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What Is the Success Rate of Marriage Counseling?

by
author image Jill Avery-Stoss
Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.
What Is the Success Rate of Marriage Counseling?
Young couple in counseling. Photo Credit alexsokolov/iStock/Getty Images

In the United States, a high divorce rate exists for both first and second marriages, according to John Mordechai Gottman, in his book entitled, "The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically-based Marital Therapy." The circumstance of marital distress can be emotionally painful for the couple and for children involved. It is understandable, then, that marriage counseling is in high demand. This type of therapy is potentially effective, although there are several factors that contribute to its success.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is one of the most effective means of reducing marital distress, according to the Chicago Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy. The center cites research indicating that approximately 50 percent of participating couples have recovered upon the termination of therapy, with 70 percent recovered within the next three months. Two years later, they were still maintaining their improved relationships. While there are a multitude of factors that contribute to the success of marriage counseling, such as the willingness of both parties to participate and the nature of the issues at hand, many marriages benefit from it, overall.

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Couples Should Have Realistic Expectations

Couples that identify realistic goals in therapy are more likely make progress. An attainable goal, for instance, may to achieve healthier means of communicating. It is not realistic, however, to expect a perfectly harmonious relationship -- Gottman states that an avoidance of conflict is dysfunctional. The objective for some couples is not even a peaceful reconciliation, but a civil divorce. Another unreasonable expectation is the assumption by a couple that their relationship will be "fixed" after a few sessions with a counselor. It can take months or years for genuine progress to be detected.

An Effective Counselor Helps

There is a myriad of therapies available, and many therapists to offer them. Not all counselors or therapists, however, are qualified to provide marriage counseling. An effective therapist must be engaged in the work and truly invested in helping troubled relationships. Education and training for the provision of marriage and family counseling is rigorous, and includes an extensive licensing process with ongoing continuing education requirements, according to psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., in an article for Psychology Today entitled, "5 Principles of Effective Couples Therapy." Signs of a good counselor or therapist also include healthy professional boundaries, such as a rigid confidentiality policy.

Domestic Violence Takes a Toll on the Relationship

Domestic abuse generally consists of one partner in a relationship utilizing manipulative and coercive tactics to maintain power and control over the other. If the perpetrator senses that he may be losing this power and control, the abuse may worsen -- even if he has not previously been physically violent. In turn, the need for victims to be open and honest in marriage counseling is not always safe. Batterers are also unlikely to be open and honest in counseling because they generally do not take responsibility for their actions. According to Lundy Bancroft in the book, “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men," there has been an increase in the number of counselors and therapists who refuse to engage in marriage counseling for these reasons.

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