I just received an email a couple of days ago from a woman who said I was charging too much money for my services. If you have ever wondered why marriage coaches, therapists, counsellors, etc. charge so much money, or if you’ve ever wondered that about me, this blog post is for you. Yes, I am going to be talking about taboo topics. I figure, I already talk about sex, so I may as well throw money in there too! I want to just be brutally honest and open with you about how I feel about this and I hope it will make you think a little bit about what our culture and society perceives as good value.
For context, this particular woman’s thoughts were that I was charging too much money for my Marriage Mastery program, which costs $197 per month. That totals to be around $2,400 for the year. I think there’s a greater discussion to have than just what I’m charging in my own practice, so I want to start by talking about how we make decisions to use our money.
We make decisions based on perceived value, eliminating pain, and increase in status. Let me be really clear about this; the reason you see so many couples waiting and waiting to get help for their marriages – unfortunately until usually, it’s too late – and why you see most therapists focusing on couples “in crisis”, is because their pain finally got so great that they could justify spending real money on it. Interestingly enough, divorce usually costs way more than the amount of money it would have taken earlier on for prevention of divorce, and that’s not even taking into account the emotional cost.
Usually, this point of crisis, when divorce is just around the corner and the pain is so great… that’s when couples begin to imagine that they can spend that kind of money. The unfortunate thing in our culture is that marriage support or education is seen to decrease your status. Let’s look at other purchases for example: buying a new TV increases your status. Buying a new car increases your status. I spend almost $10,000 a year on business coaching, and that is seen to increase your status. I have a successful business. I have a profitable business. I am successful. All of those things will increase your status.
It’d be really interesting for you to just think about some of the things that you’ve spent money on recently. For me, combined with our two vehicles, we probably pay just about over $200 a month on car insurance. I need a car. If I don’t have a car, that increases my pain. I have to walk everywhere, or take the bus. Also, it significantly lowers my status in society if I don’t have a car. That purchase will actually do both of those things for me. We recently went on a trip and it started to snow and low and behold, our tires were not holding up to the snow. We spent $800 on new tires. I didn’t really think too much about it. It was just something I needed to do.
Here’s one interesting thing; I don’t want to be a hypocrite and say that I don’t struggle with this too. There is a work weekend marriage retreat that I have kind of been lusting after going to (yes, marriage coaches do work on their marriages as well!). This one is all around intimacy, and it’s got a really exciting angle and I just really want to go. It costs $3,000 for the weekend away. Some of you might gasp, “Ah, how could it cost $3,000 for a weekend?!” Well, interestingly enough, instead of spending that money on that weekend retreat, we chose to spend that money on a week away in Cuba. We went on a family vacation.
We were able to see the perceived value of a vacation much clearer than a weekend marriage retreat. What will this workshop do exactly? In fact, it might even make things worse, because we have a tendency to believe (and it’s perpetrated through the media and culture) that therapy will actually create more problems. If you pay attention, you’ll see that storyline played out again and again on TV or in movies. Therapy is perceived to decrease your status. “I have to go to a shrink. There’s something wrong with me.” So, instead of going to the marriage retreat, I chose to increase my status. I went on a vacation. “Here are my photos, my happy family in Cuba.” I get likes on Facebook and Instagram, and that increases my status in society. Telling people I went to a marriage workshop actually decreases my status in society because now there’s something wrong with my marriage. I’m not in enough pain in my marriage to need a workshop. This isn’t an, “emergency SOS, I don’t care how much it costs, I will pay anything to have it fixed” situation, which again, unfortunately, is usually too late.
That’s why you see the failure rate of marriage therapy as something astronomical, like 80%. It’s not because there’s anything wrong with the therapy, it’s that the people who are going to the therapy are so far down the wrong path, having years and years of very hurtful things said to each other, and a lot of very destructive patterns running so deep in their relationship and they’re in such a negative spiral, that they just can’t come out of it. The wrong couples are looking for help and the therapists just aren’t getting there in time.
What I am offering is a return on investment, which is my job. I clearly acknowledge and show people what the return on investment could possibly be – that’s my voice, that’s my marketing, that’s the way I position things. I have to do it in a way that is clear what the value will be. I have to show testimonials and examples of other couples who have gone through that process and have gotten the value out of it. I have to emulate it in my own marriage and be open and vulnerable about what’s going on in my relationship.
I have to continue to grow my marriage so indeed, I am living the marriage that I am offering. You see, it is so much more than the price.
My industry is not unique to the problem of being “too late”. When you think about any preventative health industry, they also have the same issue. I have a naturopathic doctor that I see pretty regularly. I would like to say that I see her once a month for prevention and for focus on the future, but I’m not quite there yet. It’s only when things are wrong that I go and make sure I have an appointment. The same can be said for the dentist… so many people put off going to the dentist for regular cleanings, and then end up having to have root canals or have to have teeth pulled from decay that could’ve been prevented by going for cleanings regularly.
Another point, is that from a psychological perspective, depending on what we invest in, we put into. Here’s an example. When I gave discounts in the past, or I did a sliding scale or “on the cheap” kind of sessions, those couples got the worst results. They didn’t show up for sessions on time. They didn’t book their sessions in order. They didn’t do their homework. They didn’t value what we were doing together. I saw it in my life as well. I was going to see an amazing practitioner. She was doing some allergy elimination techniques (alternate medicine but extremely helpful), and she discounted our rate at one point, to $50 a session. Wouldn’t you know… over a period of time, I started to stop taking her recommendations. I stopped wanting to see her consistently. I stopped valuing what we were doing together. My other homeopathic doctor who charges $97 a session, I am still seeing. The $50 one, I’m not seeing. I’m not following her recommendations, even though they were amazing. The $97 one, every time we have a session, I really think, “Okay, my skin is in the game. I’m here. I’m participating.”
There’s also psychology behind success as well. At the end of the day, I have to make sure that I am cheerleading for the success of the couples I work with. I am not doing anybody any favours for their own success by undercharging. Not only would I be unable create a sustainable business and just be working at Starbucks in the end and not helping anyone at all, but also, the couples who come see me aren’t going to take it as seriously as they would if they were really investing money into it.
I think this is an important conversation to have. We live in a really messed up society around value and so somehow, $2,500 is way too much to spend on marriage education and support, but yet $10,000 is an acceptable amount to pay for business coaching. There’s way more behind the scenes here. If you’re actually in a position where you just can not afford it, I get it. We had single income for many, many years and there were times in my life where I literally could not afford it. But, there were also times in my life where I could afford something, but I was making a choice not to. It wasn’t a priority.
That’s okay! You’re allowed to say that marriage education and support is not a priority for me right now. There’s no guilt or shame in that, but just call it what it is. And if you’re really at the point where you can’t afford it, books are the way to go. They are the cheapest way to get help. I’ve read millions of them. I am happy to make recommendations for you! Here are a few:
Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson (my absolute FAVOURITE).
Fighting for Your Marriage by Howard J. Markman, Scott M. Stanley, and Susan L. Blumberg.
Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.
You can afford a book. Yes, you’re going to have to do it all on your own. Yes, you won’t have the accountability. Yes, your partner might not be as involved in it but, it’s an option.
Again, I have issues with where to spend money and how much as well. I really want to get to that workshop. It does cost $3,000. It’s something I’ll have to make a priority, just like I made that Cuba vacation a priority. I hope this post has maybe opened your eyes to some of the psychology behind our financial decisions, and that it has helped you understand better what your priorities really are. Ultimately, it is up to you!