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10 Tough Love Advice From Marriage Therapists

A marriage therapist’s job is to listen to couples’ frustrations and try to help each spouse work through his or her issues. Sometimes, that requires doling out some tough love, hard-to-hear advice.

Below, 10 marriage therapists share the most blunt — but constructive! — piece of advice they’ve ever given a couple during a session.

“A couple had struggled for a long time with the following stubborn pattern: their arguments started innocently over minor things. Despite the couple’s best efforts, the tension escalated until the man was raging at his wife, leaving her afraid and ashamed. Then she would regain her courage and wall herself off from her husband, freezing him out. The wife’s frustration and hurt had grown to the point that she was just about ready to leave their 22-year marriage when I suggested the following: The husband wrote out five checks of incrementally increasing amounts to a cause he despised (in this case, the Republican Party). The couple agreed that the wife would send in the first check for $10 if he raged at her once, the second check for $20 if he raged again and so on and so forth. The raging stopped. The wife held onto the checks for years but they were never sent in! ” — Bonnie Ray Kennan, marriage and family therapist

“In my 35 years as a therapist, I have discovered that when one or both people have significant individual problems (an affair, depression or substance abuse, for example), we need to meet individually and straighten it out before I can really focus on the couple’s problems. I tell the spouses, ‘To begin marriage counseling without going through this process will be a waste of time, money and energy on the part of everyone.’ It simply isn’t possible to try to deal with major personal issues, and say, an affair, at the same time. Once both of partners are in a better place individually, we can began to tackle and hopefully resolve the relationship problems together.” — Beatty Cohan, psychotherapist, author of For Better, for Worse, Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love

“Couples all too often get caught up in the conflict and being right and lose sight of the triggering issue. When this happens, I tell them, ‘Give up on being right. Recognize this does not make you wrong! Do not deny your partner’s perspective to avoid being wrong. Be a good partner by validating his experience and understanding why he felt hurt. Give up on being right and focus on your partner and the relationship. Work on being connected instead of being right.'” — Anne Crowley, psychologist