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Does Marriage Counseling Work? The Only 4 Things That Really Matter

marriage problemsToday, marriage rates are on the decline. Statistics show that about 50% of first marriages are likely to end up in divorce. While this number has remained unchanged for decades, divorce rates depend on partners’ religious beliefs, level of education and many other factors that are constantly changing with society’s evolution.

When divorce happens, it leads to difficulties for both adults and children. To adults, divorce is one of the most stressful event in their life. The decision to divorce is met with uncertainty and ambivalence about the future. If there are children involved, they may experience negative effects such as anger, denial, blame, feelings of abandonment, acting out and guilt.

Though in some cases divorce may be the healthy choice, others may wish to try and salvage the union through marriage counseling.

Marriage counseling is based on the principle that couples and their problems are best handled within the context of couple’s relationship. Typically, both partners attend counseling sessions to discuss the issues they are facing. The aim of marriage counseling is to help the affected couple deal with the immediate problems as well as learn better ways to relate.

However, while marriage counseling works wonders for some couples, it can make other marriages worse or even lead to divorce.

Does marriage counseling work?

This is the first question most partners ask themselves before seeking marriage counseling. There is no definite answer to this question but answers to the following questions can help.

  • Can you identify what the problem is?
  • Do you share the same view with your partner?
  • Are you and your partner willing to change in order to solve the problem?
  • Are you able to change? And is your partner?

The truth is, there are many factors that impact the effectiveness or failure of marriage counseling. Whether your marriage problems have just began or it is already on the rocks, understanding these factors will help you determine whether or not marriage counseling will work for you.

The 4 Factors that affect the effectiveness of marriage counseling

marriage couseling

1. When couples seek assistance

Basically, the longer a couple waits to seek help from a counselor, the more deeply ingrained the communication problems will be, which makes them more resistant to treatment.

According to surveys, 44 per cent of couples have endured over two years of relationship difficulties before seeking help while a significant number waits until it is too late. By then, many years of resentment and bitterness have built up and the fear of being hurt again blocks out any willingness to change.

The sooner a couple seeks helps, the higher the chances of salvaging the union. Therefore, the moment you begin to experience any of the following problems in your marriage, you should consider marriage counseling immediately:

  • Communication has deteriorated and become negative. This includes anything that leaves either of the partner feeling insecure, disregarded, depressed or wanting to withdraw from the conversation. It also includes the tone of the conversation.
  • When a partner has had an affair or is considering having an affair.
  • When couples become more like roommates rather than a married couple.
  • When partners cannot resolve their differences
  • When the only solution appears to be separation
  • When either partner begins to act out on negative feelings such as disappointment or resentment.
  • When the couple is only staying together because of the kids
2. Willingness to change

It is hard to build a successful team if only half of the players are willing to participate. If only one partner makes the decision to give marriage counseling a try, the other partner may also decide to go but if he or she refuses to join the counseling sessions, then chances of success are limited. This is because it takes a lot of commitment and patience for any relationship to move past an obstacle.

It is hard to build a successful team if only half of the players are willing to participate.Click To Tweet

However, some people may prefer to have counseling alone to work out their feelings and see a separate counselor as a couple.

3. Couples expectations

Whether or not marriage counseling will work also depends on the goals. The difficulty with most couples is that they have different ideas on what the outcome should be.

Couples with realistic goals in therapy are more likely to succeed. An attainable goal list for instance may include: to achieve healthier means of communication, to be able to co-parent together or to improve intimate life with the partner.

However, it is not realistic to expect a relationship that is 100 per cent harmonious at all times as it is impossible to avoid conflicts in a relationship. Another unreasonable expectation is the assumption that the relationship will be fixed within a few counseling session as it can take months or even years for progress to be detected. Also, when one of the two partners thinks that it is the other who needs to change or when one person wants help in ending the relationship while the other want to remain together, the counseling is not going to work.

For some couples, the objective of marriage counseling is not a peaceful reconciliation but a civil divorce. Whatever the goals is, it will take both partners to make any relationship work. At the same time, it takes the willingness of two people to cooperate to make the separation amicable and easy for the children.

4. Effectiveness of the counselor

While there are countless of marriage counselors, most of them are actually ineffective which makes finding a good counselor quite a daunting task.

Since dealing with an ineffective counselor is one of the major reason why marriage counseling may not work, ensure that you are hiring a trained and licensed counselor. Most importantly, ensure that he or she has experience in dealing with the issues you are facing. You can even ask to talk to previous clients before taking the plunge.

As aforementioned, marriage counseling is not only for couple looking to improve their relationship but also for those who want help ending it. It is especially beneficial for couples with children who want to ensure the end of the union does not lead to the breakdown of the family.

Does marriage counseling work? Ultimately, it is difficult to measure if it does, mostly because the outcome has different meanings in different relationship. To some people, it is intended to transform their lives and relationship while others are looking for help in solving problems and being able to move forward with less anxiety and more confidence.


Ivan Verr is a self-development & relationship coach, with a passion for helping singles and couples building a beautiful relationship.

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