When I started my Marriage SOS marital mediation practice decades ago, I did so with the firm belief that people who are looking for marriage help should have a choice. That doesn’t just mean a choice between psychotherapy or mediation-based help, it also means a choice between religious or non-religious help.
While my practice is a strictly non-religious none, I have nonetheless had countless clients of all religions who have successfully used my services over the past twenty-plus years, and I’ve had countless clients with no religious affiliation who have also done so. That’s because when it comes to issues like infidelity, midlife crises, arguing or marital apathy, I get down to the nuts-and-bolts, so to speak. What works and what doesn’t work? What works long-term? There are things that need to happen in a marriage—regardless of one’s beliefs, whether religious, political, or otherwise—if it is to overcome a serious conflict or betrayal.
When it comes to seeking help for something as important and intimate as your marriage, it’s essential that you find the right approach for you. If that includes a religious element, great—most churches, temples and mosques provide this service, and there are many religious counselors out there. In fact, I know that many people have found it hard to find a counseling service that didn’t have some kind of religious element, whether advertised or not.
Which leads me to the one thing I do take issue with, and that’s when a religious element is not openly stated in counseling services or in other forms of marriage help or self-help. Various books and practitioners have been criticized for “springing” a religious element on people, whether it’s left to the back pages of a book, the middle of materials, or the final session. Since many of my clients come to me after having tried another approach or service, I can also attest to how many have felt annoyed at best and infuriated at worst when faced with religious content when there was no indication whatsoever of this on the website, service, or product (if you’re unsure of a practitioner’s content in this regard, just ask them).
And it isn’t just non-religious people who can experience surprise or offense when presented with unexpected religious content. People with strong religious belief often look to consult a practitioner or access materials that do not include a spiritual or religious element. Perhaps they are receiving that kind of support in another way or from another person. Perhaps they adhere to a different religion or denomination than the practitioner, and those differences—once they surface—are enough to distract and irritate them.
When a client is paying for an in-person counseling service, or when a customer is purchasing a self-help product such as a book or a marriage course or coaching program, I believe they should know what they are getting, at least to a reasonable extent. Practitioners—therapists, coaches, authors, and marriage experts of every stripe—should be respectful enough of their clients and customers to be transparent about something as personal as belief, and they should be open and honest about whether that factors into their content.
After all, those facing a marriage crisis have already had more than enough surprises and unexpected content in their lives! There is no need for a practitioner to add to that by assuming that their personal belief—religious, political, or otherwise—is the same as their client’s or customer’s, especially when any potential confusion can be avoided by simply being up front about this. Indeed, many marriage practitioners are very clear about their religious approach and content, thus showing respect and professionalism in equal measure.
In any event, if you’re looking for marriage help, be sure to choose an approach that aligns with your personal preferences as well as your specific needs and goals. Do your homework, ask a few questions if necessary, and then make your choice with confidence. That way, the help you’re paying to receive has the best chance of fulfilling its primary purpose—helping you save your marriage. Thank you for reading.
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Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage expert and the founder of Marriage SOS™. Her no-nonsense style, “Fair, but Aware” approach, and 20+ years of experience have made her a resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health.