Does marriage counseling really work?

Posted by on Jan 6, 2012 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Does marriage counseling really work?

There are certainly no shortage of opinions out there on this issue. For every friend or blog post that swears counseling saved their marriage, there are others that will say it didn’t make a difference either way and still others who are convinced it ruined their relationship. So who should you believe? Does marriage counseling really work?

The short answer is that marriage counseling does work. Okay, it probably isn’t surprising that I would take this view. After all, what kind of a relationship therapist would I be if I didn’t believe that counseling is effective? But this isn’t just my personal opinion. I know it works because there is a considerable amount of scientific research that shows that it does (See Bergin and Garfield’s 2003 Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change for a thorough review of the literature). I also know that marriage counseling works because I see couples in my practice every day who are benefiting from it.

Research studies have shown that, overall, about a third of couples who participate in counseling benefit from it. A third might not sound like very much until you stop to consider the following:

  1. Unhappy couples who don’t seek counseling are far less satisfied with their relationship, and far more likely to end it, than couples who participate in marriage counseling. In other words, the odds of things just getting better on their own are not good.
  2. For those couples who go to marriage counseling, the ones who benefit are different in several important ways from those who don’t . Marriage counseling works best for couples who are: moderately rather than severely troubled; Committed to being in the relationship; willing to work on the relationship; and choose to work with a skilled relationship therapist. Under these circumstances, studies report marriage counseling success rates as high as 70% (check out the work of John Gottman and colleagues for more detailed research results). You don’t need me to tell you that these are much better odds. A couple doesn’t necessarily have to have all of these things in order for marriage counseling to work; however, the more of them they have, the better the odds it will work.

It is all well and good for you to know that marriage counseling works but let’s get to the real question. I would be willing to bet that what you really want to know is “how do I know if it will work for me?” If you are like most people, you may be reluctant to spend your time and resources on counseling without knowing if it will work for you. I wish I could offer you some kind of guarantee but I can’t. The reality is that not every couple will benefit from marriage counseling and, for those who do benefit, some will do better than others. what I can tell you with certainty is that Marriage counseling can give you and your partner a much better chance of staying together and being happy in your relationship. Give it a try and see for yourself if it works for you.

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