Marriage Counseling Success Rate Versus No Professional Aid

Any empirical research on this topic?

Any definition of success is fine by me, so long as its a real-looking survey. If it’s a proper scientific survey, it will say what the definition they used was. No need for you all to spend 20 posts debating what counts as success. (Not that I’d ever expect that of a GQ thread.)

Boy, I hope this thread gets some responses. I think that counseling is the only thing that will work. Nothing else has, so far.

one bump rule

How is a survey like that even possible? How can you know what percentage of couples who never went to therapy but stayed married anyway? How do you even define that?

Are you asking for the divorce rate of couples who went to counseling versus those who didn’t? In that case, the going to counseling group is almost entirely made up of couples who are having problems that they aren’t able to solve on their own. The other group probably has a huge percentage of people who would go to counseling if the did have problems but didn’t have problems.

This sounds like someone wants to prove that marriage therapy makes things worse or something.

To add an IMHO comment, counseling will only work if both partners really want it to work. Even then it might not. If either one of you is truly done with it all, nothing will work. The best thing about therapy is that is facilitates good communication with the therapist keeping the discussion fair and on topic.

It’s also hard to qualify because a marriage counselor will try to do what’s best. And that may not be keeping the marriage together.

If two people are hopelessly incompatable a marriage counselor isn’t going to say “Oh just stay together.”

Interesting question. I did a little surfing…

*Research outcomes on couples counseling suggest the following:

At the end of couple’s therapy, 75% of couples receiving therapy are better off than similar couples who did not receive therapy.

Sixty five percent of couples report “significant” improvement based on averaged scores of marital “satisfaction.”

Most couples will benefit from therapy, but both spouses will not necessarily experience the same outcomes or benefits.

Therapies that produce the greatest gain and are able to maintain that gain over the long amount of time, tend to affect the couple’s emotional bonds and help the spouse’s work together to achieve a greater level of “differentiation” or emotional maturity.*

Thanks for the link, lobotomyboy. I’ll try to dig up the actual report to see if, for instance, they took into account income and such.

That may be true, but it will be just as true outside the context of counseling. You’ll always need both parties to be willing to do what it takes. The difference is that counseling costs money, while as working it through yourselves does not.

Q-How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A-Just one but the light bulb has to REALLY want to change, be verbal, committed to the process…

I had a prof who said a lot of things tend to go by thirds. 1/3 will say an intervention (talk counseling, meds, whatever) will report it’s the greatest thing ever, really turned them around, etc. 1/3 will say yeah it helped…not totally dramatic improvement but some relief. 1/3 will say it didn’t do a thing for them.

So you are searching for proof that therapy sucks then? Look, I am no rabid fan of therapy. I tried it, I didn’t enjoy it one bit and I still got divorced. It wasn’t the therapist’s fault though. For a lot of people, it makes all of the difference because they are not communicating and the therapist facilitates the communication necessary to make things work. The therapist will help you come to a decision on your own.

(underlining mine)

I may have posted this elsewhere and IANAP but a few quasi-informed WAGs…

The problem with marriage counseling is that it often (?) comes too late. Problems arise, people can’t resolve them, frustration builds, people start acting immature, etc. When I got to “that point” with my ex, I realized, “She’s furious because I said A. I said A because she did B. She did B because I did C. I did C because she said D.” And on and on. Plus there was stuff that was nobody’s fault…it was just what life dealt. There was just too much to untangle.

Which brings up another point…a lot of couples are going for counseling after they’ve tried (on their own) to resolve the issues. I think my ex took one look at the long road ahead and didn’t have the energy. I wasn’t sure I did, either, but I was willing to start down that road.

In contrast, my psych prof said that they have pretty good success with PTSD issues IF they can intervene quickly. I.e. if a natural disaster strikes, if they can get professionals on scene quickly, the therapy is often pretty effective. The people are already suggestible, open to the process and will do the work. OTOH the guy who witnessed something uber traumatic in Viet Nam and waited 5 years to open up about it will have a much harder time. I’d be interested to know if a professional would agree that “acute” problems are usually easier than “chronic” ones.

Alternate reads on the part I underlined:

1A) If saving money is the issue, it could be interpreted as a self-fulfilling prophecy waiting to happen. I.e. ‘Psychology doesn’t really work, so why would I pay for it?’ If that’s the attitude, it probably won’t.

1B) Throwing money at a problem doesn’t make it go away, and picking a therapist that will work for the people involved is important, but I think this attitude can be penny-wise and dollar-foolish. Ignoring emotional suffering, which can’t be quantified in dollars and cents, divorces often aren’t cheap either.

  1. How bad are the problems? If I get a little cut, I put a band-aid on the wound. If I get a bad cut and need stitches, I see the doctor. Applied to therapy, if the problems aren’t that bad, why would you consider counseling? OTOH if the problems are that bad (and you’ve already attempted resolution, without success), doesn’t that indicate stitches?

  2. Some people may be able to talk things out (see #2) but there are communications failures, inconsistencies, heavy emotions to deal with, and so on. A referee is a good thing.

