Should We Try Couples Counseling?

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If you’ve reached a point in your marriage where it seems like things just aren’t working out, you may be considering marriage counseling. However, sometimes it’s easy to hesitate or second-guess yourself before taking this step. You may be wondering:

  • What do we do there?
  • What if I don’t like the counselor?
  • Am I really “the kind of person” who goes to counseling?

And of course:

  • Does this even work?

You’ll be happy to know that experts have spent a lot of time looking into that last question—and that the answer, for most couples, is “yes.”

Majority Of Couples Benefit

Research shows that over 70% of couples who go to marriage counseling show significant improvement in their relationships. What’s more, these positive changes tend to last for years. And even couples whose relationships are in serious trouble (for instance, due to violence or substance abuse) may benefit from counseling.

Choose the Right Therapist

This is great news, but there’s more you may want to know. For instance, you probably want to seek out a couples therapist who uses well-known and verified techniques. While other styles and approaches still might work, these time-tested methods are the ones that have been proven to be effective.

Some popular approaches include integrative behavioral couples therapy, traditional behavioral couples therapy, or emotion-focused therapy. These methods will help you strengthen your attachment and bonds and learn to behave more positively in a relationship.

Make Sure Things "Click"

Another important factor in whether or not counseling will work is the relationship each person has with the counselor. If one member of the couple feels skeptical, detached, or ill at ease, research shows that counseling is less likely to succeed. So pay close attention to this. If it’s not working well, speak up, or consider a different counselor.

Are There Other Issues?

There’s one more thing you might want to know about marriage counseling. It’s this: people whose marriages are in trouble may have other problems in their lives, too. For instance, one or both of you may be experiencing depression or anxiety. These issues may have led to the need for marriage counseling. Or it could be the other way around. In any case, it could be that one or both of you may need individual help, too. 

Not Every Marriage Will Survive

Of course, not every relationship can be saved by marriage counseling. Experts know that in some cases, one member of the couple has already essentially decided to leave the marriage, making couples counseling into “pre-divorce” counseling. However, this can have its value as well. A good counselor can also respectfully and gently guide a couple whose marriage cannot be saved through the divorce process.

It can be scary or awkward to make that first call about counseling, especially if you’ve never done anything like that before. But remember, living with a marriage in trouble is no walk in the park either. Distressed couples who reach out for help have a much better chance of seeing improvement in their relationships than those who do nothing. If you’re considering couples counseling, Find a Therapist today.

By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Reference

Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A. and Johnson, S. M. (2012), Research on the Treatment of Couple Distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38: 145–168. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x