Marriage Counseling Questions:
How Much Does Marriage Counseling Cost?
How Much Is Marriage Counseling?
Ring ring. “Thanks for calling Growing Self, this is Lisa. How can I help you?” The man finished his yawn and said, “Hi Lisa, this is Patrick. How much does marriage counseling cost with you guys?”
I’m not sure if most business owners do this or if I’m weird, but sometimes I like to answer the phone just to talk to clients incognito, see what’s going on and answer their questions. Patrick’s question about the cost of marriage counseling now hung in the air. I could hear the chorus of “baby shark” and a toddler yammering in the background. I immediately felt for the guy.
Patrick shared a little more information about what was going on, and I quickly understood that he was in trouble — possibly in more ways than he even knew. He and his wife of nine years lived in Maryland with two children, a two-year-old and a brand new baby. Things had been hard between Patrick and his wife since the birth of their first child. And if their first child started a small fire of marital problems, the arrival of their second baby that past fall dumped a can of gasoline on it.
Patrick told me that he and his wife had started talking about divorce. Although he wasn’t showing much emotion, I could tell he was beyond exhausted on multiple levels. His marriage and family were on the line, and he was calling potential therapists for online marriage counseling prices like he might call dealerships, looking for the best price on a used car.
The big-sister part of me wanted to say, “Patrick, the fact that you are leading with questions about how much marriage counseling costs is evidence that you have no idea what variables you should really be considering, or what questions you should be asking me right now. You don’t know what you don’t know, my friend.” But I restrained myself — our call had just begun.
Instead, I said, “I am happy to discuss your marriage counseling questions and how much marriage counseling costs.” I had to meet him in his headspace and start thinking about how I could help shift his perspective.
But the urgency was clear. I needed to help Patrick, and fast. I knew from personal experience that most parents of toddlers have approximately 45 seconds of uninterrupted time on the phone before they have to hang up.
I heard the toddler mumbling and the clattering of pans in the kitchen. I imagined Patrick’s house, his babies, and his wife, who I knew must be feeling sad and scared, too, and the active threat to his family that he wasn’t even fully aware of.
I needed to help him. But where to begin?
Couples Therapy Cost
Patrick was asking me a simple question that had an extremely complex answer — but he didn’t understand that. In order for me to give him any sort of a meaningful answer about the cost of marriage counseling, I needed to explain things that had taken me nearly 20 years of experience to fully comprehend myself. And the clock was ticking. Patrick wouldn’t stay on the phone for 20 minutes, never mind 20 years.
I breathed, fighting a wave of irony fueled frustration. I wasn’t frustrated with Patrick, but with the socially constructed ideas about marriage vs. marriage counseling that make me crazy.
For example, I knew from my experience as a premarital counselor that couples in Colorado seem to have no problem spending an average of $30,000+ on their weddings. When Patrick and his wife got married, they might have said things to their caterer like, “We want the quail instead of the chicken breasts — this is our special day!”
Nine years later, facing an existential threat to his marriage, Patrick was shopping around for cheap marriage counseling. The fact that Patrick was asking about the cost of marriage counseling implied he was looking to spend as little as possible; I just hoped he wouldn’t choose the cheapest option he found. In fact, a full course of expert, evidence-based marriage counseling with a highly skilled marriage counselor would cost Patrick substantially less than he paid his wedding photographer — the same photographer that shot the photos framed in Patrick’s house that would be metaphorically (and perhaps literally) burned on the pyre of a divorce if the couple didn’t work with a good marriage counselor. Oh, the irony.
Getting hung up on the cost of marriage counseling when facing divorce is like spending half a million dollars on a house, but saying, “Don’t use too much water — think of the utility bill,” when the kitchen curtains catch on fire.
Throughout the years, I’ve been shocked more times than I could count by all the couples who joyfully spend exorbitant amounts of money on their wedding receptions only to balk at investing in what really matters, which is the health of their marriage and the quality of their relationship.
But I think, after twenty years, I’ve figured out why this is.
They’ve absorbed the mistaken idea that marriage counseling is expensive, and that it’s the last Hail Mary effort to stop a divorce when something as dramatic as an affair has happened, and their marriage is about to go over a cliff. Both of those ideas are wrong. Marriage counseling is not expensive, and most couples who postpone marriage counseling until one of them is seriously considering divorce will often find that it’s too late for marriage counseling.
But first things first: Marriage counseling is not expensive. It is one of the most valuable investments you can possibly make.
Marriage Counseling Is Affordable, Especially Compared to the Alternatives
Sadly, many couples assume that “marriage counseling costs too much” without doing the research to find out just how affordable it can be. They don’t understand the value that good marriage counseling will bring to their lives. They don’t put the cost of marriage counseling into context and they certainly don’t look at it as a long-term investment. Perhaps most tragically, they don’t consider the extremely real cost of not getting good marriage counseling.
