Relationship Institute Australasia

Counselling and
Professional Training

27 January 2017

Categories: Relationship Help, Gottman Marital Therapy


Marathon Therapy is fast becoming one of the most popular and successful approaches to helping couples through relationship crisis.  It is an approach that I would recommend for all couples presenting with significant relationship distress.  Marathon Therapy usually consists of 2 tor 3 consecutive days of intense, structured, evidence based couples therapy. Marathon Couples' Therapy is a specific type of therapy that is short-term and intensive. Its purpose is to move couples quickly through their current crisis or specific perpetual issue. It is not meant as an on-going, long-term couples' therapy. 

Once a couple has made the decision to engage in marathon therapy it is very important to advise them to try to “call a truce” on any on-going issues in their relationship for the time being.  Marathon therapy is a commitment to re-build their relationship and the process begins right at the time they commit to attending Marathon Couples Therapy.  Whatever issues they are currently struggling with will be addressed over our two days together in a way that allows both parties to feel heard, understood and validated.  Effectively, what this means is that for the next few weeks until we get started the couple can ‘shelve’ their problems knowing that they will be addressed then, and now is an opportunity for them to have a break from working on those concerns and instead focus on what they would like to build once we have effectively dealt with them together.

An assessment is conducted via written and online questionnaires that are sent the couple prior to their marathon.  We ask for all information to be returned at least one week prior to their marathon to allow the therapist time to analyse, formulate and treatment plan, as well as to clarify with the couple any questions that might arise from their assessment information.

During each day, the sessions may include two to three hours of therapy followed by a short break, with 2 or 3 of these sessions conducted per day.  The days and the therapeutic approach are structured depending on the issues to be addressed, the amount of time contracted for the therapy, and the goals that have been identified by the couple.

The structure of each therapy day may vary depending on the couple’s needs, their emotional resiliency, and the issues under discussion. Establishing therapeutic goals and a treatment plan to guide therapy is done collaboratively during the first session of the marathon. Thereafter, all treatment sessions will focus on the problems and goals at hand.

The Marathon Couples' Therapy approach has been demonstrated to have significant benefits for couples. It often leads to a significant reduction of feelings of distress, resolution of specific problems, and a stronger relationship. In many cases, it has moved couples from thinking of ending their relationship to recommitting to it in new ways.  Couples who have engaged in this process in the past have reported that while the 2 or more days were taxing, they were able to process a range of unresolved issues, "leave the baggage behind" and go home with a renewed sense of commitment, closeness and hope for building a closer, more satisfying and intimate relationship together.  On-going web conferencing sessions help to consolidate these gains and reinforce the skilful use of new communication strategies and behaviours.

However, it is important to also understand the risks involved. Despite the "nuts and bolts" approach of this method, the Marathon Couples' Therapy format may move couples more quickly and intensely into the areas of difficulty. Therefore, the therapist must be highly skilled in managing high emotion and emotional flooding especially in dealing with and addressing strong and uncomfortable feelings like sadness, guilt, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and helplessness.

Difficulties between the couple may become temporarily amplified. Family secrets may be disclosed, unspoken resentments and old hurts may arise, and despite the therapist’s best efforts, therapy may not work out well. Thus, there are of course no guarantees about how the therapy process will be or what the outcome will be for the couple’s relationship. In addition, Marathon Couples' Therapy, as with couples' therapy in general, has limitations and may be unadvisable in the following situations:

  • If there is active alcohol and/or drug addiction on the part of either or both partners, from either partner's perspective
  • If there is serious violence in the relationship, threats by one or both partners that serious violence might occur, or fear of such serious violence on the part of one or both partners;
  • If either partner currently has an untreated major mental illness (schizophrenia, recurrent psychotic depression, or bipolar/manic-depressive illness.) This does not include past, successfully treated psychotic episodes (e.g. post-partum depression with psychosis);
  • If there is an undisclosed, current affair that has not been disclosed (such secrets predict marital therapy failure);
  • If there is an on-going affair that the affair partner is not willing to end (unless both parties agree that they are willing to discuss the possibility of a open relationship);
  • If either partner is currently experiencing suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or has a history of serious harm inflicted on him/herself or another person

Upon completion of the therapy, we often prepare a written summary of the therapy process and recommendations for the couple for ongoing support. We may recommend that Marathon Couples' Therapy be followed by couples' therapy conducted in the home locale and will make recommendations about suitably qualified professionals in their area.  Or we may contract to undertake on-going internet consultations.

Over the past 4 years I have conducted more than 80 marathon sessions, generally of 2 days duration, and without exception every couple has reported immediate improvement in their relationship upon completion and over 80% have continued to report improved satisfaction, closeness and intimacy, and ability to manage conflict at 12 month follow-up.  Most couples have reinforced the gains they made by attending either some follow-up sessions, either in person or via web based counselling, or by attending an Art and Science of Love couples workshop.  These couples invariably report that they have learnt that good marriages take on-going work and attention and they have made the commitment to doing this.

For more information about marathon therapy feel free to contact us.  We are also happy to take referrals for couples who may be seeking this approach

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