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Does Marriage Counseling Work? Get Real Answers

In the scope of a long-running marriage, the easy part is the beginning. Falling in love with someone and getting married can be stressful and frustrating in their own way, but the real challenging part of a marriage is maintaining it. 

Building a life together with someone else sounds fairly difficult. In reality, it is even harder than it sounds. Raising children together, navigating financial struggles, maintaining a career and personal events and struggles can take out an enormous toll on even the strongest and healthiest marriages. 

For all these reasons and many more, it’s not surprising that the divorce rate is over 40 percent. While there are some marriages that are doomed before they even start, there are others that can be saved. 

Seeing a therapist and engaging in marriage counseling can be a highly effective way to save a marriage. In fact, 70 percent of couples that have engaged in marriage counseling have seen positive results to their marriage and nearly half say that it’s helped them to resolve all or nearly all of their serious problems. 

What Is Marriage Counseling? 

Marriage counseling, also known as couples therapy, is a specific type of counseling that focuses primarily on marriages and romantic relationships. Marriage counselors, or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, are specifically trained to help couples to identify their problems and work on creating solutions together. These trained therapists primarily employ emotion-focused therapy techniques in order to address issues in the relationship. 

The principle of this therapy style is to focus on couple’s emotions in order to create secure and safe attachment bonds to one another. Arguably the single most important factor to achieving these bonds is by improving communication. 

Marriage counseling puts a strong emphasis on identifying and teaching ways that will improve the communications skills of a couple in order to help them come to mutual understandings and figure out how best to move forward with the relationship. Ideally, the couple will stay together, but sometimes the best course of action is to split up as amicably as possible. 

When Should a Couple Seek Marriage Counseling? 

All marriages will have their struggles and their periods of ups and downs. While there may be a stigma applied to any couple that is seeking marriage counseling, realistically, there shouldn’t be. The commonly held belief that couples only engage in marriage counseling as a last-ditch effort to avoid divorce is simply not true. Even the most healthy and strongest relationships could benefit from a few sessions or marriage counseling. 

Despite the name, marriage counseling is more accurately counseling for anyone in a romantic relationship with another person. Straight couples, gay couples, couples of all races and cultures, and relationships with non-traditional setups, like long-distance, open or polyamorous, can all be helped via marriage counseling.

Often couples will engage in marriage counseling before they are even married in order to strengthen their bond and ensure they are making the right decision. The point is there is no specific reason to seek marriage counseling. Any struggles between any members of a romantic relationship can benefit from a trained, objective and unbiased perspective. 

Some of the examples of couple that may need to seek counseling include:

  • Couples that often have similar fights over and over again without being able to see eye to eye or create a solution
  • Couples who have strong disagreements regarding issues like parenting, finances, or lifestyle choices
  • Couples who feel like the household responsibilities are unequal or that there is an uneven power dynamic in the relationship
  • Couples who have lost sexual interest or romantic chemistry
  • Couples that have the feeling their relationship is on autopilot or stuck in a rut
  • Couples who don’t feel like their partner listens to them or is often emotionally unavailable
  • Couples that have experienced a recent tragedy or loss and are having issues processing the grief
  • Couples dealing with issues stemming from substance abuse, infidelity, or mental health issues

How Does Marriage Counseling Work? 

Almost all marriage counselors will encourage both partners to be at counseling sessions. Being together for the sessions is the most effective way for the counseling to work because the counselor will be able to see how they communicate with each other. Sometimes a counselor may feel the need to discuss topics with the individual separately, but most of the time, the counseling will be with all parties present together. 

In the event that one of the individuals cannot make it or is reluctant to join, marriage counseling can still happen, but the effects may be less beneficial. Just like any therapy session, marriage counseling will have its rough spots and can be emotionally challenging. Marriage counseling is a safe place for either partner to share the feelings they have, and some of them may be difficult for their partner to learn. Although painful in the moment, these issues are important to get out into the open so they can be addressed. 

A session will commonly result in highly intense emotional outbursts such as raised voices or crying. Therapy sessions are made to create spaces where partners have their feelings validated and “let out” but they are also places where the partners can come away with instructions on how to work on and improve communication to better help solve problems that may arise in the future. 

Marriage counseling is usually short-term in nature, as couples typically enter into it with specific problems to solve. Depending on the severity of the issues at hand, it may take longer, but marriage counseling typically only lasts a few weeks or a couple of months. 

What Is the Success Rate of Marriage Counseling? 

The specific success rate of any couple undergoing marriage counseling will be heavily dependent on several variables, including the skill of the therapist and the unique factors associated with the couple.

However, traditional marriage counseling is estimated to have a success rate upwards of 70 percent, according to the American Psychological Association. This outcome includes couples therapy used for high stress clients such as military couples, veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, parents of children with chronic health issues and couples that are infertile. 

The most common outcome measure is using a self-report questionnaire called the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. This measure has been used since 1976 and is able to provide a great comparison between the success rates then as opposed to now. Marriage counseling success rates have improved by almost 25 percent since the 1980s. 

Is Marriage Counseling Worth It? 

For anyone that loves their partner and wants to improve their relationship, then the answer will be yes. Marriage counseling is not always the solution to the problems that a couple faces, but it’s almost a 75 percent chance that the relationships will improve in some way or another. 

 Positive results are most likely when the partners starting therapy have a willingness to learn basic skills to become more self-aware and more emotionally vulnerable. Other contributing factors to the success of counseling are how early the couple begins therapy, if the therapy they choose is best for their specific issues and the willingness of both partners to work hard. Improving a marriage will take a lot of work and requires communication and commitment. Both partners will have to look at their own contributions to the problems being discussed. 

Couples that are in abusive relationships should not expect improvement via marriage counseling until the abusive behavior stops and even then the improvements are minimal. When a relationship reaches certain levels of problematic emotional or physical behavior, it may be best to end the partnership amicably and move on.

The Takeaway 

Marriage counseling is an effective tool to help out any couple that wants to improve the overall health of their relationship. While it may help to solve specific problems, it can also be used as an effective way to learn how to better communicate with each other in order to deal with future problems easier.

Dealing with the serious issues of living a life together and navigating tremendous emotions like love can be very hard for a couple and take its toll over time. There may be issues that they just can’t seem to fix, and there may be many that one partner is unaware of altogether. 

Talking with a qualified mental health professional will provide an unbiased and neutral perspective to a relationship. This outside perspective, and specific training, can go a long way toward increasing the communication between the two in the relationship and helping them to understand the thoughts and feelings of their partner. Marriage counseling may not be able to save every single marriage, but it’s definitely worthwhile for anyone looking to improve their relationship. 

Sources

  1. Is Marriage Counseling a Good Option for Me? (yourdivorcequestions.org)
  2. 7 Reasons You May Need Marriage Counseling (aarp.org)
  3. Couples Therapy: Does It Really Work? (psychologytoday.com)

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