As a marriage counselor, my bias is obviously in favor of couples seeking counseling to improve or save their marriage. The truth is that there are many factors that can impact the potential success or failure of marriage counseling for any given couple.
Understanding these influences is important in determining whether or not seeking therapy for problems in your marriage is the best decision for you. Findings from a study in the “Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,” report that marriage counseling helps seven out of ten couples find great satisfaction in their marriage. However, not all research is that optimistic. In a recent review of studies measuring the effectiveness of marriage counseling, approximately 48 percent of couples who participated in it saw improvement in their relationship and 14 percent didn’t report any change in their marital happiness. Unfortunately, 37 percent of couples experienced deterioration in their marriage.
Why do some studies show limited success when evaluating the merits of couples counseling? Most experts agree that couples counseling is a relationship between three individuals and it’s not the therapist’s responsibility to “fix” the marriage. Author Linda Bloom writes, “Your counselor is a consultant, not a fixer.” Early detection is also a big plus. Renowned marriage researcher John M. Gottman claims that the average couple entering marriage counseling has experienced marital difficulties for over six years. It makes sense that the longer a couple waits to seek assistance, the more deeply entrenched the communication problems – thus making them more resistant to treatment.
Here are certain conditions under which couples counseling may not help a couple repair their marriage:
- The problems in the marriage are too ingrained and longstanding for the counseling to be effective.
- One or both partners have already decided to end the marriage and he/she uses the counseling as a way to announce this to their partner.
- Addiction or mental illness is having a major impact on the marital relationship. Common issues include a partner has relapsed, is not taking their medication, or is non-compliant with his or therapist’s recommendatons.
- Verbal or physical abuse is an issue in the marriage and one of the partners is fearful about their safety or well-being so clams up in sessions.
- One or both partners are unwilling to complete homework assignments necessarily to reverse negative relational patterns.
One of the main factors that can determine the effectiveness of marriage counseling is the motivation level of both partners. For some couples, marriage counseling is really divorce counseling because they’ve already thrown in the towel. For others, they haven’t taken the time to choose a therapist who is a good fit for them. For instance, Lisa came to my office distraught because she had finally convinced her husband Jason to attend marriage counseling and the sessions were not going well.Lisa, a fifty-year old teacher and mother of three daughters, explains: “Jason doesn’t talk during the sessions and complains that he can’t leave work early to go. I’m wondering if I should have let him pick the therapist because he says she favors me. I don’t think this is true, but we’re not getting along any better and we’ve already had several sessions.”
Married couples go through several stages in their relationship and Lisa and Jason were having difficulty integrating recent challenges. It appeared to me that they were struggling with integrating the ups and downs of raising three children, Jason’s recent job change, and the large-scale investment of buying a bigger home. Although some of these transitions seem positive – such as a new home and job – they also represent major stressors due to increased time and financial expenditures. While marriage counseling can be a beneficial way for Lisa and Jason to navigate through these challenges, they both need to buy into the process and feel comfortable with the therapist for it to be effective.
5 reasons marriage counseling can help your marriage:
- A motivated couple can begin to explore their problems from a new perspective.
- Couples can learn new ways to recognize and resolve conflicts with the tools provided by the therapist.
- Partners can improve communication that may have eroded the quality of their interactions. It’s common for couples to reach an impasse and lose the ability to be vulnerable and trusting of one another.
- It can provide “neutral territory” to help couples work through tough issues or to put aside “baggage” that prevents the couple from moving on.
- Couples can decide to rebuild their marriage and make a renewed commitment, or clarify the reasons why they need to separate or end the marriage.
Truth be told, for marriage counseling to be effective, both partners need to be willing to take responsibility for their part in the problems, to accept each other’s faults, and to be motivated to repair the relationship. All kinds of couples go for counseling and sessions can help couples feel happier and more confident going forward with the strategies they need to communicate and recover from disagreements. Marriage counseling can help couples learn how to reconnect and show each other that “we’re in this marriage together” when faced with the inevitable challenges of married life.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry