Does Marriage Counseling Work? (2024)

Marriage counseling is when couples receive guidance from a professional in order to navigate relationship troubles—such as shared responsibilities, infidelity, and more.

There are a number of reasons a couple might seek professional help for their relationship. Marriage counseling and couples therapy can be very effective, especially when started sooner rather than later.

Once you've decided to give therapy a try, the next step is finding a counselorwho specializes in marriage or couples therapy. You may have to meet with more than one therapist to find the right fit. It's important that both partners feel comfortable, so keep trying until you find the right person.

This article covers how effective marriage counseling may be, reasons people seek counseling, as well as who may benefit from it. It also discusses what to do if your partner doesn't want to go to counseling (but you do), plus some tips for healthy conflict resolution.

Effectiveness of Marriage Counseling

The most studied and effective form of couples therapy isemotionally-focused couples therapy(EFT), developed byDr. Sue Johnson. Research shows that this treatment is long-lasting and helpful with those of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds as well.

One 2017 study, for example, looked at the effectiveness of couples therapy in a group of veterans, with variation in age and race, and found it to be generally effective, with relationships still improved 18 months after treatment.

Another study from 2017 also found improvements lasting 24 months after treatment. Research published in 2015 found EFT helpful in couples experiencing infertility.

Does Marriage Counseling Really Work?

Marriage counseling can work to improve your relationship; however, there are many factors that contribute to its effectiveness such as your willingness to work on your relationship.

Generally, marriage and relationship researcherssuggest that the goal of couples therapy should be to change the patterns of interaction, emotional connection,and communicationbetween the partners.

Is Marriage Counseling Worth It?

Marriage counseling can be worthwhile for any couple who wants to find ways to make their partnership better. It can be helpful at various points in a relationship and can address a wide variety of issues that might exist in a marriage.

  • Younger couples may benefit from counseling: Counseling may help them establish healthy communication early on in a marriage. One study found that counseling prior to marriage could also empower couples to maintain their relationship over the long term.
  • Partners who want to work on themselves may benefit: Counseling may be more effective when both partners are open and willing to look at their own flaws and are willing to make changes.
  • Couples that seek help earlier may achieve better outcomes: According to Dr. John Gottman, one of the leading experts on relationships and marriage, couples that get counseling before problems become severe may benefit a great deal from counseling.

Even couples who have reached the point where they are considering divorce can still benefit from marriage counseling.

Do You Need Marriage Counseling?

There are many reasons why a couple might seek marriage counseling. While some people are at a higher risk for divorce due to factors such as marrying at an early age, having divorced parents, or being in a lower income bracket, none of these alone are signs you need counseling.

Instead, you should consider aspects of your relationship that might be contributing to distress, dissatisfaction, or conflict. Consider the following questions about yourself, your partner, and your marriage:

  • Do you and your partner have conflicts over religious faith or values?
  • Do you often criticize one another?
  • Is there a lot of defensiveness in your marriage?
  • Do you tend to withdraw from one another?
  • Do you feel contempt, anger, or resentment for one another?
  • Do you believe your communication is poor?
  • Do you feel indifferent to your partner?
  • Do you feel like you and your partner have nothing in common?
  • Do you feel like you are growing apart from your partner?
  • Is there infidelity, addiction, or abuse in your marriage?

If you answered "yes" to several of these questions, then you may have a higher risk for relationship dissatisfaction and divorce. It doesn't mean that divorce is inevitable, but it may mean that you have to work much harder to keep your relationship healthy and happy. A marriage counselor can help you with that work.

There are many reasons why a marriage might reach a point that counseling is needed. The stress of daily life combined with the demands of work and family can make it more difficult for couples to feel close and connected.

It's important to remember that thinking about marriage counseling isn't a sign that your relationship is doomed. Instead, it indicates a willingness todo the work to improve your marriage, strengthen your communication, and grow closer to your partner.

Spouses who have realistic expectations of one another and their marriage, communicate well, use conflict resolution skills, and are compatible with one another are less at risk for divorce.

And even these couples can benefit from counseling at times of transition or simply to reinforce their communication skills and strong connection.

Signs a Marriage Cannot Be Saved

When to Start Marriage Counseling

It may be a good time to start counseling if both you and your spouse feel dissatisfied within the relationship—especially if you're working through a specific marital problem such as financial difficulty, infidelity, childcare issues, or another challenge.

It's a myth that your problems need to be "bad enough" for counseling. Even if you're not dealing with serious issues right now, counseling can be a great way to check in on your marriage and learn tips for maintaining a healthy relationship.

