). Ultimately, he concluded, that people who stay
married live four yours longer than people who don't. These physiological
effects seem to be an example of and reflection of the various negative
consequences of marital distress. Fortunately, marital therapy is leading many
couples back toward improved health and happiness.
Various approaches are utilized in marital
counseling by contemporary therapists, including cognitive-behavioral and
solutions focused models. Modern therapists as well as popular authors such as
John Gray (1996) and John Gottman (1999) have began to popularize some of the
basic concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy. Epstein and Baucom (1998) have
stated that: "Research has documented how couplesí behavioral interaction
patterns, cognitions, and emotional responses have important impacts upon the
quality of their intimate relationships" (p. 37). In addition to the mass of
confirming research of the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for
couples is the fact that " it is a relatively short-term, structured approach
that is consistent with managed-care demands for specific treatment plans and
assessment of defined therapeutic goal attainment" (p. 37).
Cognitive-behavioral marital therapy is a
therapeutic model which considers how specific thoughts are related to feelings
and moods, and how moods ultimately effect behaviors. Although as Gray (1996)
has suggested that sometimes it may seem that men are from Mars and women are
from Venus, the cognitive model seems to intuitively recognize unique
differences in perspectives and feelings, and attempts to reconcile these
differences into a better sense of understanding and compromise.
Gottmanís (1999) model also recognizes the
importance of the relationship of thoughts and feelings, and concludes that
although there are inevitable disagreements and irritations in married life that
there is the possibility to develop what he has termed as a "positive sentiment
override" (p. 20). "This means that their positive thoughts about each other and
their marriage are so pervasive that they tend to supersede their negative
feelings. It takes a much more significant conflict for them to lose their
equilibrium as a couple than it would otherwise. Their positivity causes them to
feel optimistic about each other and their marriage, to assume positive things
about their lives together, and to give each other the benefit of the doubt" (p.
In summary, marital therapy has become an
important part of the ensemble of tools available to the contemporary counselor
or psychotherapist, and continues to demonstrate its effectiveness in relieving
marital distress and contributing to the general health and well-being of
couples in our modern-day society.
By Paul Susic MA
Licensed Psychologist Ph.D Candidate
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