For the record, I’m using the phrase “marriage counseling” as a catch-all for any relationship growth work. Couples therapy, marriage counseling, and relationship coaching fall under that umbrella. Many unmarried but committed couples can benefit from couples counseling or relationship coaching just as much as married couples. (Learn more about relationship coaching vs. couples therapy here).
It is so easy for couples seeking growth work to become overly focused on the dollars-and-cents cost of couples counseling at the expense of the bigger picture. When they over-prioritize money and under-value the impact of relationship growth work, they miss their opportunity to literally change the trajectory of their lives.
I wasn’t going to let that happen to Patrick and I won’t let it happen to you, either. Here’s why…
How Much Does Marriage Counseling Cost?
Good Marriage Counseling Is Priceless…
I understand that concerns about the cost of marriage counseling or the expense of couples therapy are real, and not just in a general sense, but from my own personal experience. When my husband and I first married and moved out to Colorado over 20 years ago, we were not just going through a rough patch in our new marriage, we were broke.
I had finished college but hadn’t yet figured out what to do with my life. In the meantime, I was working as a waitress. My husband was in school to transition from being a graphic artist into this newfangled web-design thing. We basically lived on ramen and bean burritos.
Something had happened between us in the few short years since we’d gotten married and moved to Colorado. We were both angry. I thought the problem was him, and he thought it was me. Even though we still had nice moments, we spent most of our time in tension. Ironically, many of our marital conflicts were about money.
I tried to talk about how I was feeling, but everything I said just seemed to make it worse. His efforts to reconnect with me flopped, too. He sat in his office, pecking at his jelly-bean iMac listening, to Kid-A on repeat. I withdrew, staying away from home as much as possible. Our situation clearly wasn’t sustainable; we had to do something. But I had no idea how to fix our relationship.
Marriage Counseling Is an Investment
Even though we were both concerned about our ability to afford marriage counseling, we found a way to make an appointment. We found a kind couples therapist who saw us for $85 per session. I have no idea how we paid for it. (Our rent at the time was $650 a month). We probably put it on a credit card, which is obviously far from ideal, but it was what it was. I think we saw that therapist for about ten sessions, which would have been $850 in all. So much money for us at the time.
But that $850 investment changed everything. Marriage counseling was one of the best things we ever spent money on — right up there with investing in college and graduate education, buying a home, and the associated costs of having a child. In fact, I could argue that marriage counseling was actually the most valuable thing we ever paid for (for reasons I’ll share in a little bit, when we get to Henry’s story).
Over the course of those marriage counseling sessions, I reignited my empathy for my husband and came to understand what was going on for him emotionally, and how to make him feel loved. He was able to see my good intentions and understand me in a more compassionate way, too. We learned different ways to communicate about important topics and how work through power struggles, and reshuffled the balance of responsibility in our partnership.
The Value of Marriage Counseling
All the changes stuck. Even today, though we still have things come up occasionally that we need to work through, we are able to do so productively. We never went back to being entrenched in anger toward each other after that. Marriage counseling was genuinely transformational, and I don’t know what would have become of us had we not done marriage counseling at that time.
I eventually went back to school and became a marriage counselor myself, partially because of how impactful that experience was. What I know now is that we were really lucky. We went to marriage counseling before things got too bad, and were able to turn it around pretty fast.
I had no idea, at the time, that the shadow of the hawk was flying over the future of our marriage. I didn’t know that the types of unproductive arguing and frosty silences that we were starting to experience don’t get better on their own; they tend to get worse with time.
If we hadn’t gotten help then, we would have suffered the fate of so many couples: We might have divorced, or maybe we’d have endured many joyless years in an increasingly difficult and lonely marriage. Thankfully, we took that hard right turn: We paid the money, did the marriage counseling, and veered out of harm’s way into a positive trajectory.
That was so long ago. Now, we have two wonderful children and have created the financial stability that seemed far out of reach then. (Research shows that enduring marriage is closely associated with wealth, so there’s that, too).
When I reflect on that choice to begin marriage counseling when it seemed unaffordable, I also think about all of the money spent over the years on things that were completely meaningless in comparison: Restaurant meals we can’t remember, ski trips that became hazy memories, clothes that eventually made their way to the donation pile. Any one of these things alone cost way more than $850.
We wasted so much money on crap that we don’t care about now. Our healthy marriage, though, is the foundation of everything that is truly important.
Patrick, on the other line, didn’t have the luxury of that long-term view. He and his wife were struggling and they needed help. He was focused on the short-term cost instead of the long-term benefit. How could I explain all of this to him?
The first thing I wanted to do was ease his anxiety about the cost of marriage counseling in terms of dollars and cents, because surprisingly, marriage counseling is not expensive. Not at Growing Self, at least.
