When Do You Need Marriage Counseling?

Couples seek marriage counseling for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to infidelity and issues with communication, or for pre-marital counseling. According to research by Dr. John Gottman, an expert in the field of marriage therapy, the average couple waits 6 years before seeking help for marital problems. Yet, half of all marriages that end do so in the first seven years. Waiting too long to seek marriage counseling allows negative patterns of interaction, as well as resentment, to build up over time. This often results in divorce or separation that could have been prevented with marriage counseling earlier in the relationship. If both partners are willing to commit to each other and to the process, marriage counseling programs have a high rate of effectiveness in helping them recover from most relationship issues.

When is the right time to consider marriage counseling services? Here are some signs you may need to act fast:

There is negative communication or no communication at all.

Negative communication includes anything that leaves one partner feeling emotionally drained, judged, shamed, and insecure. Negative communication also includes your tone; it is not always what you say, but how you say it that matters. In relationships, negative communication can escalate into emotional abuse.

Furthermore, while maintaining healthy communication can become a challenge in the strenuous livee of a modern married couple, major problems arise when there is no communication at all. A marriage counselor can help you discover new ways to communicate with each other. Once communication is lost, it is hard to get it back, so you need to act fast.

You are afraid to express your thoughts.

It becomes a problem for the relationship when one or both partners is afraid of talking. This may involve anything from expressing thoughts about everyday activities to discussing money, or even annoying habits. A marriage counselor will help you and your partner put thoughts into words in a healthy way within a safe environment and will help you understand what you are truly talking about and accept each other’s thoughts respectfully.

Partners see each other as enemies.

You and your partner are on the same team, providing each other with support and someone to lean on. If it begins to feel as if you are enemies, constantly at odds, then it is time to seek help from a professional to guide your marriage’s recovery.

Partners keep secrets from each other.

Not spending 24 hours a day with each other and enjoying different habits may be beneficial for the relationship, but when partners keep secrets from each other, something isn’t right.

One partner has had an affair or is fantasizing about one.

Having an affair or fantasizing about one may be a signal that you want something different from what you have. While it is possible for a married couple to survive after one partner has had an affair, it is better to get professional help before acting upon your thoughts. When both of you are honest and committed to the counseling process, the marriage may still be repaired.

One of the partners has lost financial control.

Losing control of your finances can be just as damaging to your marriage as a sexual affair. If one partner keeps the other in the dark about spending money or needs to control everything, then the matter should be discussed over counseling so it can be solved.

Partners argue over the same things over and over again.

Everyone has their own behaviors and things that drive other people crazy. Small things, like laundry and untidiness, among others, can be the cause of fights. Partners don’t always recognize why these fights keep happening or what they can do about it. A marriage counselor can help you and your partner discuss these issues and figure out the real cause of your problems.

A partner feels that everything would be okay if the other person changed.

You need to keep in mind that the only person you can change is yourself. If you are waiting for your partner to change, you will be waiting forever. When you seek marriage counseling, your counselor will help you better understand who you are and what your goals are.

Act fast when there is:

Toxicity

When communication is absent, one or both partners consistently react negatively to the other, and any efforts to resolve issues become a negative experience. That being said, toxicity in relationships includes physical and emotional abuse. If your relationship has reached this point, act fast and seek help before it progresses to the next stage.

A Frozen Marriage

After a while, toxicity freezes your marriage. This means all arguments and breaks in trust are preserved, leading your marriage to plateau. If you are in this phase, seek help fast and let a marriage counselor help both of you find the willingness to try again.

What Not To Do

According to the literature, distressed couples take an average of 6 years to decide to seek marriage counseling. Waiting too long to receive professional help allows negativity to become a habit. Years of negative interaction can damage your marriage, creating a toxic relationship with mistrust, resentment, and avoidance that can be difficult to heal. The sooner you break this habit, the better. Any couple can reach a positive outcome through marriage counseling,  and getting help sooner rather than later is an investment for you and your partner.

How Counseling Can Help Your Marriage

You may feel that your marriage is constantly challenged and are seeking counseling in the hope of turning things around. At this moment, you may be wondering whether marriage counseling can really help and whether it is worth the time and money. If dysfunctional patterns of behavior are identified early, the process of change can begin. A married couple will begin to explore their problems from a new perspective and will recognize and resolve conflicts. Partners will build trust and improve their communication, and this, in turn, will lead to healthier interactions. All this is the result of marriage counseling. In a safe environment, both of you can decide to repair your marriage and start over or end the marriage and move on. Furthermore, you can:

Improve communication.

One of the goals of marriage counseling is to improve communication. Whether you are newly married or are new parents, maintaining healthy communication is key. Through marriage counseling, you will learn specific skills and techniques that will help both of you listen, understand, and respond to one another effectively, respectfully, and with more empathy. Your counselor will initially help you practice these skills in your sessions, and then you will be asked to practice them at home. Over time, you and your partner will learn new healthy and respectful ways to interact with each other.

Improve intimacy.

