Does Marriage Counseling Work? Everything you need to know about Marriage Counseling including success rates, important questions and how to avoid divorce.
Even the best marriage can suffer normal wear and tear over the years. If it shows signs of breaking down and you and your spouse growing apart, professional marriage counseling is often the best next step. A good counselor can guide you toward getting the relationship back on the right track by identifying what the real issues are and then helping you to implement solutions. It can help you find the strength to transition out of a partnership that is irrevocably broken down. Choosing the right marriage counselor or therapist is extremely important to give your marriage the best chance of success, as there are different types of counseling to address different marital situations. While cost, compatibility, and location are important elements, there are several other factors you must keep in mind when choosing a marriage counselor.
In this article:
- When to seek marriage counseling
- Divorce statistics and facts
- How can you prepare for marriage counseling?
- Tips for nurturing a healthy marriage
- Does marriage counseling work? Statistics & success rates
- How does marriage counseling work?
- Types of marriage counselors and family therapists
- Marriage counseling techniques & methods
- Myths about marriage counseling
- How to get the most out of marriage counseling
- How much does marriage counseling cost?
- Frequently asked marriage counseling questions
When to Seek Marriage Counseling
Every relationship is bound to experience highs and lows, and that’s normal when you’re in a relationship as close as a marriage. Determining whether your marriage is experiencing a small bump in the road or if it’s something more serious that requires professional counseling may be easier than you think.
Major life changes: Marriages tend to change over time, especially when faced with a major transition, such as one partner going back to school, when you’re expecting your first child, or you’re suffering the loss of a family member. A good marriage counselor can help you to get through these changes so that you can find your relationship’s new normal and regain focus on each other.
Your spouse brings up counseling: If you’re sailing through your marriage with a smile on your face and not a care in the world and your spouse suggests that your relationship might benefit from some couple therapy, take that as a good sign. You may initially feel like you’ve failed or that your spouse is considering divorce, but that’s usually not the case. The fact that your spouse is being proactive about getting counseling means that he or she wants the marriage to work and is willing to put in the effort to save your marriage from divorce.
You feel like you’re treading water: All relationships experience rough patches every now and again, and most of these work themselves out as long as you and your spouse are committed to making things work. If you feel like you’re not making any progress or that you’re the only one working at the relationship, professional marriage counseling can help turn this around.
You’ve never experienced counseling: Even if you feel that your marriage is in good shape, counseling may be able to make it great. Getting the perspective of an objective professional can help you to keep your relationship with your spouse running smoothly.
Divorce Statistics and Facts
- The rate of divorce is slowing down. The National Marriage Project concluded that the rate at which couples seek divorce has been decreasing since the late 1980s. Roughly 40% of marriages now end in divorce, down from 50%.
- Women seek divorce more often than men. Women seem to have found their voice, and they’re showing it by taking charge of their futures. Roughly two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by the wife and not the husband.
- Divorces cost money. While the average divorcing couple won’t experience the multimillion-dollar splits that you see on television, divorce is never free. Costs can range from as low as $1,000 for each spouse in an amicable divorce with no children and few assets to $20,000 per spouse or more.
- Cohabiting before marriage isn’t necessarily a panacea. It sounds logical that testing out a relationship by living together before tying the knot will result in a healthier marriage, but that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, living together before you say “I do” can actually increase your chance of divorce by up to 40%.
- Money can be the root of all evil. There are many reasons why a marriage might begin to break down, but financial issues are a very common. The National Marriage Project also reports that if you and your spouse have disagreements about money at least once each week, you are 30X more likely to divorce than couples who argue about money once or twice each month or less.
How Can You Prepare for Marriage Counseling?
Too many couples enter marriage counseling with the mistaken belief that the counselor is going to “fix” things that are wrong with the other spouse so that they can live happily ever after. Marriage counseling is not a quick fix nor does it operate as individual counseling but with two people involved. The benefits of family therapy or marriage counseling can be huge if you enter into it with the right perspective.