The Cost of Marriage Counseling
Good Marriage Counseling is Priceless. It’s Also Affordable.
I started by telling Patrick that it was going to be okay and that he was calling the right place. At Growing Self, we specialize in couples therapy and have helped many couples work through issues exactly like the ones he was facing. For balance, I gave him some information about how to find a good marriage counselor, in order to help him understand that who he worked with mattered.
Then, Patrick’s wife Kara joined the call and I was put on speakerphone. They took turns entertaining the toddler while they listened.
I explain that even though they might be able to “save money” by trying to find the cheapest marriage counseling, or a marriage counselor that accepted insurance, those probably weren’t their best options.
Effective, Evidence-Based Marriage Counseling Costs Less in the Long Run
Most “marriage counselors” (especially those paneled by insurance companies) are not licensed marriage and family therapists, meaning they are not qualified to provide couples counseling. Furthermore, they might be practicing a medical model that focuses on resolving mental health symptoms in one partner rather than improving the relationship as a whole. Getting involved with such practitioners often makes relationship problems substantially worse, not better.
I explained to Patrick and Kara that, ironically, they might waste huge amounts of time and money by choosing the cheapest marriage counseling available. Especially with the gauntlet of divorce thrown down, they didn’t have time to waste on ineffective marriage counseling. Patrick and Kara were in a relationship crisis. A relationship crisis can be the equivalent of a cancer diagnosis for a marriage.
When it’s truly time for marriage counseling, (or cancer treatment), you need swift and competent intervention. With it, you may live to fight another day. But if you talk yourself out of treatment or try to find a “good deal” on an oncologist… Well, you just shouldn’t do that. And with good reason. The consequences are obvious. That’s how I view marriage counseling.
I helped Patrick and Kara understand that at Growing Self, we offer evidence-based forms of marriage counseling. While the average length of marriage counseling varies, working with an effective couples therapist who takes an organized, strategic approach makes the work go as quickly as it possibly can.
Messing around in wishy-washy, unproductive “marriage counseling” for a year or two with someone who doesn’t really know how to help you will always be much more expensive — in time, money, and other potentially damaging consequences — than just paying for good marriage counseling and fixing the relationship straight away.
Following my explanation of good marriage counseling vs. bad marriage counseling, Kara said, “This is good to know. I always thought all marriage counseling was the same. Like all doctors basically do the same thing, so you just pick the one closest to your house. I had no idea there was so much difference in outcomes depending on who you worked with. Is it really legal that a therapist can offer marriage counseling without having much training in it? Isn’t that… like… malpractice??”
“I think it should be,” I said. “But it’s not. Psychology is a ‘soft science,’ and it can be so hard to tell who is a good therapist and who isn’t. If a doctor has patients dying, sooner or later someone is going to notice. But if all a marriage counselor’s couples divorce, who is going to know? Therapist’s divorce rates aren’t reported to the CDC.
“Some therapists are great at certain types of therapy but really bad at couples counseling. The problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know. Therapists who fail can tell themselves, ‘Well, that was an unsustainable relationship; It wasn’t my fault they couldn’t make it work,’ rather than, ‘I didn’t know how to help them.’
“It’s also super easy for people to blame themselves when therapy doesn’t work. Couples, especially, will assume that their relationship was irreparable — and never consider that they were with a bad marriage counselor.”
Affordable Marriage Counseling Options
I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that Patrick and Kara had allowed me quite a bit longer than the 45 seconds I originally thought I had. I slowed down a bit and let them know that they didn’t need to worry about the cost of marriage counseling here at Growing Self. I shared a little bit of my personal story, about how I became a marriage counselor to help people where it matters the most, and because of my own life-changing experience in marriage counseling. (More about my “therapist origin story” here.)
I explained that being able to help people create healthy, strong, stable marriages and families was the most important thing I could possibly do with my life. I also told the couple that I shared their concern about the cost of good counseling so many years ago. I, too, was a middle-class kid and always had to pay my own way.
That is why a foundational principle of Growing Self is making high-quality counseling, coaching, and growth work accessible.
Certainly, there are also situations where people are genuinely impoverished, barely able to keep a roof over their heads or food on the table. In those cases, private couples therapy may truly be out of reach. Thankfully, if someone is in a financial crisis as well as a relational one, there are organizations (like community mental health centers) that can assist them with access to food, housing vouchers, vocational counseling, mental health treatment, and family therapy often at little or no cost. If this is your situation, please check out our emergency resources page for more information on these options.
Fortunately for Patrick and Kara, they were not genuinely impoverished. They were just a basic middle class family who were able to pay for many things that they valued. Marriage counseling just needed to be one of those “important” things, as well as within reach financially for normal people.
Too often, only the most privileged people reach into their pockets for really good marriage counseling, therapy, and life coaching. At the top end, you can find therapists and coaches who get paid $700+ dollars an hour for their services. But I want our services to be attainable for the Patricks and Karas of the world.
