Does Marriage Counseling Work?

There’s a good deal of debate about the efficacy of traditional couples therapy. We’ve talked and debated this issue a bit, but I found a few facts to share with you.

  • 70% of couples who go to a well-trained couples therapist make substantial progress on the problems that bring them to counseling, says Howard Markman, author of Fighting for Your Marriage in this video clip from The Today Show. The key point here is the therapist is well-trained and pro-marriage, and is working to build understanding and reestablish the bond between you, not focusing on your individual needs.
  • Couples wait an average of six years with significant problems before seeking help, says well-known marriage researcher Julie Gottman. While patients who have a terminal illness seem medical help immediately, those who see their marriage as potentially terminal drag their feet.
  • 80 percent of couples who marry and divorce do so without EVER seeing a marriage counselor. (Don’t blame the high divorce rate on marriage therapists.)

What about the contrarian opinions you’ve heard? If you hear from individuals whose marriages have failed despite seeing a therapist, their complaints are certainly valid. Chances are either one of the spouses was not motivated to make the marriage work, or they were not seeing a therapist who was trained to help them reconnect in a meaningful way. It could be that the offenses (or perceived offenses) were too significant for one spouse to consider staying, such as with serial indelity. If you know of couples who have had a positive experience with a therapist, that’s a great reference for you to consider if you are looking for a good therapist.

What is the therapists’ role? A marriage therapist is a neutral, confidential party who will help you fight for your marriage and hopefully will help you both see the relationship and one another in a new light. They should assist you with how to move forward in a more positive, meaningful way.

When should a therapist be sought? Expert Patricia Love, PhD, says at the earliest signs of resentment or when one partner has a withdrawal of interest or energy in the relationship. In other words, when you don’t care what your partner has to say, or you don’t prefer to spend your time with him or her. If you have to ask if your problems are severe enough to seek a counselor, that should give you a hint that your relationship could use a boost. Dr. Love advises couples always go together to counseling if at all possible, because a therapist can’t build a bond with only one of you there.

How about before problems arise? Experts suggest marriage education classes and weekends are strongly encouraged as a form of regular care and maintenance for your marriage. In other words, you may want to seek tips and advice before you have a serious problem. Preventive care may be the most effective kind of marriage help yet.

Here’s a national directory of pro-marriage counselors. This directory was founded by William Doherty, PhD.

Have you heard any other statistics on the effectiveness of marital counseling? Or are your views influenced by a personal experience?

Photo Credit: ©

6 responses to “Does Marriage Counseling Work?

  1. I went to 9 different marriage counselors over two marriages and they were all equally WORTHLESS! I had a degree with two majors in Bible Theology and Behavioral Science. I also attended grad school for Clinical Psych. I decided to go into the coaching business because that is what couples really need. This is a growing movement in the counseling community with adherents that were formerly counselors turned coaches like Dr Harley of His Needs Her Needs and Michelle Weiner Davis of Divorce Busting fame. Most states don’t even have a requirement that counselors have any training in couples counseling.

    I get most of my clients as a last ditch resort after attending marriage counseling for months. I have heard far too many horror stories.

    The vast majority of counselors are stuck on the mantra; “How does that make you feel?” This is about as effective as a reporter shoving a mic in a grieving person’s face and asking the same question. Not one of the counselors that I have heard horror stories about nor my counselors taught conflict resolution skills which is the principle reason that couples split. lack of confict resolution skills. I am sure that there are good counselors out there, but I have not heard of any.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  2. That must have been very frustrating for you. I’ve heard that the “feelings” mantra was very common for counselors up until about 1990, when the more progressive counselors started working on solutions-focused therapy. I’m sure there are some who never changed, but hopefully couples who do their homework can find the help they need. I also agree that conflict resolution skills are critical. Marriage education classes can help couples learn these skills, preferably before problems arise. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Does Marriage Counseling Work? (via Marriage Gems) | redcoffee

  4. Thats an all ’round good blog…

  5. Terribly well executed piece!

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