How Long Does Marriage Counseling Last?

Before we start talking about how long marriage counseling lasts, we need to understand a few things about marriage counseling. If you are considering marriage counseling but are unsure whether it will work, you are not alone. There are many questions you may have, but let’s address the most common questions regarding marriage counseling.

Why are so many people still skeptical about marriage counseling?

Understandably, many people who are skeptical about marriage counseling worry about its effectiveness. It is a fact that before the 1980s, most methods used in marriage counseling had limited success. The average success was about 50% and counseling taught useful skills like how to listen and understand each other. The good news is that with new methods, marriage counseling is now over 75 percent effectiveness, according to statistics from the American Psychological Association. But what about other 25 percent? Married couples in abusive relationships should not expect improvements from counseling until the abuse ends. At that time, separate therapy sessions for each partner are ideal in order to work toward self-control and safety. Furthermore, specific types of marriage counseling requiring secure attachment are not recommended for couples in the process of separating.

How can a couple improve their chances of success?

Marriage counseling is most likely to be successful when the two partners are willing to learn the skills and become more self-aware, as well as emotionally vulnerable and understanding of each other. Many people have difficulty distinguishing emotions from thoughts; however, communication skills can be learned with a little bit of effort. Another important thing to increase your chances of success is that you and your partner stop seeing each other as opponents, but rather as teammates working to improve your relationship. Another important factor in successful marriage counseling is empathy. Both of you need to have empathy and feel for your  partner to be able to understand their emotions and vulnerabilities.

Finally, another prerequisite is for partners to be willing to work on the part they play in the relationship’s problems and the process of healing their marriage. Many couples come to marriage counseling with a list of complaints about their partner, expecting the counselor to validate their complaints. Although, most of the time, these complaints are valid, nothing can be resolved unless both individuals commit to working on their own behavior.

How long does marriage counseling take?

The length of marriage counseling can vary based on the counselor’s choice of treatment model, as well as the strength of the couple’s commitment to therapy. Some couples can get what they need in as little as 4 to 6 sessions. There are often couples who need just a little push to improve communication, meet common goals, or solve day-to-day problems centered around parenting, responsibilities, and so on. Sometimes, married couples face more complicated problems or there are other issues that require longer-term therapy.

At Relationship Counseling Group, our clinicians use a variety of evidence-based models, including the Gottman Method and Emotional Focus Therapy (EFT) to assist clients in meeting their goals. Your commitment to therapy contributes to the overall success of marriage therapy. Weekly sessions are recommended, especially early on in treatment, so that both partners can learn new skills and implement them in everyday practice. Some couples may prefer biweekly or even monthly sessions, though this often means much slower progress. It is imperative that couples seek marriage counseling sooner rather than later, as timing is essential when it comes to solving persistent problems in your relationship.

Increasing Recovery Speed

Many couples wonder how long marriage counseling takes to work. The best marriage counseling is strategic and focused on helping a married couple reach their goals. Without plans and goals in mind, marriage counseling can turn into an opportunity for partners to bash each other instead of treating their problems. It is also important to find a good marriage counselor who uses evidence-based models of marriage counseling to ensure that couples are hitting their milestones. 

Speeding Up Sessions

In terms of counseling sessions, couples usually start out by attending sessions weekly, then every other week as they start making positive changes and focus putting the things they discuss in sessions into practice. Sometimes, even after successful counseling, couples still like to schedule periodic sessions focused on maintaining the quality of their marriage.

Factors That Affect Time in Counseling

Sometimes, over the course of marriage counseling, partners find that part of the problem affecting their marriage is that one or both partners may be struggling with more serious issues. For example, substance abuse and mental health illnesses can have a major impact on a marriage. In these cases, it is necessary to have longer-term counseling for marriage, as well as individual therapy for each partner.

Partners’ learning styles are also a factor that affects how long marriage counseling will take. For example, partners who consistently take an active part in sessions, complete their homework, and follow through on the things that are discussed into therapy are typically going to need less time to repair their marriage.

Willingness and commitment to the process are also important. Partners who are committed to attending weekly sessions will move through the process faster. It’s like doing private tutoring or going to the gym. When you do things consistently and frequently, you will see greater results. This makes it important for couples to make counseling sessions their priority.

The healing process will be enhanced when both partners are truthful about what they want. If one participant is ambivalent about their goals, it will create discomfort and eventually diminish their hopes for success. If there is ambivalence or even a slight doubt, this must be resolved before committing to marriage counseling. This will increase your chances of success and will reduce the overall time involved in marriage counseling.

Fact Sheet

  • High levels of satisfaction.

According to a survey by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, families and couples who have attended family or couples counseling sessions indicate high levels of satisfaction. Over 98 percent of those who took part in the survey reported that they received good or excellent couples counseling, and over 97 percent of them said they got the help they needed. After working with a marriage or family counselor, 93 percent of couples said that they had more effective tools for dealing with their problems.

  • Marriage counseling takes less time than individual therapy.

Statistics show that most of the time, couples or family counseling is faster and more effective than individual therapy alone. When married couples go to marriage counseling together, they work faster and more effectively on their group dynamic, which in turn helps them to heal faster. Typically, it takes fewer sessions to reach your goals in marriage counseling than it does in individual therapy. This means that not only do you repair your marriage faster, but you will also pay less for the benefits.

  • Working with a licensed marriage counselor is often cheaper than seeing a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

While searching for options, many couples feel stressed about the financial cost. Worrying about your counseling bill can put an extra strain on your already shaken relationship that can eventually lead to worse consequences. Many people who are looking at prices may decide to turn to a more budget-friendly solution such as inexperienced psychiatrists and psychologists. Keep in mind that if you look hard, you will surely find a professional who offers reasonable rates. If you choose a licensed marriage counselor, you will definitely pay less in the long run than if you opted for an inexperienced psychiatrist or psychologist.

  • Marriage counseling is not magic and may still not be able to prevent a divorce.

When people hear the phrase “marriage counseling,” they tend to think that it is a magic solution that will automatically save their marriage. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In cases of milder relationship problems, marriage counseling will work by repairing the marriage, but in some other cases, marriage counseling works by helping partners understand that staying together in an unhealthy relationship is detrimental and that the only solution is to end their marriage for the sake of both parties’ mental wellbeing.

  • Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is the most successful type of marriage counseling.

There is no magic trick to repair your marriage, but there are few types of marriage counseling that are proven to have great success. One of the most successful types of therapy is called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), and it works by helping couples understand and reprogram their emotional responses, leading partners to better understand and communicate with each other.

  • The sooner you start marriage counseling, the better.

Another factor that reduces the time you will need for successful counseling is how soon you commit to starting marriage counseling. Couples who wait until their problems have piled up or people who have already given up on their marriage may struggle to repair their relationships. For better chances at success and getting back the fulfilling marriage you once had, couples should seek counseling as soon as possible.

References:

Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999, 2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Random House, LLC: New York.

Hahlweg K, Klann N. The effectiveness of marital counseling in Germany: a contribution to health services research. J Fam Psychol. 1997; 11:410–421.

Johnson, S., & Hunsley, J., & Greenberg, L., & Schindler, D. (1999). Emotionally focused couples therapy: status and challenges. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, V6 N1, 70-73.

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

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