One study found that partners who made a greater number of attempts to improve their relationship on their own felt more distressed and less satisfied in their relationship than partners who made fewer attempts.

In other words, if counseling is available to you, it may benefit you and your partner to get a professional opinion when problems first arise so you can manage future obstacles together.

If Your Partner Refuses to Go to Marriage Counseling

It's not uncommon that one partner in the relationship does not want to attend therapy. Below are some common concerns and how you might address them with your partner if you do want to give counseling a try.

  • Your partner has never been to therapy before: Reassure your partner that it's common for couples to receive therapy or counseling. Try not to invalidate their fears, but rather, educate them on what will happen during a session so it seems less intimidating.
  • Your partner is worried that your relationship will change: Try gently reminding your partner that the goal of counseling is to create positive change in the relationship for both of you.
  • Your partner doesn't like the counselor: If you partner is uncomfortable with the therapist or counselor, try picking a new professional together.
  • Your partner won't open up: If your partner is unwilling to discuss their feelings with a professional, try to be patient. It may help for them to have a phone call with the counselor before a session to ask questions and get more comfortable.

Ultimately, you can't control whether or not your partner will want to go to marriage counseling.

If your partner chooses not to go to counseling, you can go by yourself. A counselor can still teach effective ways to approach problems in your marriage that will benefit both you and your partner.

How Happy Couples Handle Conflict

It is important to recognize that even people in healthy, happy relationships experience problems and face conflicts in their relationships. Research also suggests that these happy couples also tend to argue about the same things that unhappy ones do.

Happy couples also argue about money, kids, in-laws, and intimacy. The key to the success of these couples lies in how they manage these disagreements.

John Gottman's research looks at happy couples. He has discovered that even though all couples experience conflict in their marriages, happy couples apparently know how to handle their disagreements because of a foundation of affection and friendship.Unhappy couples may struggle with this skill set.

The exact problems couples argue about can also have an effect. In one study published in the journal Family Process, researchers found that happier couples tend to focus on issues that can be resolved more readily.

Unhappier couples instead center their conflicts on long-standing issues that lack an immediate resolution.

"Being able to successfully differentiate between issues that need to be resolved versus those that can be laid aside for now may be one of the keys to a long-lasting, happy relationship," suggested lead author Amy Rauer in a press release.

What to Do If You Don't Like Your In-Laws

Where to Find a Marriage Counselor

Resources to help you find a marriage counselor near you include the following:

In addition, there are plenty of services that provide marriage counseling online, which in some cases, may be more affordable and convenient for you and your partner.

A Word From Verywell

While people often wait until their relationship problems become unbearable, seeking help early on may be helpful and improve your experience. Learning to work on your communication, finding effective ways to resolve conflicts, and rebuilding your emotional intimacy can help strengthen your connection and help you feel closer to your partner.

No marriage is perfect or completely free of conflict. If you feel like you might be facing a problem as a couple, marriage counseling can be a helpful tool to help you get your relationship back on track.

Does Marriage Counseling Work? (2024)


Does Marriage Counseling Work? ›

More than 98% of couples who try marriage counseling report that therapy sessions are either “excellent” or “good” Of couples who try marriage counseling, 90% say emotional health has improved. Two-thirds say they've seen improvements in their physical health after seeking counseling.

What is the success rate of marriage Counselling? ›

In fact, research shows that couples therapy positively impacts 70% of those receiving treatment. And for many couples, seeking out professional help can be the difference between making the long haul or becoming a divorce statistic. But what exactly is marriage counseling, and how does it work?

What not to say in marriage counseling? ›

3 things you should never tell your marriage counselor
  • "Don't tell my husband/wife this, but ..." Sorry, as marriage counselors we're not supposed to take sides and we can't keep important secrets from your partner. ...
  • 2. " No, I think you're wrong" ...
  • 3. " That's it; I want a divorce"
Feb 1, 2016

Can Counselling help a marriage? ›

Marriage counseling can be worthwhile for any couple who wants to find ways to make their partnership better. It can be helpful at various points in a relationship and can address a wide variety of issues that might exist in a marriage.

What percentage of marriages end in divorce? ›

Almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation. 7. Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.

What is the divorce rate in the US? ›

Divorce Rates in America (Editor's Pick) The current divorce rate in the US is 2.3 persons per 1,000 people. Overall, the rate of divorces in America is falling. Divorces amongst people aged 50+ years are rising.

Can a marriage survive without counseling? ›

Your relationship can survive without counseling if each of you is willing to put in the effort. Trying another exercise instead of counseling can improve your relationship and help you overcome the problems.