For that reason, I have structured this organization so that we have people on our team who can meet you where you are financially and offer you affordable sliding scale rates that fit in your budget.
Sliding Scale Rates For Marriage Counseling
“What does ‘sliding scale’ mean?” Kara asked.
“It means,” I told her, “that your rate per session is determined by your annual household income and the size of your family.”
“Plus,” I added, “in addition to private couples counseling and relationship coaching, we offer extremely affordable groups and classes that can help you make real and lasting positive changes in your relationship for a fraction of the cost of working one-on-one with a relationship expert.”
Kara said, “No, I think we need to talk to a marriage counselor one-on-one right now.”
I agreed with her. While our relationship and premarital class is great for couples who need support in learning general relationship skills, it’s not enough to pull a marriage back from a crisis. That work is more intensive.
“This is all making sense and sounding good,” Patrick said, “Thank you for the information. But Lisa, really: What does marriage counseling cost? Please be specific!”
Marriage Counseling Prices at Growing Self
“Patrick, Kara,” I said, “You and I both know that there is nothing more important than your marriage and your family. That is why I take my responsibility to you very seriously, bringing you only the best and brightest therapists and coaches. That’s part of what makes marriage counseling with us ‘affordable ‘ — it’s genuinely valuable.
“I believe you deserve nothing less, particularly if your relationship is in a true crisis and it’s time for marriage counseling. You can’t afford ineffective marriage counseling when the future of your family is on the line.”
“One of the ways I help make valuable marriage counseling also affordable is by offering a variety of great marriage counselors who are at different stages in their careers. I am proud to lead a vibrant team of professionals composed of both seasoned veterans and eager new therapists, each bringing different gifts to the table.”
Rates for Marriage Counseling with Different Providers
“Our rates for marriage counseling are determined by who you work with on our team. Our more experienced clinicians charge more for their services, while our newer clinicians may be more affordable. That said, please know that no matter who you work with on our team, you’ll have a genuine relationship expert devoted to supporting you on your journey of growth and positive change.
“I know this because we are extremely careful about who we invite to join our practice. We have literally hundreds of therapists apply with Growing Self every year, but we accept almost none of them. We only work with counselors and coaches who excel at what they do and possess a unique blend of kindness, insight, competence, and professionalism.
“With that in mind, let’s talk about who on our team would be the best fit for you. Here are your options….”
Marriage Counseling Rates
Most Experienced: Our Doctoral-Level Clinicians Charge $160 / 45-minute session
Our doctoral-level clinicians are fully licensed, with both master’s degrees and doctorates in counseling psychology or marriage and family therapy. Many are also certified as coaches. All have years of experience in helping people create meaningful and lasting changes in their lives, relationships, and careers.
Depending on their case loads, they may also have spaces available for sliding scale clients. Because their services are in such high demand, however, they often do not.
Advanced Clinicians Charge $135 / 45-minute session
Like our doctoral-level clinicians, our advanced counselors and coaches are fully licensed. They have been in practice for years (some for decades, even)and have master’s degrees and specific post-graduate training and experience with a variety of issues. In fact, virtually all of the clinicians on our team providing couples therapy are licensed marriage and family therapists with extensive education and experience, specifically in evidence-based forms of couples counseling and relationship coaching.
Depending on their availability, our advanced clinicians may be able to offer sliding scale rates between $95 and $135 per 45-minute session.
Master’s Level Clinicians Charge: $115 / 45-minute session
Our master’s level marriage counselors all have Master’s degrees in couples and family therapy and anywhere between two and ten years of experience working in the helping professions. They are past their post-grad year of practice and are accruing clinical hours towards licensure as marriage and family therapists. While newer to the field, they are extremely well trained and totally competent as counselors and coaches.
Master’s level therapists can sometimes offer sliding scale rates between $75 and $115 per session, depending on their availability.
Early Career Clinicians Charge $105 / 45-minute session.
Our early career marriage counselors are able to offer you high-quality counseling and coaching at our most affordable rates. All are working toward licensure with Master’s degrees in counseling psychology and hundreds of client hours under their belts. Everyone on our early career team works closely with a licensed marriage and family therapist in clinical supervision to ensure that you get the highest level of support possible.
Early career clinicians are often able to offer income-based sliding scale rates as low as $65 per 45-minute session.
“Wow,” Kara said. “Marriage counseling is much less expensive than I thought it would be. But if we worked with an early career marriage counselor, or a Master’s level marriage counselor, would it be good? Or is it like getting a beauty-school haircut? We are really at a crossroads, Lisa, and I feel like this marriage counseling needs to work.”