- Think proactive rather than reactive. Always go to your counseling sessions with the big picture on your mind, and be ready to talk openly about your marriage. If you’re obsessed with the small argument you and your spouse had that morning or you just don’t have anything to say at all, your sessions will most likely be ineffective.
- Reflect on your short-term and long-term objectives. It’s always easier to reach your goals when you have actually taken the time to define them. Think about what it is you hope to get from your marriage counseling before you enter your first session.
- Prepare yourself for change. Both you and your spouse will have to make some changes and concessions in order to make your troubled marriage better. If you’re open to change, you’ll find your marriage counseling sessions are much more productive.
- Focus on yourself first. If you can’t shake the “it’s him not me” belief, you may not be ready for counseling. You cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself. Focus on making yourself a better and stronger person, and you’ll reap all the benefits of good marriage counseling.
Tips for Nurturing a Healthy Marriage
Here’s a list of of tips for those who think their marriage may just need a little shot of intimacy or advice. One of these tips could be all your marriage requires to get back on track.
Schedule date nights. Whether you’re pursuing a budding career or raising a family, setting aside alone time with your spouse is a critical component to a marriage that is happy and healthy. Dedicated alone time with your spouse is one of the most important marriage advice tips. For couples with careers who have trouble finding the time to schedule dedicated time for each other may find a marriage counseling marriage retreat to be the best option.
Don’t forget physical intimacy. Physical intimacy is important, and it’s very easy for busy couples let that slip. Whether it’s spontaneous or planned, you need to give your physical relationship with your spouse priority without making it a chore.
The little things count. Whether you stick a love note on the bathroom mirror or buy her those earrings she’s been wanting, you should remember to include selfless, loving gestures toward your spouse into your weekly routine.
Define family rules. Couples usually spend the first five to ten years of the marriage butting heads over how the family structure should operate, and these little squabbles can escalate into hard feelings over time. Set aside specific times to discuss how you both want the family to run, and keep it separate from your date nights.
Seek input from those you trust. There is a growing phenomenon in gray divorces, where older couples are calling it quits. This may be a by-product of earlier times when personal problems stayed within the home’s four walls. Whether you seek marriage counseling for the big issues or talk to a trusted friends about the little things, opening up about your relationship with your spouse will usually make your marriage stronger.
Does Marriage Counseling Work? Stats & Success Rates
Since every marital situation is different and there are so many types of therapists and counseling types available, stated success rates are all over the board. Almost every study that has been conducted, however, has come to a few similar conclusions:
- The majority of couples who engage in relationship counseling will see immediate gains in their relationships. The most common type of therapy, emotionally focused therapy (EFT) has the best success rate, with 75% of couples reporting recovery and 90% realizing significant relationship improvement.
- Couples who enter marriage counseling before their relationship is in deep distress have a much better chance at success.
- Therapists who instill strategies that the couple can easily implement on their own when the counseling ends are far more likely to see long-term success in their marriage.
- In 2010, a study was conducted that focused on 134 couples whose marriages were described as being “seriously distressed”. Each couple underwent 26 weeks of behavioral therapy. Five years after therapy had ended, 48% of the couples reported a drastic improvement in their relationships, while 27% had either gotten divorced or were separated.
- The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, cited recent statistics showing that the majority of couples that attend marriage counseling, and do so with the true intention of improving the quality of their marriage, do indeed report that they believe the counseling helped resolve immediate issues and that it subsequently improved the quality of their marriage; at least in the short term.
- Couples typically wait an average of six years in an unhappy marriage before seeking help, according to the Seattle-based Gottman Institute.
How Does Marriage Counseling Work?
Every marriage counseling program will begin with an initial intake where the therapist or counselor gets basic information from the both of you. Be prepared to answer simple questions, such as “why are you here?” That may sound like an easy question, but it might actually be difficult to answer if your marriage has been in distress for a while. The average couple experiences marital problems for six to eight years before seeking therapy, which makes it much harder to really define what the problem is.