What can you not tell a counselor? ›

What You Should Never Tell Your Therapist
  • Telling Lies & Half-Truths1. ...
  • Leaving Out Important Details2. ...
  • Testing Your Therapist3. ...
  • Apologizing for Feelings You Express in Therapy4. ...
  • “I Didn't Do My Homework”5. ' ...
  • Detailing Every Minute Detail of Your Day6. ...
  • Just Stating the FactsDon't Just State the Facts.
Sep 15, 2022

What should you avoid in Counselling? ›

In summary, when dealing with couples, counselors should avoid making the following mistakes:
  • Showing bias or favoritism.
  • Failing to collect enough information about both people to avoid making assumptions.
  • Failing to establish ground rules at the beginning.
  • Failing to identify the actual client.
Mar 13, 2020

What's the difference between marriage counseling and couples therapy? ›

Couples therapy is for people who are having problems in their relationship, whereas all kinds of people go to marriage counseling to strengthen a relationship and get coping tools to deal with future challenges in a healthy way.

What is the negative side of counseling? ›

They include treatment failure and deterioration of symptoms, emergence of new symptoms, suicidality, occupational problems or stigmatization, changes in the social network or strains in relationships, therapy dependence, or undermining of self‐efficacy."

What's the difference between couples counseling and couples therapy? ›

Marriage counseling tends to deal with present day events rather than the past. It focuses on the 'now' and the challenges of married life so that you can get your relationship back on track. Couples therapy deals with the present day but also any history that causes unhealthy patterns of relating.

How can I save my marriage? ›

Check out the following six tips that you can use right now to try and save your marriage.
  1. Work on intimacy. Sure, we all get busy in life. ...
  2. Talk to each other regularly. ...
  3. Enjoy spending time together. ...
  4. Practice forgiveness. ...
  5. Don't be controlling. ...
  6. Consider talk therapy.
Sep 30, 2022

Does marriage counseling work with a narcissist? ›

Couples therapy helps narcissism much better than individual therapy — because the partner is involved in the effort. When the therapist works with the two of you, there is a much better chance of success — because there is so much more leverage.

How effective is couples Counselling? ›

Couples therapy can be very effective. The American Psychological Association (APA) states that marriage counseling that uses Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) is effective and helpful for about 75% of couples.

What is the #1 divorce cause? ›

According to various studies, the 4 most common causes of divorce are lack of commitment, infidelity or extramarital affairs, too much conflict and arguing, and lack of physical intimacy. The least common reasons are lack of shared interests and incompatibility between partners.

What year do most marriages fail? ›

While there are countless divorce studies with conflicting statistics, the data points to two periods during a marriage when divorces are most common: years 1 – 2 and years 5 – 8. Of those two high-risk periods, there are two years in particular that stand out as the most common years for divorce — years 7 and 8.

What is the most common age for divorce? ›

The average age for a couple entering their first divorce is 30 years old. And 60% of divorces involve spouses between the ages of 25 and 39. Women are more likely to file for divorce than men. The highest divorce rate is for African-American women aged 50 to 59.

Who initiates divorce more? ›

A study led by the American Sociological Association determined that nearly 70% of divorces are initiated by women.

How long does the average marriage last? ›

The average length of a first marriage in the United States clocks in at seven years. Most of those people get married for a second time, which can also end in divorce. Second marriages have a 60% chance of ending, and third marriages have a 73% chance of divorce. The odds increase the more marriages someone has.

What state has the longest lasting marriages? ›

Although couples would like for their love to last forever, a new study finds where you live may have a lot to say about that. The analysis, conducted by Point2Homes, reveals there's nowhere else in the U.S. that “*ntil death do us part” means more than in West Virginia and Maine.

How do you restart a broken marriage? ›

Here are eight ways to repair your marriage when it's falling apart:
  1. Share each other's joy. ...
  2. Blame the situation, not your spouse. ...
  3. Eliminate the three A's that ruin marriages. ...
  4. Kiss each other more. ...
  5. Let your conflict lead to growth. ...
  6. Know the difference between quality and quantity. ...
  7. Ask yourself why you want to make this work.
Nov 13, 2017

How do you fix a marriage after growing apart? ›

8 Tips to Reconnect with Your Partner After Growing Apart
  1. Difficult conversations.
  2. More time together.
  3. Little things.
  4. Intimacy.
  5. Meet your partner again.
  6. New activities.
  7. Follow through.
  8. Professional help.
Sep 27, 2022

What is crisis in marriage? ›

When the partner turns all the way around and away from the marriage when the truth and seriousness of the unhappiness is revealed, the true Marriage Crisis begins. “The Marriage Crisis begins in earnest when both partners are completely aware that the marriage may end due to one partner's extreme unhappiness.” –

Can you overshare in therapy? ›

Sharing something you think is too sensitive or personal can be uncomfortable. But know you're not alone in thinking you've disclosed too much in therapy. When this happens, it can help to explore why you think you've overshared and talk it over with your therapist.

