Whether you’re considering starting marriage counseling with your partner or you have your first appointment booked, and you’re ready to go, it’s normal to ask yourself, will this really work? What do we expect? Luckily, with modern advances in techniques and types, couples counseling has a success rate of nearly 70-90% and contributes to the decrease in divorce across the U.S.
Being married isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a commitment in which both partners have to work together to love and forgive each other continually mutually. Relationships, and marriages, can be strained for a lot of different reasons.
In certain situations, it may be a couple’s choice to call it quits and get a divorce or separate. In other instances, a couple might choose to work on their relationship to repair or salvage it before it is too late. There might have already been conversations of separation, or you might just be looking for a healthy, neutral territory to work through marriage difficulties.
Bottom line? Many couples already decide that they want a divorce before they begin going to sessions. This quickly becomes divorce counseling instead of marriage counseling, especially if one or both partners have already emotionally checked out. The first step is to mutually and equally committed to the idea of working on your relationship with your spouse, with the idea of divorce, at least for now, off the table.
In 2017, MidAmerica Nazarene University surveyed 1,000 engaged, married, and divorced couples on marriage counseling. They discovered the following statistics:
According to a study done by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the success rate of marriage counseling is relatively high:
Below are some of the most common and popular marriage counseling techniques used by therapists.
Founded by husband and wife psychologists, the Gottman method aims to help couples repair their relationships by focusing on four specific areas of destructive behavior: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
It follows the Sound Relationship House theory, which involves concepts of learning each other’s worlds, building admiration, turning towards your partner in the face of conflict, maintaining a positive perspective, following your dreams, and creating shared meaning and purpose together.
EFT is a well-known and popular therapeutic technique for couples. It is a short-term, 8-20 sessions approach that aims to identify and organize emotional responses, create a positive shift in your and your partner’s interactions, and foster a secure bond together. Preliminary research has been done on the effectiveness of EFT in couples who are struggling with mental illness.
Behavioral Couples Therapy is for couples who are seeking counseling or therapy when one partner is suffering from alcohol or substance abuse. This form of therapy aims to create healthy communication skills in an open, non-judgemental environment. Sessions often last 12-20 weeks and can begin as soon as the partner seeks treatment, such as detox or inpatient.
One of the main aspects of BHT is the couple’s creation of a “recovery contract,” which involves daily tasks that are rewarded by staying sober.
CBCT is an offshoot of the commonly known cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is one of the most common styles of therapy for individuals. CBCT uses aspects of social learning theories to help couples understand each other’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotional responses by rewarding positive behaviors and evaluating any negative assumptions about each other.
Imago relationship therapy focuses on the unconscious idea we have of love that was developed in childhood. This image of love is often projected when moving into adulthood in relationships. In IRT, conflict is a positive thing that allows for growth in marriage. It places the utmost importance on listening to your partner to understand positive and negative ideas of love that formed as a child.
Counselors trained in narrative therapy understand that in a relationship conflict, the problem often becomes a part of the relationship identity and is inseparable because it has become embedded so deeply in the feelings and thoughts of the partner. Narrative therapy seeks to separate conflict from the marriage, by externalizing problems through talk therapy and then challenging feelings to figure out why a partner feels the way they do. By telling the story, the couple is forced to pull out uncomfortable memories and ideas, and through this, the therapist can work to create a sense of engagement and mutual understanding.
There are many reasons why you might choose to seek out counseling with your spouse. Whatever the reason may be, know that you are validated in your feelings of being unsatisfied or unhappy in some way and that there are solutions out there.
Depending on what technique your therapist uses, marriage counseling can look different. In general, you and your spouse will have a combination of individual and couples counseling, with potentially family counseling if appropriate. Your therapist will want to know about your thoughts and feelings regarding your marriage when your spouse is not in the room, and then also seek to understand how the both of you interact with each other during couples counseling.
You can expect homework, but not in the same way we think of typical school homework. Your therapist may task both of you with learning better communication, coping, conflict management, or intimacy skills. This may be a difficult and busy time, but it is important to both be dedicated to putting your words into action when you step out of the therapist’s office.
When you start marriage counseling, you’re coming into the office with deeply engrained habits, thoughts, and feelings that are interfering with your relationship. By the both of you committing to doing the exercises and homework, you are actively working towards unlearning these unhealthy behaviors and patterns that landed you there in the first place.
Your therapist will encourage both of you to open up to each other about opinions and negative feelings in a safe environment. You will quickly fill up a “toolbox” of coping strategies, new ways of thinking, and solutions to your marital problems. Throughout this process, you will also learn to support and love each other better.
The easiest way to answer if marriage counseling is effective in saving a marriage is something that truly only you and your spouse can answer. Research and studies on different therapeutic techniques for couples counseling do show that it can be effective, but only if the couple wants it to be. Having these mindsets will increase the likelihood that marriage counseling will work for you and your spouse.
You and your spouse…
Marriage is a beautiful, but sometimes difficult, committed relationship that truly takes the work of both partners to make it last. Even with marriage counseling, some marriages still end in divorce. The likelihood of its effectiveness is largely dependent on how dedicated you and your spouse are to repairing and mending marital problems. No marriage is perfect. Couples counseling can be beneficial to all couples who are looking to grow, mend, and nourish their relationship.
Dr. John G. Kuna and Associates is a highly qualified team of mental health professionals that provide a caring and compassionate environment for marriage counseling in Bethlehem, PA, and 14 other convenient locations across Eastern PA. If you’re considering marriage counseling for you and your partner, schedule an appointment today, we are here to help.