The dark past of marriage counseling

Marriage counseling is often sought when a relationship has become strained and consistent signs of trouble between the two parties have arisen. When a spouse’s dark past rears its ugly head, conflict can ensue. However, the dark past of marriage counseling was recently revealed in an article published by The New Yorker. Couples counseling finds its roots in eugenics, a far cry from where we find it today.

Formerly, marriage counseling was directed at racial purity. It started in Germany in the 1920s and spread to the United States in the 1930s. In 1935, Abraham and Hannah Stone published a book called A Marriage Manual, which discusses, for example, planned parenthood. This book promotes eugenic sterilization, also called negative eugenics, and is aimed at lowering fertility among the “genetically disadvantaged.” More generally, negative eugenics could include sterilization, abortion or other “family planning” methods. However, despite the promotion of these methods for those seen as genetically disadvantaged, abortion was illegal for those seen as genetically fit.

The beginning of the marriage counseling with a strong family focus that we see today did not actually start until the 1950s. Marriage counseling is really only a recent phenomenon that is only beginning to lose its status as a taboo topic. Few individuals are open about the fact that they have sought marriage counseling or are considering it.

Although some couples might see marriage counseling as a last resort or something for individuals weaker than themselves, the discomfort felt around the topic of counseling is more because of pride than it is from knowledge of the history of this practice. Despite the stigmas that still loom around marriage counseling, more and more couples are seeking out professional help. Some feel that there is still shame surrounding the idea of getting help to strengthen a marriage. But just as you call an accountant to do your taxes, an electrician to fix your wiring or a plumber to fix your water heater, why not also call a marriage counselor when your marriage needs some help? The ability to swallow some pride and see a therapist can have serious benefits for a couple’s relationship. People can find communication improved or strength in a faltering relationship or can get help to end a fruitless relationship. Goals and roles can be clarified or redefined through this process, offering a place that is safe for the couple to voice concerns and admit their own faults.

When couples are looking into the possibility of seeking a therapist, they are more likely to search the Internet than they are to ask their friends. It is unlikely that our parents ever even thought of marriage counseling as a real possibility for themselves. However, the current generation sees it in a much different light.

Admitting the need for counseling is difficult, but it is a far more real possibility for couples today than it ever has been in the last 50 years. Out of something that had such dark motivations at its origins has come one of the greatest hopes for floundering marriages and the couples who find themselves struggling to maintain a relationship in a world where divorce is such a real and common thing.

There is a lot of hope found in the redemption that marriage counseling found in the 20th century. The dark past is almost forgotten, and although the roots of marriage counseling were planted in the concept of genetic purity, the current practice of providing support and care for couples is an asset for those looking to create a strong and healthy relationship with their spouse. Marriage counselors are no longer the enforcers of keeping the population “genetically fit,” but rather they empower those in the relationship to take control of their own destiny and make vital decisions.