With many couples looking to improve their relationships, online marriage counseling offers an avenue for exploring relationship issues. There are a range of possibilities for support for couples available online, and many pros and cons of online marriage counseling. In the past, I have suggested that online couples counseling is more suited to less complex relationship issues, just as online counseling in general is. In addition, the article stated that ultimately the efficacy of couples counseling is underpinned by factors that transcend the mode of delivery such as the motivation and dedication of the couple, the timing of the therapy and the quality of the relationship the couple has with the counselor (Gaspard, 2015). Essentially, it proposed that marriage counseling is simply a different mode of delivery of therapeutic services, and what is so much more fundamental to the efficacy of online marriage counseling are features of the couple seeking therapy and the therapeutic relationship. Let’s explore some of these underpinning factors more closely.
The Motivation and Dedication of the Couple
Marriage counseling is a challenging and taxing process, demanding dedication and perseverance from the couple. Regardless of the method of treatment that they choose, the marriage counseling process will not yield positive results for couples who expect a magical cure or are not willing to invest time and energy into the process. Whether the motivation of the couple is directed toward constructively resolving issues, or more focused on mud-slinging and venting, also plays a role. Couples who enter into marriage counseling with a positive focus and realistic expectations of what the process will demand from them are much more likely to be met with success. Online marriage counseling may in some ways support the couple in maintaining motivation. The ease and convenience of access to counseling may make it easier for the couple to maintain their level of motivation.
The Timing of Therapy
Many couples wait way too long before entering into marriage counseling. They let problems sit and stew until they reach a point of desperation. Often times couples seek help not so much as an attempt to work through an issue but rather as a response to a crisis. Sadly, once the crisis resolves or blows over, many couples leave therapy. According to renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, most couples wait an average of six years before seeking help. That means they have been struggling through conflict and unhappiness for an extended period of time before finally seeking help. This impacts on and compounds any issues, which makes working through any issues that much more complicated. So, for couples to meet with success in marriage counseling, it helps for them not to wait until things hit a point of desperation but rather to seek help sooner rather than later. Certainly, the possibility of seeking help earlier is opened up by the increased accessibility and complete privacy that online marriage counseling affords, as well as the versatility of services available (e.g. apps, quizzes, chat rooms).
The Quality of the Relationship Between Couple and Counselor
An underpinning aspect of any counseling process is the quality of the connection between counselor and client. With regard to marriage counseling, it is essential that both partners are able to establish trust and feel a connection to the therapist, as well as feel received and respected. The counselor has to be very careful to not favor one spouse over the other but rather needs to ensure that both are heard and feel understood by the counselor. Online marriage counseling has its own challenges in this regard. A therapist needs to be particularly alert to the impact of communication via a screen on the capacity to connect with the couple. On the other hand, the increased anonymity of online counseling as well as the possibility of tailoring communication or communicating via multiple means (e.g. e-mail, chat) may actually improve the quality of connection with the therapist.
There are of course many other features of the therapeutic relationship and of the couple seeking therapy that ultimately impact the effectiveness of the marriage counseling process. Counseling is a complex and multi-faceted intervention and the delivery of counseling online is just one additional factor that impacts on this incredibly nuanced process.
By: Stacey Lebowitz-Levy
Dr. Stacey Leibowitz-Levy is a highly-experienced psychologist with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion. In addition to her private therapy practice, she is currently the editor for a mental health resource called E-counseling.com. During her spare time, Stacey enjoys spending time with her husband and children, being outdoors and doing yoga.