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 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.
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.