  3. The proof may be in the pudding. My ex thought that counseling was a waste of money. Considering that we had very good insurance ($20 copay IIRC) and were doing great financially, I thought that was a bizarre attitude. Anyway, my point is that if one person thinks it’s money well spent and the other doesn’t see the point, it may indicate of how very differently they perceive the condition of the relationship. My ex was essentially okay with the status quo; I wasn’t. After going to counseling by myself for a year and lots of other drama and frustration, I told her I was leaving: she was genuinely shocked.

Everyone’s MMV but I can tell you in retrospect that she was a narcissist who couldn’t imagine anyone leaving someone as wonderful as her. If something really bothered me, she brushed it off because if she didn’t, she’d have to deal with it. Denial is a lot easier and lip service let her continue on her merry way. Just don’t ask her to get off the couch.

It’s more complicated than that of course, but these are things that a counselor could have spotted easily and probably addressed with her. Maybe it would have mattered, maybe not. As I said, she opted out, which seemed to me like not showing up for your own trial.

I’m searching for what proof there is about anything. When IMHO threads come up about marriage issues, I want to know whether I should feel like I’m doing the equivalent of touting homeopathic remedies or providing solid, proven advice. I don’t personally care what the answer is, I just care about having the facts.

Couples counselling is a particularly tricky area to measure because ‘success’ is partly values based and so will vary individually, eg the importance of staying together vs the importance of stopping abusive behaviour.

There are also time based issues, eg a person may feel therapy was very poor when initially evaluating it because it ‘didnt save the marriage’ but later on recognise the marriage was really beyond saving and that it at least made the marriage end less conflictual than it might have otherwise.

Outcomes wise though google finds this:

Suggesting the chance of a good relationship roughly double with couples counselling vs working it out on your own, going from a roughly 1 in 3 to roughly 2 in 3 chance. Pretty good going if true given most people only try it once the wheels have really fallen off.


A short answer to this: insurance companies often pay for it. I.e. if it were mumbo jumbo the insurance companies wouldn’t recognize it as a valid treatment.

The medical analogy…you’re sick, so you go to your doctor. It turns out you have a vitamin deficiency and he remedies that. Success. Or it turns out you have inoperable cancer and he doesn’t remedy that. Failure?

Let me get this straight… marriage counseling was a success because of this magazine/board article written by marriage counseling advocating marriage counseling… not at all bias or brainwashing is it?

Everyone I talked to that went through marriage counseling said it did not work for them or their friends. How many said that? ALL of them are currently divorced. Marriage counseling is a bandaid on a chest wound.

Yes. I’m sure that there are some religiously-oriented counselors out there that believe that if the marriage is valid and non-annulable according to the rules of their faith, then the marriage must be preserved at all costs lest a sin be committed.

How many of your non-divorced family and friends have talked about getting marriage counseling and how it worked for them?

Just so you have another anecdote point, it helped my marriage.

Counseling also saved my marriage – but we had at least three colossal failures with different therapists before we found one with a style that worked for us. So what does that mean?

Another thing that would complicate such a study is that in some states a judge can actually order a couple to attend counseling before granting a divorce, and some do in virtually 100% of cases. That means that there are some cases where a couple will “seek counseling” even though one or even both parties are completely opposed to it.

This topic came up with friends earlier this summer: marriage counseling and how well it works. One guy, a high school English teacher, said he has read a half dozen research papers on the topic the past decade or so – all written by different students at different times. And the findings don’t support it – at all.

I remembered him saying “Gottman” (because I checked it out…a means to see if I might be able to improve my marriage). Gottman is an expert at a large research University. Here is one of the books he wrote, but what is REALLY interesting is the review by ‘Bob Francer’

Both if these two PhDs certainly didn’t paint a favorable picture (of their own profession, mind you), so I googled a little more and found this:

“(Marriage therapy does not deliver because) It’s therapy for individuals. 80% of all private practice marriage counselors in the U.S. say they conduct marriage therapy, yet only 12% are in a profession that requires them to take EVEN ONE course on dealing with couples, *(Dr. William J. Doherty, Minneapolis MN)”

That was now the third “expert” freely admitting the success rates are a disaster.

I also found a Consumer Reports article. It was not a bonna fide study like that of a tire or appliance, but it did survey their broad reader base. Therapy was viewed as beneficial, particularly individual therapy. Guess which type of therapy was at the bottom of the list? Yep – marriage therapy.

Now, if it works for folks, I think that is great. And I’m sure colleges are requiring students to take at least one ‘counseling couples’ class to get their degree (hopefully more than one).

If 80%+ of “therapists” don’t know what they are doing, no wonder the success rate is so low!

And back to what the English teacher said most students discovered. He said making a marriage work is akin to the drunk really wanting to remain sober. They REALLY have to want it for themselves; no one (like a therapist) can do it for them. And this becomes super complicated in a marriage because BOTH have to really want it – at the same time – for it to work. Super tough to do.

An alternative was instead of counseling and barring ones soul, better success rates are being seen from marriage retreat workshops. Techniques are taught/discussed, then each couple journals their thoughts, then, privately, they discuss with each other why they feel this way, etc.