Does Marriage Counseling Work?

You may have heard that marriage counseling is the “death throes” of a marriage. Maybe your spouse is asking, “does marriage counseling work?” The answer is yes, absolutely. I have seen couples on the brink of divorce not only turn their marriages around, but become much closer, grow individually and even connect with a higher purpose for life after going through mindful marriage counseling.It’s this process and outcome that keeps me energized as a couples’ counselor. Believe me, I wouldn’t have spent this long as a couples’ counselor if my field were overwhelmed by chronic failure.

The Marriage Counselor: A Fitness Coach for the Relationship

Unfortunately, I find that too often couples only seek help when their problems have reached such a critical level that many say they are ready to split up. I have frequently wished the couples would come sooner, before things got so desperate and unhealthy. I know that if they had started working on the relationship sooner, they would not have experienced such a high level of pain and struggle. I also know that many of these same individuals were proud to express their devotion to exercise and good nutrition. Some of them had personal coaches to design and guide them through an exercise program. They had learned that physical problems could often be prevented if they kept their bodies in better shape. Yet, sadly, their intimate relationships were starving for attention and nurturing. I strongly suggest you take a preventative approach with your intimate relationship. Just as many people have learned to prevent problems with their physical well-being, you can apply the same principles to the health of your primary relationship. Do now wait until there is a major problem before you do something about it.

Don’t Take My Word for It . . . Divorce Attorneys See Marriages Turn Around, too

You may be thinking either that, as a marriage counselor, I HAVE to believe in my product. OR, you may think that while therapy works for some couples, there is no way it could work for yours. If you feel that your marriage is past the point of no return, think again. At cocktail parties (in between times when individuals ask “does marriage counseling work?”), I do rub elbows with divorce attorneys. I also interact with these attorneys professionally, especially when child custody issues are involved. Divorce attorneys that I work with and even socialize with share a version of this story regularly: an individual sits in their office spewing the most caustic vitriol about the partner they’re splitting from. The anger doesn’t stop with words. The client or the partner ratchet up the drama by “keying” cars, calling police and burning papers, books, even furniture! They bad-mouth each other to friends, call the attorneys demanding one harsh action after another. And then . . . Silence. A week . . . a few weeks . . . a month go by with no calls from the furious, acting-out client. When the attorney calls, the individual says lightly, “Oh. We decided to get back together. Can you send the final bill?”

Does Marriage Counseling Work? Yes . . . When These Elements are Present

Finding specific statistics of how often marriage counseling works is complicated. For one thing, marital therapy or relationship counseling can be considered to “work” even when the partners decide to part. They leave understanding more about themselves and their relational styles. They feel better, more enlightened, even though they decide to not continue the relationship. Dr. Lisa Firestone, a colleague in the mindfulness in relationships space, relates: “In my 25 years as a therapist, I’ve worked with countless couples facing a broad spectrum of challenges. Yet, despite the diversity between them in age, occupation or origin, I’m amazed at the similarities in the patterns and pitfalls that couples fall into. When two people walk into my office and start discussing their relationship, the first thing I tell them is to focus on empowering yourself. The only person you can change is you. If both parties accept this, real change is possible in the relationship.” Marriage counseling is most effective when individuals can:

  • Stop blaming, shaming, and criticizing
  • Stop reacting angrily in the moment
  • Identify a partner’s actions or behaviors that trigger a strong reaction in you (these could have something to do with your own emotional wounding)
  • Extend compassion to themselves AND their partner during this stressful time
  • Accept that you have unique minds that work differently