Why Marriage Help Books Don't Always Work

By: Jon Jaehnig

Updated March 03, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

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A quick search on Amazon shows over 50,000 different marriage help books. If we conservatively estimate the average length to be 50 pages or so, that amounts to about 2 billion words. There's just no way to make me believe that the majority of these aren't total nonsense. Or, just as bad, regurgitating the same ineffectual content.

While numerous couples have certainly benefited from the advice, some of these books contain, just because something is in print doesn't mean that it shouldn't be taken with a pinch of salt.

Of course, that's also true of things written online. At times, this article may seem like it is hostile towards all marriage help books. You might be suspicious that we take this attitude because our website hosts online marriage counseling. This is not the case. The truth is that there are good marriage help books out there, and some people find them very helpful before going to marriage counseling or in addition to marriage counseling. This article isn't telling you never to buy any marriage help books ever; it's just illustrating problems with some marriage help books so that you can avoid these problems if you do go book shopping in the marriage help section.

Publishers And Authors Focus On Book Sales

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Putting out a book is an expensive process involving numerous people, all of whom expect to get paid at some point. One way to ensure that this happens is to have a professional family therapist with a national reputation use his training and experience to write a truly excellent book that will end up becoming a bestseller through offering useful, actionable advice.

There are other ways to boost book sales, though, and not all of them have the reader's best interests at heart. Aggressive marketing, misrepresenting the contents of a book or the credentials of the author, and plastering false testimonials on its cover are all tactics used by the less ethical portion of the publishing industry.

Besides that, an author only cares that someone buys the book. As soon as you pick up that book, they have cash in their pocket whether the book helps you or not. Can you imagine if, when you signed up with your marriage counselor, you paid for all of your counseling sessions in one lump sum before you sat on the couch? By the nature of the arrangement, a marriage counselor has an ongoing interest in the success of the process, not just getting you in the door.

You Don't Need To Be Licensed To Write A Book

Not everyone who writes a self-help book is qualified to do so. That's because you don't need a license to write a book. A lot of publishers will publish marriage help books that are written by licensed and possibly practicing marriage counselors because people are more likely to buy a marriage help book by someone with letters ahead of or behind their name. However, degrees or licenses aren't required to write a book where they are required to practice counseling.

Further, as mentioned above, some publishers will misrepresent authors by crediting them with credentials that they once held or that have since expired. Another classic move is to give vague credentials that don't apply. The book was written by a "Dr.," but they don't tell you that he has a Doctorate in Business.

Further, while degrees don't expire, the knowledge base that earned them can become outdated. If someone isn't working in their field and keeping up to date on advancements and changes in the field, reading a book by someone who got their degree in the seventies can be like reading a book that came out fifty years ago.

If you're in doubt about picking up a marriage help book, choose a book that has received good reviews on a credible platform, or that has been recommended to you by someone that you know and trust. If you're in doubt about the author of a book, don't buy it until you've looked at the author's LinkedIn page or their professional website to see if they are someone worth listening to, or just in the game for money.

Many Marriage Books Don't Age Well

As mentioned above, publishing a book isn't something that happens overnight. Most books, even books on marriage counseling run out of author mills - publishing houses that churn out cheap books with minimal editing - take at least a couple of months to go into production. Any decent book on the topic will take much longer for the author to research and write, not to mention the editing process. This is especially true because a good marriage counseling book will be written by a busy marriage counselor rather than someone who can devote the whole day to writing.

Now, suppose a decent marriage counseling book takes two years from the pen hitting the paper to the book hitting the shelf. In our rapidly advancing technical age, most of us lead drastically different lives now than we did two years ago. In two years, our lives will have changed again. That's part of the reason why Regain promotes marriage counseling and its part of the reason that Regain updates their articles so frequently. Print just can't keep up to the break-neck speed at which our lives change.

If you need marriage counseling, you need a marriage counselor who can think, adapt, and deal with life at the rate that your life changes. No book can do that.

Marriage Help Books Are Often Written From A Particular Perspective

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Many of these books are written from a specific religious viewpoint or somehow assume that the reader shares a set of cultural or societal assumptions with the author.

While there's nothing wrong with this per se, not making this clear at the outset means that anyone reading them will be addressed as if they have a certain kind of background even if this is far from the truth.

There are considerable differences in the conventions and values of different groups of people and even more so between those of individual couples, meaning that that which is useful and appropriate in one situation may not be in another. This is another great reason to look up the author before you buy a book - you want to make sure that they are coming from a place that you can understand, and that applies to you. Don't just read the title, read the subtitle. And the reviews. And the back of the book. If you're buying the book online, most retailers will let you read the introduction, forward, or first chapter. Take advantage of all of this before spending your money.

You also need to be careful of marriage help books that are written exactly from or for your perspective. You might run into the opposite problem: If the book seems like it's written about you, it might not have anything to teach you. It might not include anything that you haven't already tried or that you haven't already thought of.

A kind of variation of the problem of books written from a particular viewpoint is the problem of books that are based only on case studies. These books often ignore the entire body of knowledge that professional therapists have built up over decades in exchange for the body of knowledge that the author may have accumulated over the case or a limited number of cases that the author explores. In this case, the advice that the book presents may be perfectly suited to one couple in twenty, but pointless or even counterproductive in the majority of cases.

Reading A Book Can Become A Bad Substitute For Real Action

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There are at least two essential aspects of improving a good marriage or repairing a bad one: knowing what's lacking and doing what's needed. It's often the first part that causes problems with the second part. When a relationship doesn't feel like it's as strong as it should be, it's easy to feel like there's something wrong and that can put us in problem-solving mode. Most marriage help books take this assumption as well, but it isn't always the case, and when it's not the case operating under that assumption can be harmful. Much of the time, the relationship isn't weak because something's wrong, but because something is missing. And if you try to fix a problem that doesn't exist, it doesn't only miss the point; it can create new problems that weren't there before.

A good book on relationships may help in determining the first part of that equation, then what's the wrong part. However, if nothing is wrong, the book can't help you and if something is wrong, you probably already know what it is. Knowing what's missing is much more difficult, and that's where the therapist fills a role that a book just can't.

The latter part of the problem, what to do about the problem, is the one that takes courage and effort to achieve. The gap between theory and practice can be immense, and the most a book can do is make a few suggestions about approaches and exercises you and your partner can apply. Going for therapy, by contrast, is a more immersive process where your counselor can help guide you in the right direction, rather than going around in analytic circles without ever doing anything.

Going Beyond Marriage Help Books

As discussed above, this article shouldn't scare you away from all marriage help books. All it should do is help to steer you towards the right marriage help book for you.

That being said, the title of this article is still true. Marriage help books don't always work. That might not be just because you've purchased a bad book. Your relationship might simply need a bit more help than that book can offer.

If your marriage seems to be doing less well than it should, no book can be a suitable substitute for real counseling from a licensed practitioner. For more information about how online marriage counseling works and how it can work for you, click on the link provided.

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