If your marriage is having problems, do not wait too long to seek professional help. Marriage counseling (also called couples’ therapy) can be very effective, especially if couples seek it out sooner rather than later.
Start by finding a counselor who specializes in marriage or couples therapy. They are out there and willing to help. You may have to meet with more than one to find the right fit. It’s important that both spouses feel comfortable with the therapist, so keep trying until you find the right person.
Consider these questions about yourself, your partner, and your marriage.
- Did you marry at an early age?
- Did you not graduate from high school?
- Are you in a lower income bracket?
- Are you in an interfaith marriage?
- Did your parents divorce?
- 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 and anger for one another?
- Do you believe your communication is poor?
- Is there a presence of infidelity, addiction, or abuse in your marriage?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, then you are statistically higher risk for divorce. It does not mean that divorce is inevitable. But it may mean that you have to work much harder to keep your relationship on track. A marriage counselor can help you with that work.
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. They still may benefit from counseling at times of transition or simply to reinforce their communication skills and strong connection.
The most studied, and effective, form of treatment is emotionally-focused couples therapy (EFT) developed by Dr. Sue Johnson. Research shows that this treatment is long-lasting and helpful with those of different 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.
There are also ways to gauge if counseling will actually work for your marriage. Counselors suggest that different types of couples may get more out of marriage counseling.
Which Couples Get the Most From Marriage Counseling?
If you see yourself here, you are likely to benefit from seeing a marriage counselor.
- Younger couples
- Non-sexist and egalitarian couples
- Couples who are still in love with each other
- Couples who are open to therapy and change
- Partners willing to look at themselves and their flaws
Which Couples Get the Least from Marriage Counseling?
If your marriage is more like these, counseling may not be effective for you. That doesn’t mean you should give up, but have realistic expectations.
- Couples who wait too long before seeking help
- Marriages with one or the other spouse set on getting a divorce
- Married individuals who are closed to any suggestions that may save the marriage
- Marriages with one partner addicted to alcohol, drugs or pornography
- Marriage with one partner showing up to sessions but is not invested in the work
Solutions Learned From Happy Couples
John Gottman’s research looks at happy couples for solutions. 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 do not have this skill set.
Generally, marriage and relationship researchers suggest that the goal of couple therapy should be to change the patterns of interaction, emotional connection, and communication between the partners.
Don’t Wait to Get Help
If you think your marriage is in trouble, do not wait. Seek help as soon as possible. Plan to budget money and time for this treatment. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to get your relationship back on track. Find professional couples counseling or attend a marriage course or weekend experience as soon as warning signs appear.