I can’t hear their kids anymore. Patrick and Kara are on the East Coast, so I know it’s later in the evening for them and I imagine that both babies have fallen asleep in the arms of their parents while we’ve been on the phone. I picture this young family sitting on the couch together and I tell Kara the truth.
Genuinely Good Marriage Counseling Is Worth It
“Kara, I know this needs to work. Not just for you and Patrick, but also for your kids. I honestly couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t 100% certain that I could keep my promises to you. I am a wife and mom too. I know how much is on the line here.”
“That’s why Growing Self is not some venture-capital-funded therapy mill vacuuming up every shrink with a degree. I know and trust every single marriage counselor on our team. I know for a fact that they will do a great job.”
“Yes, our early career clinicians charge less because they don’t have as much experience as someone who’s been doing this for 20 years, but I know that every single one of them is bright, talented, and qualified to do what they do.”
“Also, having been around a while, I’ve met ‘experienced’ marriage counselors who are so burned out and cynical that they don’t even believe in love anymore and are just going through the motions of couples therapy; that never happens here. I wouldn’t invite a marriage counselor with that kind of negative energy to join our group.”
“No matter who you work with on our team, you’re going to have a real relationship with them based on care, respect, and understanding. They’re going to go to the mat for your family. Trust me, with effective clinicians like the ones we have here, couples counseling works. I’m going to be part of your process too — no matter who you work with on our team.”
I continued, “I work closely with our team of clinical supervisors and host clinical supervision groups and team trainings, too. I am always behind the scenes making sure you are getting the best marriage counseling possible — no matter how much you pay for it. This is not about money for me, Kara. This is my life’s work and my passion. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still be here, day in and day out, doing this.”
Kara took a deep breath. “I believe you Lisa,” she said. “I can tell that you care, and I already trust you. But part of the reason I think we’re in this hard spot is because Patrick got laid off and I am working full time as an accountant… it’s just a mess trying to balance it all. We are both so stressed out and overloaded. I know we need to do this, but daycare is so expensive. How long will marriage counseling take? Can we do marriage counseling like, once a month?”
These questions make it clear to me: Kara is still thinking about the cost. She doesn’t see the larger picture. She also doesn’t know how marriage counseling works.
I say, “Kara, I hear you. I hear that you get it, and understand that this is important, but I’m also hearing that you don’t yet understand how marriage counseling actually works. Hey, it’s understandable, you’ve never done this before. But I’m also worried that you’re getting hung up on the short-term cost of marriage counseling at the expense of the long-term value.
“We’re not talking about a few months here. What is happening now and the choices you make with regard to marriage counseling will impact the rest of your life — no matter which decisions you make.
“What I have come to learn from years of doing this is that price and value are not the same thing. When you invest in yourself and your relationship, you reap priceless rewards. Kara, I know you’re a numbers person, so let’s do some math together to put this into perspective.”
Couples Therapy Costs… Let’s Do Some Math
The whole discussion regarding the cost of couples therapy involves a number of factors, many of which I shared with Patrick and Kara. Now, I want to break it down into the simplest terms and put the whole thing into perspective.
- Efficient, strategic marriage counseling is a short-term investment in your long-term happiness.
- Where you go for marriage counseling matters. High-quality marriage counseling doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) take years. In fact, research shows that most couples are able to make significant changes in their relationship within an average of 12-16 sessions.
- At Growing Self, we specialize in effective, productive therapy, coaching, and marriage counseling. We use evidence-based strategies that have been shown by research to be the most efficient ways of helping you make real and lasting change in your life. Our clients often get what they need in as little as a few months, depending on circumstances.
- Weekly sessions are crucial, but sometimes only in the beginning stages of couples counseling. If you begin to make changes over 8-10 weekly sessions, we can often cut back to every other week, and then monthly sessions as the changes you make become permanent.
In the beginning, though, going to couples therapy once a month can be like going to the gym once a month; you won’t make progress. You need to have consistent support to get traction.
“That’s a bit about how marriage counseling works. But you both need to understand that the process of marriage counseling is not the point. What matters is the long-term result.”
The True Cost of Marriage Counseling, in Perspective
“Kara,” I said, “You’re an accountant, so let’s make this real. Pull out your calculator and your budget spreadsheet — because I know you have one — and let’s go to the worst-case financial scenario.”
“If you worked with one of our doctoral-level clinicians, entirely out of pocket, for their full fee of $160, for 16 sessions, it would cost $2560 total.”
“Heck, let’s say that you and your doctoral-level marriage counselor decide to do 60 minute sessions instead of 45 minute sessions. That would cost $210 per session x 16 = $3360. When we spread that cost over about 6 months, it comes to around $560 per month.”
“By the way, how much did you pay for your couch?”
Kara said, “Actually, our couch isn’t quite that nice but we replaced the appliances in our kitchen last year and it cost way more than that by the time everything was paid off. It just seemed like something we needed to do. When I think about it, my husband is more important to me than my Bosch dishwasher.” I imagined Patrick smiling on the other end of the call.