Either during or after the initial session, your counselor may ask to speak to each one of you one-on-one, whether you’re together or alone. The counselor will then review all of the notes from the session or sessions before you meet again, and she will start to define what type of counseling method will work best for your situation.
Depending on the severity of the problems you are experiencing, your counselor may recommend just a handful of sessions to get you back on track. It’s also possible that the counseling may consist of weekly sessions that last six months or more. Until your marriage counselor has really got a handle on the scope of what needs to be done, it’s impossible to determine how long the counseling will take.
Types of Marriage Counselors and Family Therapists
There are several different types of licensed mental health professionals who can provide licensed marriage counseling services, and some can offer additional services, such as anger management counseling or help with substance abuse. When selecting a licensed professional for marriage counseling, consider the factors involved in the situation. If one or both of you are dealing with substance abuse, you may want to choose someone who also holds medical credentials, but that would not be necessary for a couple who is dealing with simple intimacy or relationship issues.
Marriage counseling is also available from other types of professionals, such as pastoral counselors, but they may or may not professionally trained or licensed in the field. If you want a licensed professional, these are the four basic types of marriage counselings and family therapists:
Psychiatrist: holds either a D.O. or M.D. Because they are licensed medical professionals who specialize in mental health, they are able to prescribe medications and oversee any medical issues, such as substance abuse.
Psychologist: generally has a doctorate degree, either PhDs or PsyDs, and they hold licenses to practice clinical psychology.
Social Worker: has degree in social work. A licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) will have extensive clinical training.
Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT): holds a minimum of a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and they have completed at least two years of supervised clinical training.
Marriage Counseling Techniques & Methods
Family therapists and marriage counselors choose from several different methods and techniques to find the one that is most apt to help you reach your goals. While the different types of therapy often have complicated acronyms attached to them, they generally fall into one of five broad categories:
1) Insight-Oriented – This type of therapy is geared toward helping you and your spouse change how you view your relationship and begin to look at each other in a more objective light. If your spouse made a purchase and you look at that as the reason for all of your financial troubles, for example, insight-oriented therapy can help you to understand why you react in that manner and then develop strategies to change that going forward. Most of the early sessions will involve observation and data collection.
2) Behavior Modification – If there is any physical, emotional, or financial harm occurring in your relationship, then behavior modification therapy might be right for you. This type of therapy follows a solution-focused therapy model that tries to ensure that neither of you continue to focus on destructive behaviors. Initial sessions will focus on actions rather than emotions or feelings.
3) Communication Coaching – The goal behind communication coaching is to help you to use active listening and empathy when communicating with your spouse. It fosters healthy and productive communication so that you both can feel free to express your feelings without fear of retaliation. No two situations are alike, so each therapist will employ this therapy specifically tailored to your individual situation. This method is one of many techniques that improve communication.
4) Attachment Based/Behavioral Therapy – If you have a relationship that is emotionally distant with little productive communication, this type of therapy might benefit you the most. Your counselor will first study how you interact with each other, and then will work with you to express your emotions freely to create a healthy bond between the two of you.
5) Relationship Strengthening – Couples who truly love each other but who have just lost their way might benefit from the types of therapy that focus on strengthening the overall relationship. This type of therapy can take many different forms by using aspects of behavior modification or emotional insight to make it happen.
Myths About Marriage Counseling
Myth #1 A stranger won’t be able to help us with our issues. Marriage counselors and family therapists are trained to stay objective and unbiased. The fact that they didn’t know you personally before you started counseling is exactly why they can be so helpful.
Myth #2 My counselor will see my side of things. A good counselor will remain neutral and not take any one individual’s side. In fact, both spouses should be able to leave all of the sessions knowing that their issues were heard and understood, and that no judgments are being made.