To be intimate it means to be open, vulnerable, and able to share your thoughts and emotions. Marriage counseling will help you improve intimacy so that you can both feel safe and have fun. Sex will no longer feel like a chore, and the relationship will make you feel both satisfied and complete. Through marriage counseling, you and your partner will learn how to feel more connected to each other, both physically and emotionally.

Transform a boring marriage into a fun marriage.

Marriage counseling is not always about problems. In fact, some couples seek counseling because they just feel bored. It is important to always try to bring fun and excitement back into your relationship. Marriage counseling will help both of you discover new interests and experiences you can share with one another. Having fun in your marriage will make you fall in love with your partner all over again.

Now that you know all about marriage counseling, let me help you make your choice.

Choose your style of counseling.

There are many different therapeutic approaches out there. What you need is a marriage counselor who is experienced and knowledgeable, but who is also a professional who does not try to impose a static approach. There are several methods out there, but a skilled professional will be able to use a variety of methods to meet your needs and ensure the best results. Marriage counseling is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it should be tailored to your needs.

Spend your money wisely.

Most couples want to save money and feel like they are getting a good deal, but at the end of the day, you get what you pay for. Think of the cost of marriage counseling as an investment. If you put your money into a profitable investment, you will earn positive returns. Spending your money wisely by choosing a highly skilled professional ensures that you get results. You are not only increasing your chances for a positive outcome, you are also saving money in the long run.

Your relationship is what matters most!

You may have been together for some time, and your marriage has problems, but you love your partner so much that you still want to spend the rest of your life with them. A marriage counselor will help both of you look closely at your problems. Through marriage counseling, your marital life will be assessed, and you will understand any problems that exist and how they are impacting your relationship. You will open up and share your problems while the skills you gain—empathetic listening, understanding, and forgiving—heal your marriage. The most important thing is your own commitment and the will for personal growth, even during the most vulnerable of times.

References:

John Gottman, Ph.D., (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy (Norton Professional Books), WW Norton & Company, Inc., p. 6.

Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. Random House: New York.

How Successful Is Marriage Counseling?

First, let’s discuss the reasons that drive couples to seek marriage counseling. Many couples consider getting help when the tide is high and commit to marriage counseling when their issues are at their peak. Problems in marriages come in all shapes and sizes, the most common being physical and emotional abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, mental health problems, finances, and poor communication. However, there are also married couples who simply want to make their relationship stronger. Whatever the case, there are times when marriage counseling does not work, like when the physical and emotional safety of one or both partners is threatened. This is usually in cases of domestic violence. For a wide array of other problems, marriage counseling can be the solution.

Before committing to counseling, be clear about what you want from it. Most couples commit to marriage counseling after problems have been building up for months, or even years. It is no surprise that some professionals say the average couple waits six years longer than they should to begin marriage counseling. Therefore, it is important to know what you want from the beginning. Are you and your partner both committed to be truthful and to the process of saving your marriage, no matter how much work it takes? Or is one or both of you leading the marriage to a divorce? Answering the questions will help you define what success looks like and realize your goals for marriage counseling services.

Let’s have a look at the relevant research and see how successful marriage counseling is.

A study in 1991 compared the outcomes of two types of counseling on 55 couples and found out that between 58% and 61% of couples improved from the beginning of counseling to their follow-up 6 months after counseling finished.

According to research conducted by Lundblad and Hansson (2006), couples therapy contributed to improved relationships, improved individual mental health, and enhanced coping abilities for couples involved in the study. In fact, emotion-focused therapy (an experiential and evidence-based model for treating couples) is 75 percent effective, according to the American Psychological Association. In addition to your therapist using evidence-based models to improve your relationship, the success of marriage counseling is directly related to the dedication and commitment of both partners. Without participation from both partners during sessions, as well as outside of therapy, couples may not achieve the results they hope for.

Results from a 2010 study of 134 married couples with serious chronic distress show that 48% of the couples involved displayed clinically significant improvement at 5 years after receiving 26 weekly sessions.

Another study suggests that most married couples who take marriage counseling will have better immediate gains at the conclusion of counseling than 70-80% of couples who do not receive counseling. Other research suggests that marriage counseling has positive results on 70% of couples receiving counseling from a trained marriage counselor.

In a survey from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, 98% of people said they received good or excellent therapy, while 97% said they got the help they needed. One study showed that 80% of those who made and retained gains over two years and even 100% of those who relapsed said that marriage counseling had a positive impact on them.

Finally, research on the treatment of couples in distress in 2012 revealed that that couples therapy positively impacts 70% of couples who receive it.

As you look at marriage counseling statistics and wonder whether marriage counseling will work for you and your partner, remember that most couples don’t go to counseling until their problems have become severe and their marriage is likely heading for divorce. For the best chance of repairing your marriage, you need to commit to marriage counseling as early as possible. While marriage counseling statistics for a particular method may look good, you need to understand that what works for other couples may or may not work for you and your partner. You need to consider yourself, your partner, your therapist, your specific marital problems, the environment you live in, finances, and other factors that can be difficult to determine. The outcome of marriage counseling cannot be calculated, but success comes down to your commitment and willingness to make it happen.

