Can you recommend a good relationship counselor in the Bay Area?
January 29, 2012 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a good relationship counselor in the Bay Area?

My two big questions: "Where, among all people who are unsatisfied with their marriages, do I fall on the happiness distribution?" In other words, I'm hoping there's been some survey of people and their feelings, possibly with a later followup to compare earlier scores with later relationship outcomes, that I can compare myself to.

"Are there any situations in an average hetero marriage (i.e. no abuse or drugs or anything externally obvious) in which a separation leads to a better outcome for a child? (assuming shared custody)" In other words, I'm willing to stay together for a while even if the relationship can't be totally fixed if it makes enough positive difference for our child. If I'm just bored/restless, maybe I'll get over it?

I don't know a lot about this area, but I think I'm looking for someone with a PhD, maybe they're affiliated with a university, and not looking for someone who will take a religious/spiritual approach, either traditional or new agey. I really am more interested in data and studies than in schools of thought.

I'm not looking for someone to fix the relationship necessarily, but to help me understand my options (hence the anonymity). I eventually want to see this person (or someone else) with my SO, but I think I need to talk to someone first. Email if you need more info.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (3 answers total)
I find your questions confusing. Statistics averaged over many data points doesn't tell you as much about your individual situation as trying to understand what is actually going on in your relationship.

That said, you might find John Gottman's research to be interesting and insightful. He did very detailed analysis of the interactions between partners in both good and troubled relationships. He wrote books about how to use his findings to assess and improve your own relationship. I suggest that you start with his Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. If you read the books and like them, you can then go find a therapist who is trained in his approach. There are lots of resources at Gottman's website
posted by metahawk at 9:52 PM on January 29, 2012

I don't think you're likely to find a study that looks at what you're looking at, for several reasons:

First is difficulty of measuring happiness, especially comparatively. You can look at changes in someone's self-reported happiness, although it's worth note that those are almost trivially manipulable by small changes to the environment (light, colors, warmth, smile from receptionist) - not on a large scale (9 to 4) but on a small scale (say, 9 to 8). In addition, most studies of happiness show that people have a typical happiness level that they return to after time regardless of what changes in their lives. So any long-term change is going to be minor, and it becomes very difficult to separate out a real effect from an artifact of the study.

Second, "relationship outcome". Stayed together? Stayed together and were happier? Stayed together and were still dis-satisfied? Stayed together and were happy but still had a lot of arguments? Stayed together and started doing more separate activities? Stayed together 'for the children'? I don't know what sort of results you're looking for here or how it would be measured quantitatively. This is the main reason why, as metahawk says, it wouldn't tell you much about your individual situation or solutions that you might try.

Finally, one example of how even huge changes don't affect self-reported happiness: I do not have a citation for this, and it is surely prone to the same problems in measuring happiness as any other study (self-reported, environmental effects, etc) but I did read (in some relationship health book) that most couples who are teetering on the edge of whether or not to divorce end up happier again six months later - at the same happiness level whether they get divorced or not. So the couples who hit a rough patch and stayed together, they worked on it, external stressors went away, and they ended up as happy as they would have been if they'd split.

In short, I agree that you'd be better served finding a good counselor or doing some individual research and thinking about what is making you unhappy and what might be do-able to fix that.
posted by Lady Li at 10:56 PM on January 29, 2012

I went here, but I have to say in advance that she won't answer your questions, and I kinda doubt that any other relationship councilor will either. (Trust me, I came at it from your point of view.) Relationship councilors work from the perspective that the people involved want to stay together.

If you're looking for a councilor who will tell you how and when to leave, I'd recommend an individual councilor. Even then they won't answer your questions, but they'll be more likely to be able to guide you to answering them for yourself. (Again, I relate.)
posted by lekvar at 5:57 PM on January 30, 2012

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