I continued. “You do not have to work with the most experienced doctoral level marriage counselor on our team, either. We have lots of other choices. If you were to work with one of our master’s level clinicians, out of pocket, at the mid-range of their sliding scale for $85 per session, 16 sessions would cost you $1360. Or about $225 a month for 6 months. I know people who spend more than that on their cable bill.”
Kara said, “Yeah, that’s a good point. We’ve actually been thinking about cutting the cord there. We just watch Youtube and Nexflix except during football season.”
Patrick chimed in, “There’s an app for that.”
Kara said, “You would do that? For this?”
“Kara,” Patrick said, “you and this family are the most important thing in my entire life.” His voice cracked a little at the end and then they were quiet. I imagined them holding hands, maybe for the first time in a long time.
My marriage counselor’s heart was gladdened by the moment I felt happening, even through the silence. Patrick and Kara were finally putting the cost of marriage counseling into perspective by comparing its value to all the other things they deemed “essential.” This conversation about making their marriage a priority was already beginning their healing process.
I was so tempted to forget that we weren’t technically in a therapy session. I wanted to ask, “What is this moment like for you right now?” Instead, I resisted the urge and pressed on with the cost of marriage counseling information that was the entire point of the call in the first place.
“And of course,” I said, “If you were to work with one of our early-career clinicians and qualify for their lowest sliding scale rate you might pay as little as $780 for an entire six-month course of marriage counseling. That breaks down to about $130 a month. Or $32.50 a week. I don’t know about you guys but we can barely get out of Chipotle for less than $32 bucks if we order the chips and guacamole. Do you hear what I’m saying? You could save your marriage and your family for less than the cost of a weekly lunch for two at Chipotle.”
There was a long and pregnant silence.
Patrick finally said, “We have been telling ourselves that marriage counseling was too expensive for a long time. Thank you so much for putting the actual cost of marriage counseling into perspective for us. We have been spending so much money on things that are not nearly as important to us as this marriage. I just couldn’t believe it when you were talking about Chipotle. It was like you were spying on us. We went out to lunch there a few days ago during Kara’s lunch break. It was horrible.”
Kara contributed, “Yeah. That’s when I told Patrick that I was so unhappy that I thought we should consider divorce. I felt like crying the whole time. I felt so helpless about our future and like there was nothing we could do to save it. I had no idea that we could actually have been doing good marriage counseling instead.”
I said, “Yes. If you did online marriage counseling you could literally have done a couples therapy session during your lunch break. But the bigger picture here is that I feel like you guys get it. We’re talking about your life here. Changing the trajectory of your entire marriage is priceless, and it is also completely attainable for you.
“This work is valuable beyond measure, and you can absolutely do this. It is cheaper and easier than you think, and it’s the most important thing you can possibly do with your money. Sadly, some people don’t get that until it’s too late. I’m so glad that you do.”
Start with a Free Consultation
At that point in the call, Patrick and Kara understood my points and were ready to view marriage counseling as a short-term investment in their long-term happiness. I was thrilled. They had been through so much and I really felt that they were going to be okay.
I helped them schedule a first free consultation meeting with an advanced clinician on our team. The clinician had already helped countless couples just like Patrick and Kara repair their relationships and I was certain she could help them, too. Of course, they liked the idea of starting with a free consultation to ensure that it was a good fit.
I let Patrick and Kara know what to expect in marriage counseling and prepared them for their first consultation. I don’t know whether or not they wound up qualifying for the clinician’s sliding scale rates, but I know that was ultimately irrelevant. They would go on to heal and make positive, permanent changes; that’s what was important. The marriage counselor I matched them with would guide them through a powerful, transformational process, and I could tell it wouldn’t even take that long.
Strong Couples Grow Together
I could sense that, even though Patrick and Kara were in a very real relationship crisis with their marriage in danger, wondering if they even needed marriage counseling or if it was time for discernment, they had reached out early enough and would be responsive to the work. The interaction I had with them on the phone let me know that they would be able to reconnect with each other and work through their problems. They still trusted each other enough to be vulnerable and start listening. There didn’t seem to be any infidelity as far as I could tell. They understood how much they had to lose, they were motivated, they were ready to do the work. They were going to be okay.
Of course, it wasn’t as easy for Patrick and Kara to know that they would be OK. They would in a few months, looking in the rear view mirror, but that day they were in the thick of their rough patch. Interestingly, that “rough patch” was actually an amazing growth opportunity in disguise. On the other side of it, they would be stronger than ever before. Growing together is how strong marriages are created, and “conflict” is the on-ramp to growth, if you’re open to engaging with it.
