• Does Marriage Counseling Work?

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    If you’re searching for answers to this question, chances are you’re either cold or warm about marriage counseling.

    If you’re cold, you may have done this search to prove that such an endeavor is a waste of time and money:

    “See, honey, it’s worthless! Let me show you this article…”

    Another reason you may initially oppose counseling is because you don’t want a stranger interjecting themselves into your relationship.

    If you’re warm to the idea, maybe you did this search to convince yourself and your partner that it’s worth the time, effort, and money.

    Or you may want to help with your relationship but are considering a different framework, such as attending a marriage retreat, taking a relationship course online, or working with a relationship coach.

    Regarding the latter, relationship coaches often throw stones at marriage counseling as their marketing technique.

    I’ve seen statements from relationship coaches that say, “marriage counseling doesn’t work.” And they present “avoiding going to couples therapy” as a benefit of their programs.

    However, I did not find real research backing their claim that it doesn’t work.

    So is marriage counseling effective?

    This is a quote from a research paper by the Journal of Marital & Family Therapy.

    “In a world in which increasingly people want evidence to make realistic appraisals of their present circumstance, the evidence is available that most treatment [marriage counseling] helps and that distressed relationships can and do improve.”

    Some factors make marriage counseling effective or ineffective, however.

    The first is the motivation of each partner.

    Sometimes, one partner (or both) may be at a place of,

    “Let’s check marriage counseling off the list, so I feel better, and it looks like ‘we tried,’ even though I have no interest in continuing this relationship.” That is not that common, however. 

    More common is one partner not being interested in or open to change. Marriage counselors can’t help someone blocked off to change.

    The best an experienced marriage counselor can do is remind them of the cost of inaction.

    The second factor determining if marriage counseling is effective is the experience and confidence of the counselor.

    Nothing is more difficult than working with two people in the same room in a troubled relationship.

    Experienced marriage counselors can see through the trouble and discern and treat the issues and patterns beneath the surface that are causing distress.

    Relationship coaches often work with just one partner or in a group coaching setting because they’re not trained to work directly with couples effectively.

    It’s too hard without experience.


    If both partners don’t want the relationship to end, the marriage counselor is experienced and confident, then marriage counseling does work.

    I’ve seen it countless times in my own office.

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