Why does my therapist watch my hands? ›

Hands. Your client's hands can give you clues about how they're reacting to what comes up in the session. Trembling fingers can indicate anxiety or fear. Fists that clench or clutch the edges of clothing or furniture can suggest anger.

When should you avoid couples therapy? ›

Although marriage counseling has proven effective for many couples, there are times when marriage counseling may not be your best option. Marriage counseling is not recommended for couples struggling with domestic violence or for those who are already “checked out” of the relationship.

What are the top 10 common counselling mistakes? ›

From One Therapist to Another: 10 Most Common Therapist Mistakes
  • Taking a Side. ...
  • Engaging in a Power Struggle. ...
  • Answering Direct Questions. ...
  • Colluding in "either/or" Questions. ...
  • Assuming You Know What's Best (you could be wrong even when it seems. ...
  • Being Focused on Your Own Agenda. ...
  • Over-validating.
Aug 24, 2021

What are the three rules of counselling? ›

3 Core Conditions for Therapeutic Change
  • CONGRUENCE (GENUINENESS) Congruence refers to the therapist being real, authentic, and genuine with their clients. ...
Feb 20, 2016

What are 5 effects of negative counselling? ›

  • an exacerbation of symptoms,
  • increased acting out behavior, depression, and paranoia.
  • increased intellectualization and rationalization,
  • patient overidentification with the therapist to the point of doing things because the therapist wants them to,
  • disillusionment with therapy and the therapeutic relationship.

What type of counselor is best for marriage? ›

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

A licensed marriage family therapist specializes in working with couples and families. These professionals focus on helping people repair relationships and develop essential relationship skills.

Should a husband and wife see the same therapist? ›

There Are Many Benefits. For couples looking to improve the communication between themselves and their significant other, seeing the same counselor separately or even the same counselor together can help communication and problem solving greatly.

What is the best form of couples therapy? ›

No couples therapy has as much research support as Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Ninety percent (90%) of couples who go through EFT significantly improve their relationship and 70-75% of couples no longer fit criteria for relationship distress following treatment (according to a metanalysis).

What are the unethical behaviors in counseling? ›

Some types of unethical behavior seen in the therapy space are: Violating confidentiality. Abandoning you as a client. Contacting you outside of office hours.

What is the most difficult part of counseling? ›

One of the most challenging aspects of conducting therapy is finessing the balance between meeting clients where they are at and also encouraging them to grow.

Why people avoid Counselling? ›

Individuals fear judgment, change, the unknown, and what they might discover in therapy; additionally, they're too prideful to admit they need help. Additionally, some people doubt the efficacy of mental health treatment: They're uncertain it will work or misunderstand how it works.

Do we need couples therapy or individual therapy? ›

For those who are not struggling with personal mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, etc.) but are dealing with issues in their relationship, couples counseling alone might be sufficient. If personal and relationship struggles are present, though, both individual and couples counseling may be more effective.

What is Gottman therapy? ›

Gottman Therapy is a research-based therapy that aims to help couples build stronger relationships. The therapy posits that conflicts in relationships fall into two categories. They can either be resolved or they are perpetual. Perpetual conflicts are always part of the relationship.

Should I have the same therapist as my partner? ›

A husband and wife should attend the same therapist in order to make the same progress together and to be cured in the same way. Usually, if only one partner undergoes therapy, it will be good only for them as an individual.

Does separation work to save a marriage? ›

If a temporary separation is done in the right way and for the right reasons, and there are clear agreements, it can help couples gain perspective on their relationship and actually strengthen it.

How do you know when it's time to divorce? ›

10 Signs That It's Time to Divorce
  • You No Longer Communicate with Your Spouse. ...
  • Your Marriage Lacks Intimacy. ...
  • One Spouse Is Causing Financial Hardship. ...
  • The Relationship Isn't a Top Priority. ...
  • You Aren't Willing to Argue with Your Spouse. ...
  • Opinions Concerning Children Greatly Differ. ...
  • You Don't Feel Respected by Your Partner.
Apr 23, 2021

How do I reconnect with my wife and save my marriage? ›

8 Ways to Reconnect and Strengthen Your Relationship
  1. Make Your Relationship a Priority. ...
  2. Create couples rituals. ...
  3. Institute a daily check-in. ...
  4. Ask: Is it good for our relationship? ...
  5. Build healthy boundaries. ...
  6. Cheer each other on. ...
  7. Schedule time for your marriage first. ...
  8. Disconnect from the 24/7 office.
Feb 6, 2023

Is anyone happily married to a narcissist? ›

Can a narcissist have a happy marriage? Unfortunately, the answer is almost always “no.” The photos and the couple's public behavior show one thing, while something much less appealing is going on behind the scenes.

