Before we start talking about how long marriage counseling lasts, we need to mention few things about marriage counseling. If you are considering marriage counseling but unsure about whether it will work, you are not alone. There are many questions that come and go, but here I provide answer to the most common questions regarding marriage counseling.

Why are so many people still skeptical about marriage counseling?

It is understandable that most people who are skeptical about marriage counseling, worry about the effectiveness. It is a fact that before the 80s, most methods used in marriage counseling had limited success. The average success was about 50 percent and useful skills were learned including how to listen and understand each other. The good news is that marriage counseling with the new methods employed, reaches now the 75 percent effectiveness, according to the American Psychological Association. What is the other 25 percent, you may wonder? Married couples who are in abusive relationships should not expect improvement in counseling until the abuse is gone. At that time being, separate therapy is ideal for each partner in order to work towards maintaining 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?

Success is most likely when the partners beginning counseling have a willingness to learn the skills and to become more self-aware as well as emotionally vulnerable and understanding to 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 that will increase your chances of success is you and your partner to stop seeing each other as opponents, but rather team mates, working to improve your relationship. Another factor that plays an important deal in successful marriage counseling, is empathy. Each person needs to have empathy and feel for their partner, being able to understand the other person’s emotions and vulnerabilities. 

Finally, another prerequisite, is for partners to be willing to work their part in the problems, as well as the process of bringing healing to their marriage. Many come to marriage counseling with a list of complaints about their partners and a desire for the counselor to validate their complaints. Although most of the times complaints are valid, nothing is resolved unless both individuals work on their own behavior. 

How long does marriage counseling take?

The length of marriage counseling can vary based on the counselor’s choice of model as well as 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 which need just a little push with improving communication, completing common goals or solving day to day problems around parenting, responsibilities and so on. Sometimes, married couples face more complicated problems or there are other issues that require longer term therapy. 

Here 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. The couple’s commitment to therapy contributes to the overall success of marriage therapy. Weekly sessions are recommended especially early on in treatment so both partners can learn new skills and implement them in everyday practice. However, some couples may prefer biweekly or once a month session, which can often lead to much slower progress. It is imperative that couples seek marriage counseling sooner rather than later as timing is essential when it comes to solving perpetual problems in relationships.

Increase recovery speed.

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

Speeding up sessions.

In terms of counseling sessions, couples usually start out by attending 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 in maintaining the quality of their marriage. 

Factors affecting time in counseling:

Sometimes, over the course of marriage counseling, partners find out 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 marriage. In these cases, it is necessary to have longer-term counseling for marriage as well as individual therapy for the partners.

Partners’ learning style is also a factor that affects how long should marriage counseling take. For example, partners who are active taking part in sessions consistently, completing their homework, following through the things that are discussed into therapy, are going to take less time to repair their marriage. 

Willingness and commitment to process is also important. Partners that are committed to attending sessions weekly, 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 get to see more success. So, it is important for couples to make counseling sessions their priority. 

Partners being truthful with what they want enhance the healing process. If someone is ambivalent about their goals, it will create discomfort and eventually will eliminate the wish for success. If there is ambivalence or even a slight doubt, it must be resolved before committing into marriage counseling. Doing this first, will increase your chances of success and will reduce the overall time of marriage counseling. 

Factsheet:

  • High levels of satisfaction.

According to a survey done 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 that took part of 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 the couples said they have more effective tools for dealing with their problems.

  • Marriage counseling takes less time than individual therapy.

Statistics show that couples or family counseling is most of the times faster and more effective than individual therapy alone. When married couples go to marriage counseling together, they work faster and more effective in the group dynamic, which in turn leads them to heal faster. Typically, it takes fewer sessions to complete a goal in marriage counseling than it does in individual therapy. This means that not only you repair your marriage faster, but you also pay less. 

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

Many couples while seeking for options, they feel stressed about the financial part. Worrying about the counseling bill can put an extra strain to the already shaken relationship that will eventually lead to worse consequences. Many people who are looking at prices may decide to turn to a more budget friendly solution such as unexperienced 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 term than what you would have if you opted for unexperienced psychiatrists or psychologists. 

  • Marriage counseling is not magic and may lead to divorce.

Whenever people hear the phrase marriage counseling, they really think that it is something magic that will automatically save their marriage. Unfortunately, this is not the first thought to have. In some milder cases, marriage counseling will work by repairing the marriage, but in some other cases, marriage counseling works by helping partners understand, that staying together in this unhealthy relationship is detrimental and that the only solution is to end their marriage. 

  • Emotionally Focused Therapy 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 definitely 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 understand each other and communicate with each other better. 

  • The sooner you start marriage counseling, the better. 

Another factor that reduces the time you need in counseling, is the time you start marriage counseling. Couples that wait until their problems are piled up, or persons that have already given up on their marriage, may struggle to repair their relationships. For better chances at success, 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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