Jill Lepore takes aim at marriage counseling:

Up to eighty per cent of therapists practice couples therapy. Today, something like forty per cent of would-be husbands and wives receive premarital counselling, often pastoral, and millions of married couples seek therapy. Doubtless, many receive a great deal of help, expert and caring. Nevertheless, a 1995 Consumer Reports survey ranked marriage counsellors last, among providers of mental-health services, in achieving results.

And, as Rebecca L. Davis observes in an astute, engaging, and disturbing history, “More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss” (Harvard; $29.95), the rise of couples counselling has both coincided with and contributed to a larger shift in American life: heightened expectations for marriage as a means of self-expression and personal fulfillment. That would seem to make for an endlessly exploitable clientele, especially given that there’s not much profit in pointing out that some thingslike the unglamorous and blessed ordinariness of buttering the toast every morning for someone you’re terribly fond ofjust don’t get any better. Not everything admits of improvement.

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