What a narcissist does at the end of a marriage? ›

At the end of a relationship, narcissists may become combative, passive-aggressive, hostile, and even more controlling. People with NPD often fail to understand other people's needs and values. They are hyper focused on their egos, but do not account for how their actions affect others.

What does narcissistic abuse feel like? ›

Chronic abuse can lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially in victims who experienced other traumas. The result of narcissistic abuse can also include a pervasive sense of shame, overwhelming feelings of helplessness, and emotional flashbacks.

How many marriages last after counseling? ›

According to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, the success rate of marriage counseling is around 70%.

What is the success rate of therapeutic separation? ›

In fact, studies show a 75 percent success rate for couples who complete the program, even though at least a third are separated when they come to the weekend.

What is common to all of the marital therapies reviewed? ›

What is common to all of the marital therapies reviewed? -provides a hopeful new perspective on how such difficulties can be overcome. -provides a means of changing patterns of interaction that have been causing distress, -increases a couple's repertoire of more effective, more desirable behavior.

Which type of therapy is likely to focus on accepting incompatibilities that partners Cannot change? ›

-integrative behavioral couple therapy seeks to encourage more desirable behavior and teach the partners to tolerantly accept the incompatibilities they cannot change.

Can a marriage survive separation? ›

Separation can be good for marriage depending on the circ*mstances of the couple. If both partners are willing to work through current problems, separation can be a great way to process individual issues before reuniting. With that said, about 80 percent of separations ultimately lead to divorce.

Can trial separation save your marriage? ›

If a temporary separation is done in the right way and for the right reasons, and there are clear agreements, it can help couples gain perspective on their relationship and actually strengthen it.

How long does the average separation last? ›

A recent study concluded that while the vast majority of married couples who separate will eventually divorce (within three years), approximately 15% remain separated indefinitely, even past the 10-year mark.

How lack of intimacy destroys marriage? ›

With physical intimacy being one of the ways for a partner to communicate feelings, its absence can cause a void that can create a barrier over time. Over time, it can make the partners experience abandonment issues. This can begin a cycle where the abandoned partner can start distancing themselves in turn.

What lack of intimacy does to a woman? ›

The lack of physical touch, emotional connection, and sexual intimacy can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. It can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, and decreased libido.

What is the best kind of marriage counselor? ›

Clinical Psychologist (CP)

You may want to see a psychologist for marriage counseling if you believe your partner or you may be dealing with an undiagnosed mental health condition. As mental health professionals, psychologists must pass state and national licensing exams and obtain a doctoral degree in psychology.

What is the Gotham method? ›

The Gottman Method aims "to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy, and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship."1.

What does stonewalling look like? ›

Rather than confronting the issue, someone who is stonewalling will be totally unresponsive, making evasive maneuver such as tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or engaging in obsessive behaviors.

What is contempt in a relationship? ›

About Contempt

Contempt comes from a place of superiority and makes the other feel inferior. Deep down, it stems from a sense of feeling unappreciated and unacknowledged in the relationship. It can take the form of verbal or non-verbal language, which can include sarcasm, mockery, and facial gestures.

Why do people resist couples therapy? ›

Many times, this is due to fear, uncertainty and societal myths that paint therapy in a false light. It can also be the result of certain misguided viewpoints including: They underestimate their problems. Many people view therapy as a last resort for people with especially serious emotional or psychological issues.

What makes woman happy in marriage? ›

Communication is key to a happy marriage. Happy wives tell their husbands everything — worries, fears, accomplishments and joys. She's not afraid to say what she's feeling and she loves having those daily conversations. If she's happy, she'll try as hard as she can to have the best relationship with your family.

What to do when your spouse won't change? ›

Require Change
  1. Set a deadline. If you don't, your partner could be “working on changing” for years to come. ...
  2. Be specific. Make it clear that a particular behavior (describe it so it's clear to your partner) is unacceptable.
  3. Create consequences. Tell your partner what you'll do if the above behavior happens again.
Dec 23, 2020


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