First of all, let’s discuss marriage counseling. Many consider getting help when the tide is up, and most couples commit to marriage counseling when they experience issues at their peak. Problems in marriage come in all shapes and sizes, with the most common being physical and emotional abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, mental health problems, finances and poor communication. But there are also other married couples who simply want to make their relationships stronger. Whatever the case, there are times when marriage counseling does not work, such as when the physical and emotional safety of one or both partners are threatened. This happens usually with cases of domestic violence.

Before committing to counseling, be clear about what you want from it. Most couples commit to marriage counseling after problems have been built 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 and truthful 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.

Types of marriage counseling.

Research suggests that different problems are better treated by different kinds of therapy. First of all it is important to look for a counselor that is experienced and well 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. 

It is the approach that focuses on emotional acceptance and behavioral changes, helping couples recognize their ineffective behavior and interaction that harm their relationship.

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT).

Focuses on a couple’s emotions, creating secure safe attachment bonds, resilience, and healthy relationships.

Behavioral couples therapy (BCT).

Focuses on helping partners understand how their behavior influences each other. Results from 30 randomized experiments comparing behavioral marital therapy (BMT) to no treatment suggest that behavioral couples therapy is better than no treatment.

Traditional behavioral couples therapy (TBCT).

This approach focuses on creating stronger communication and enhancing problem solving skills of partners.

Discernment counseling.

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 thoughts and whether there is a desire to work on their marriage. If partners choose to work on their marriage, counselors 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 to each other’s needs. The Gottman approach really helps partners grow in trust and commitment while becoming emotionally intelligent.

How successful is marriage counseling?

Most marriages go through periods of severe crisis and 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. Great results also are more likely to come when you, your partner and your counselor communicate honestly, truthfully and openly with each other. Couples that are communicating well with their counselors are most likely to achieve the wanted results. Giving feedback while being open to receiving one will help you and your counselor know what does and does not work for your and to address concerns you may encounter along the way. Let’s have a look at the relevant research and see how successful marriage counseling is.

Research:

One study in 1991 compared the outcomes of two types of counseling on 55 couples and found out that between 58% and 61% improved from beginning of counseling to follow-up at 6 months after counseling finished.

According to research conducted by Lundblad and Hansson (2006), couples therapy contributed into improved relationships, individual mental health and enhanced coping abilities of those couples involved in the study. In fact, Emotion focused therapy (an experiential and evidenced 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 session as well as outside of the therapy room, couples may not receive the results they hoped for, in the beginning of therapy.

Results from a 2010 study of 134 married couples with serious chronic distress, have shown that the 48% of the sample displayed clinically significant improvement at 5 years after receiving 26 weekly sessions.

Another study suggests that most married couples that take marriage counseling will have better immediate gains at conclusion 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.

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists has given a survey and found that 98% of people who completed it 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 100% of those who relapsed said that marriage counseling had a positive impact on them.

Finally, research on the treatment of couple distress in 2012, revealed that that couples therapy positively impacts 70% of couples receiving treatment.

As you look at marriage counseling statistics and wonder whether marriage counseling can be successful for you and your partner, remind yourself that most couples don’t go to counseling until their problems have gotten really bad and their marriage is likely heading to an end. In order for you to have high chances on repairing your marriage, you need to commit as early as possible to marriage counseling. While marriage counseling statistics may look good, you need to understand what works for other couples may or may not work for you and your partner. You need to take every factor into consideration including your own self, your partner, your therapist, the marital problems, the environment you live in, finances and other factors that can be difficult to determine. The outcome in marriage counseling cannot be calculated, but success comes down to your commitment and willingness to make it happen.

Increase your chances for success with these last tips.

Couples can do some things to ensure success in marriage counseling. First of all, marriage counseling takes a lot of work and requires constant effort. Many couples receive counseling for two or three sessions and expect miracles. If they don’t see improvement, they quit. If you quit counseling too soon, therapy will not work, and it’s likely neither will your marriage.

Also, it is often that couples are going into counseling with common goals, but during the course one partner is focusing on how to fix their partner or on what they are not getting from their partner. If you get into counseling with this mindset, how can you focus on your own growth? How can you become patient and assertive? How can you be open and expressing? It doesn’t matter if you feel it is unfair. Marriage counseling gives the opportunity for both partners to grow and improve. You are only responsible for yourself. Your partner will be responsible for himself.

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 goes when you are looking at the numbers. What you can take away from the numbers 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 need to put daily effort not to let your marriage deteriorate again.

References:

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.

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