Myth #3 Marriage counseling takes a very long time. The fact of the matter is that most couples only require short-term therapy, usually consisting of eight to twenty sessions, to develop solutions to their current issues. Some counseling may take one year or more, but that happens less frequently.
Myth #4 People will know we are seeing a therapist. This common misunderstanding is very far from the truth. Therapists and counselors must maintain your confidentiality at all times. The only people who will know you are seeking counseling are those whom you tell.
How to Get the Most Out of Marriage Counseling
It’s never easy to deal with problems, so expect that some of the counseling may be uncomfortable for you and your spouse and be prepared to ride it out. To reap the benefits of marriage counseling, you must be able to speak openly and honestly about your relationship and your feelings, and your spouse should be prepared to do the same.
You must also make a concerted effort to take your mind off of those little issues that have popped up and focus instead on the bigger picture and your goals for your relationship and the spouse you want to be. Before each counseling session you attend, take a little time to reflect on those goals and the next steps you may need to take to achieve them. In addition:
- Have an open and welcome attitude toward change. If you are resistant to change, then you are going to have problems in solving your marital issues. Both parties to the marriage must be willing to come together and change the relationship so that it can flourish and grow.
- Focus on what you can change in yourself instead of your spouse. Save your energy for the things in yourself that you can change and make better. Nobody can make real change happen in other people; they have to do that for themselves. If you go into counseling with the sole purpose of changing your spouse, you are in for a disappointment.
- Be prepared to ask—and answer—difficult questions. Openness and honesty is the key to a good relationship and to getting the most out of your marriage counseling. Some of the questions that must be asked and answered may be painful, but if you can get through them, you will be rewarded with a happy marriage.
How Much Does Marriage Counseling Cost?
A licensed marriage counselor or therapist will cost between $50 and $150 per hour, and you can expect short-term therapy to include weekly sessions that last from 8-22 weeks. These costs can vary depending on the economic situation of the region you live in. You may find free local social service or pastoral agencies that work on a sliding scale based on your income if you are unable to afford private counseling.
Related Article: How Much Does Marriage Counseling Cost?
Is marriage counseling covered by insurance? Many insurance companies will cover part or all of the cost of marriage counseling if it is deemed as crisis intervention. This coverage is usually for short-term counseling only, which could be as few as six to twelve sessions or as many as twenty-two weekly sessions. Before you select a counselor, ask all of the right financial questions. Some do not accept payments from insurance companies at all, but these counselors often base their rates on a sliding economic scale to make them affordable.
The most important thing to keep in mind when considering marriage counseling is that counseling is designed to strengthen your marriage, which could prevent a divorce down the road. In almost every case, the cost of divorce will far exceed the cost of marriage counseling if you get yourself involved in it early on.
Frequently Asked Marriage Counseling Questions
Question #1 What do I do if my spouse will not attend marriage counseling?
Answer You will still benefit from attending counseling sessions on your own. The counseling sessions will help you change the way you react and respond to your spouse, which can only strengthen the relationship. In many cases, spouses may decide to join the counseling later on.
Question #2 What is emotionally focused therapy (EFT)?
Answer EFT is a very common type of couples counseling that has a very high success rate. This type of counseling helps you to uncover the patterns that are hurting your communication with your spouse and uncover the root of the issues that are causing conflict so that you can develop solutions to help you move forward.
Question #3 What if we are already considering divorce?
Answer You should both agree to hold off on any legal separation or divorce until you have attended a minimum of eight to ten counseling sessions. People who enter marriage counseling generally see fairly immediate improvement in their relationship, so it is critical that you give it the time it needs to have an effect.
Question #4 My spouse tends to dominate conversations and talk over me. Will my counselor ever get to hear my side of things?
Answer Marriage counselors are educated and trained in the art of listening, mediating, clarifying, and becoming an active participant in the counseling sessions. In many cases, one spouse is more verbal than the other. A good counselor will interrupt when necessary to be sure that both parties have an equal voice.