Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Does Marriage Counseling work?

Marriage Counseling does work.

Three types of Marriage Counseling have consistently been shown to significantly improve the relationships of 70-75% of moderately to severely distressed couples. 1Three forms of Marriage Counseling have been shown to be superior to other forms: Traditional Behavioral Couples Therapy (TBCT), Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT), and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).  IBCT is “integrative” because it emphasizes emotional acceptance as well as behavioral change. I use two of these approaches, depending on the couple and the nature of the problem.  Some people who are considering Marriage Counseling tend to think that it will not be as effective for them because their problems are too severe.  But a large percentage of the couples who succeed in these forms of therapy start out with severe problems as well.

A few important factors that contribute to the effectiveness of Marriage Counseling:

  • The approach being used
  • The expertise of the marriage counselor
  • The rapport between each member of the couple and the marriage counselor
  • The willingness of each member of the couple to take personal responsibility for their contribution to the problem
  • The commitment of the couple and their willingness to put forth effort and to make changes

Can Marriage Counseling prevent divorce?

One well-designed longitudinal study demonstrated a 25-28% divorce rate at the 5-year mark for couples who had been moderately to severely distressed before treatment and received one of the two forms of marriage counseling that I provide.  That is compared to a nearly 50% divorce rate in the general population, which consequently includes happy couples as well as distressed ones.

How do troubled couples who do not receive marriage counseling fare?

Marriages do not tend to recover without therapy. In an analysis of 17 studies involving 652 couples in all, couples who were asked to wait 2 to 5 months to receive treatment (wait-list control groups) on average did not improve. In fact, these couples’ satisfaction and/or functioning were more likely to deteriorate while waiting for therapy. I consistently hear stories from individuals whose partners refuse to attend marriage counseling and insist that things will just get better over time. The consistency of the findings across studies was striking and strongly suggests that just waiting out your problems will not solve them. In fact, over time, many problems in marriage only become more entrenched and damage tends to pile up, making solutions more difficult.

Some things to consider

  • Around 20% of married couples at any given time fall into the “distressed” category.
  • There is a strong statistical association between marital distress and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, problematic alcohol use, and Bipolar Disorder.
  • Marital distress negatively impacts the effectiveness of treatment for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, as well as contributing to relapse of these problems following successful treatment.
  • Marriage Counseling has been shown in clinical studies to be an effect treatment for alcoholism and some forms of depression.
  • Effective Marriage Counseling involves changing patters of thinking, feeling, and behaving in relation to your marriage. These forms of therapy always involve active engagement by the therapist, and you should never find you and your spouse arguing or venting while the therapist silently sits and listens for the entirety of the session.

 

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Three forms of Marriage Counseling have been shown to be superior to other forms: Traditional Behavioral Couples Therapy (TBCT), Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT), and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT).  IBCT is “integrative” because it emphasizes emotional acceptance as well as behavioral change.