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Marital Therapy: What Does the Research Say ?


marital therapy

Contemporary society is now beginning to recognize the importance of marital therapy in 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"> (1999) 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. 20-21).

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 Ph.D Licensed Psychologist 


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