Ten years after a couple undergoes transformational marriage counseling, its cost feels as irrelevant as what they paid the hospital for the delivery of one of their children. It’s a meaningless blip for the most priceless and important thing in their entire lives — their family.
Good Marriage Counseling Is Cheap; Divorce is Expensive.
By the time I got off the phone with Patrick and Kara, it was late in the day. I needed to finish up and get back to my own family. I looked over my calendar for the next day and sighed. I was meeting with Henry.
I love Henry, and I knew I could help him, but he was in agony. I was seeing him for post-divorce counseling. I cared about him, and his pain was my pain. My sessions with him also brought up frustration for me — not frustration at Henry, but frustration because I often thought about how his breakup could have been avoided if I’d had the chance to talk with him and his wife years before. If only I’d had the chance with Henry that I’d had with Patrick and Kara…
Time and time again, I’ve seen couples make the fatal mistake of disordered priorities. They prioritize other things — usually money and time — over their marriage, and then they regret it, bitterly, when it’s too late for marriage counseling and time for discernment counseling. It was too late for Henry.
Couples Wait Too Long to Get Help
Relationships and marriages will stretch and weather storms to a point, unless you continuously make your marriage stronger. But there is a time when it’s too late: when trust is broken beyond repair, or when one person has decided in their heart of hearts that it’s time to call it quits. They believe that the other cannot and will not ever be able to meet their needs and the light of attachment flickers out. At that point, the best marriage counselor in the world can’t help.
Kara and Patrick were not at that point. Not yet. I could tell because even that one simple conversation on the phone was helping them feel hope. A couple too far gone would not have been able to do that.
Patrick and Kara didn’t want to get divorced, but then again no one wants to get divorced. Even people signing the papers don’t really want to get divorced. They just don’t know how else to solve the problems in their relationship, so it feels like the only choice.
Divorce happens when couples miss the warning signs that a relationship is failing until either one person has passed the point of no return, or it’s too much of a mess to rebuild. Then, there’s nothing left to rebuild.
When things have been bad for too long — when couples are on the brink of divorce — it’s often the case that bitterness and resentment have built to a point where it’s difficult to break through. They have waited too long.
Marriage Counseling Is a Bargain, Compared to Divorce
The sad irony is that the same couples who didn’t want to invest in marriage counseling while they had the chance (usually while spending many thousands of dollars on lots of other things) finally gush out tens of thousands of dollars, many times more than world-class marriage counseling would have cost, to divorce and split their precious marriages and families apart.
In addition to being extremely painful and traumatic for everyone involved, getting divorced is breathtakingly expensive. Tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, realtor’s fees, maintaining separate households, child support, child care… it’s harrowing to consider. Even if you’re able to achieve an amicable divorce, by the time all the dust settles, divorces’ tabs have so many zeros on the end that it can take decades to recover from.
And that’s just the financial recovery. The emotional toll of divorce can be far worse.
While there are times that divorcing is genuinely for the best, it is never easy. Often, the couple simply swaps out their relationship problems with a whole new set of problems that are created by divorce:
- Sad and angry kids
- Co-parenting squabbles
- Angst over an Ex moving on to a new (possibly questionable) partner
- Lack of control in their kids’ lives
- Blended families
- The financial reality of being a single parent
All of these problems and more result in a huge mental, emotional, and financial mess that most people don’t consider when they’re calling up the divorce lawyer and having fantasies about how happy they’ll be when no longer having to deal with the tense moments they’re currently having with their spouse. Most of the time, your marriage is worth saving.
Investing in Your Marriage Protects You from Divorce
The irony with most divorcing couples is that they don’t divorce because they really want to; who does? They get divorced as the scorched earth “final solution” to relationship problems that they don’t know how to fix.
Consider that even if you went to marriage counseling every single week for one year (paying out-of-pocket) with an extremely well-qualified, top-shelf marriage counselor, you would never pay even a fraction of what you’d pay just your realtor to help you take your life apart in a divorce.
People who say marriage counseling is “too expensive” and are reluctant to invest in repairing their relationship often wind up paying many times more to end it. It’s sad and unnecessary.
Marriage counseling is not about the money. It’s about the value that it brings to your life: having a secure home-base of unconditional love in the center of your life, creating a warm, stable home for your children, and a lifetime of friendship and joy with your irreplaceable other. That’s priceless.
Healthy Relationships Matter Most
I talk to broken-hearted people all the time. When you’ve lost the love of your life; when your beautiful family has been blown apart; when you’re coming home to a dark, empty house with no one to love — nothing else that you do or have really matters that much.
Henry was in that exact, horrible space. That’s why he was on my mind after I got off the phone with Patrick and Kara.
Henry was in a different place in his life than Patrick and Kara were. He was a successful radiologist getting close to retirement. Henry’s wife had been begging him to get them to marriage counseling for years. Henry didn’t listen. He was always too busy, he didn’t think it was that bad, and he often made his wife feel invalidated. He was incredibly smart, but not the most emotionally intelligent guy. For example, he would tell her she was just “always upset” and overly emotional, rather than considering how his actions impacted her.