Types of Marriage Counseling

Now you may have questions about what type of marriage counseling is right for you. Research suggests that different problems are better treated by different kinds of therapy. First of all, it is important to look for a counselor who is experienced and highly qualified in the treatment that suits your needs. A well-educated and highly experienced professional will help you choose the best technique for your needs. Most counselors take an eclectic approach to marriage counseling, meaning that they borrow components from different treatment approaches to meet a couple’s needs. Below, you can find the most common therapeutic approaches to marriage counseling.

Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy

This approach focuses on emotional acceptance and behavioral changes, helping couples recognize their ineffective behaviors and the interactions that are harming their relationship.

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)

These techniques focus on a couple’s emotions, creating secure and safe attachment bonds, resilience, and healthy relationships.

Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT)

BCT focuses on helping partners understand how their behavior influences each other. Statistics drawn from 30 randomized experiments comparing behavioral marital therapy (BMT) to no treatment suggest that behavioral couples therapy yields more benefits than no treatment.

Traditional Behavioral Couples Therapy (TBCT)

This approach focuses on creating stronger communication and enhancing both partners’ problem-solving skills.

Discernment Counseling

Discernment counseling addresses the needs of couples when one partner is considering divorce and the other wants to work on saving the marriage. The main purpose of discernment counseling is to clarify each partner’s thoughts and whether there is a desire to work on their marriage. If a couple chooses to work on their marriage, the counselor will proceed to a more extensive therapeutic plan.

The Gottman Approach

The Gottman approach helps couples build a stronger relationship by teaching partners to attune themselves to each other’s needs. The Gottman approach really helps partners grow in trust and commitment while learning to become more emotionally intelligent.

So, How Successful is Marriage Counseling?

Most marriages go through periods of severe crisis where divorce is a likely outcome. Statistics regarding marriage counseling can help you decide whether or not you want to commit to marriage counseling. Successful marriage counseling is determined by several other factors, such as how early the couple begins counseling, if the type of counseling chosen is ideal for their needs, and if they are both willing and fully committed to work hard to repair their marriage. Working hard to save your marriage requires commitment, will, and communication. Additionally, it requires that each partner contributes in a healthy, positive, and productive way. Also, success is more likely when you, your partner, and your counselor communicate honestly, truthfully, and openly with each other. Couples who communicate well with their counselors are most likely to achieve the desired results. Giving feedback while being open to receiving it will help you and your counselor know what does and does not work for you and address concerns you may encounter along the way.

Increase Your Chances of Success With These Tips

There are things couples can do to ensure success in marriage counseling. First of all, marriage counseling takes a lot of work and requires constant effort from both partners. Many couples receive counseling for two or three sessions and expect miracles. If they don’t see an improvement, they quit. If you quit counseling too soon, therapy will not work, and it’s likely that neither will your marriage.

Also, couples often go into counseling with common goals, but during the course of their sessions, one partner is focusing on how to fix their partner or what they are not getting from their partner. If you go into counseling with this mindset, how can you focus on your own growth? How can you learn to be patient and assertive? How can you be open and expressive? It doesn’t matter if you feel that it’s unfair. Marriage counseling provides an opportunity for both partners to grow and improve. You are only responsible for yourself. Your partner will be responsible for him or herself.

Always commit to marriage counseling with realistic expectations. Just like unrealistic expectations may have led your marriage to the point of destruction, unrealistic expectations for counseling will affect therapy, too. Don’t expect miracles from one day to another, and don’t expect your partner to fix your marriage on their own. This also rings true when you are looking at the numbers. What you can take away from the statistics is that marriage counseling can really help you and your partner improve your marriage. But it is just that. Don’t expect miracles. Like anything else, marriage counseling pays off when you work constantly and not just during the sessions. Even after ending therapy, you and your partner still need to put in daily effort not to let your marriage deteriorate again.

References:

Andrew Christensen, Ph.D., et al., (2010). “Marital Status and Satisfaction Five Years Following a Randomized Clinical Trial Comparing Traditional Versus Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 78 (2).

Douglas K. Snyder, Ph.D., et al., (1991). “Long-Term Effectiveness of Behavioral Versus Insight-Oriented Marital Therapy: A 4-Year Follow-Up Study,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 59 (1).

John Gottman, Ph.D., (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy (Norton Professional Books), WW Norton & Company, Inc., P. 6.

Lebow JL, Chambers AL, Christensen A, Johnson SM. (2012). Research on the treatment of couple distress. J Marital Fam Ther.; 38(1):145-168. doi:10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x.

Lundblad, A. M., & Hansson, K. (2006). Couples therapy: effectiveness of treatment and long‐term follow‐up. Journal of family therapy, 28(2), 136-152.

Marriage and Family Therapist: The Family-Friendly Mental Health Professionals, www.aamft.org.

Shadish, W. R., & Baldwin, S. A. (2003). Meta-analysis of MFT interventions. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29, 547–570.