For the record, Henry’s was not a horrible marriage. It was just a basic, garden-variety neglected marriage that, predictably, reaped the results of what was sown. Which was nothing.
Henry and his wife had had plenty of money; they could easily have paid for marriage counseling. But Henry was really thrifty. He was the guy who would keep the thermostat at 64 degrees through the winter and yell at people to turn off the lights. He was very conscientious about choosing a lucrative career path and saving everything he could for retirement. Henry, like so many people, didn’t understand the value of marriage counseling until it was too late.
A few years before Henry and I started seeing each other in divorce therapy, Henry’s wife had gone past the point of return. She had felt emotionally invalidated and unfulfilled by the marriage for years and her efforts to get him to understand had been rejected for so long that she came to the conclusion that it was never going to get better. She filed for divorce.
As the machinations of divorce began grinding into life, Henry was flooded with panic. He had minimized their issues for so long that he hadn’t perceived the depth of his wife’s pain and her gradual withdrawal from the relationship. When he became aware of what life without her meant, he begged her for her forgiveness, and to work on the relationship with him in marriage counseling. At that point, though, she was not willing to try marriage counseling, or even to try discernment counseling with him. Her mind had been made up.
He sat on the couch in my Denver therapy office with tears in his eyes, reading portions of a letter she had written to him: “Henry, you are the father of my children and I will always love you, but I have been through so much with you that I don’t trust you anymore. You were not emotionally available for me and it hurt me so much, for so long, that finally I had to stop caring. I can’t care anymore. Our kids are grown now and I am finally free to grow. I am not interested in trying to make this work with you. I am excited to start my new life and I hope you can be excited about yours.”
Remember: Not Doing Marriage Counseling Has a Cost, Too
I never met Henry’s soon-to-be-Ex wife, but I know from experience that her discontent had been building for years. Five years before the divorce proceedings began, marriage counseling could possibly have helped, but maybe not. Relationships don’t usually explode, or go down in the flames of infidelity or betrayal. They wither — often over many years.
I couldn’t help Henry mend his marriage. The best I could do was help him grieve the loss of his family, heal his broken heart, and figure out how to forgive himself for not taking action while he could. Henry was lonely and had no desire to date. We talked about how he could fill his time with volunteer work or by going to visit old friends, but he didn’t want to do any of that.
He wanted to be with his wife of 40 years and enjoy the comfortable retirement they’d sacrificed so much for. Now, he was going to have to figure out how to live independently, on half of his retirement money.
Henry wanted to spend time with his grandkids in their beautiful large family home, but it was no longer his home; it was up for sale. Instead, he shopped for condos, alone. And he’d soon have even more time to be alone. The career he’d prioritized over his relationship with his wife was gliding to a close.
Henry remarked so many times that, during the years, he’d put time and energy into his career, financial stability, kids, and social relationships while taking his marriage at the center of his life for granted. Now, with his career ending, his children grown, his home for sale, his retirement savings halved, and his post-divorce social life extremely awkward, he had a lot of empty hours on his hands to revisit his former priorities. He started walking dogs at the local animal shelter on the weekends, just to have something to do.
You Can’t Afford Not to Do Marriage Counseling
I’m not sharing Henry’s story to scare you. My intention is to put the cost of marriage counseling in perspective. Earlier in this article, when I explained that the money my husband and I spent on marriage counseling was, in retrospect, more valuable than what we spent on education, or real estate, or kids, this is what I meant.
Having a good career and lots of money doesn’t really matter beyond a certain point, especially if you’re lonely and living an existentially meaningless life. Having a big house doesn’t matter if your family is gone. All of our choices come with costs of one kind or another. Some of the steepest “expenses” we’ll ever pay in our lives are not even remotely financial.
If You Need Marriage Counseling, Just Get It
I’ll get off of my soapbox now. I hope that this discussion helped you understand that marriage counseling is affordable. But more importantly, I hope it helps you understand that getting good marriage counseling at the right time is much more important than any financial costs involved. You can always earn more money. You can’t always mend a marriage.
If your marriage is struggling and the security of your family is threatened, quality marriage counseling can change the trajectory of your life. It can help you avoid the tragedy of divorce and the heartbreak that goes along with it. Good marriage counseling is an investment in everything that matters most.
At Growing Self Counseling and Life Coaching, we want your marriage to be happy and successful. We offer a variety of options for you to get real help for your relationship, including low-cost classes and sliding-scale rates to make your marriage counseling sessions even more affordable.
You can afford marriage counseling. You can’t afford not to do marriage counseling. We are here to help you.
P.S. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, all names and other specific details have been changed to protect identities.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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