Marriage counseling can help couples get to the root causes of issues before those challenges shake the foundation of their relationship. Yet, it’s often seen as a last resort. Questions like “Is marriage counseling really worth it?” and “How do I know if couples therapy is working?” make couples hesitate starting the process.
To help couples feel more confident in actively improving their relationship, we’ve put together this guide on signs that your marriage counseling is working. After all, counseling is a significant investment, so you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. The average length of marriage counseling is 12 – 20 sessions, and starting off on the right track will greatly improve your final results. So how can you tell that marriage counseling is actually helping your relationship? Let’s find out.
Does Marriage Counseling Work?
If you’re hesitating to start because you’re asking, “What are the odds of marriage counseling working?” it can help to know that the marriage counseling success rate, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), is 98%. This means that nearly all participants in marriage counseling had an overall good or excellent experience. A positive experience can include a variety outcomes, such as:
- You and your partner are putting in the work to heal your relationship.
- You and your partner can appreciate the positive aspects of your relationship, even during difficult times and conflicts.
- You and your partner don’t dread attending sessions.
- You and your partner have a positive working relationship with your counselor or therapist.
- You and your partner discover how to make your relationship work moving forward and choose to stay together.
We’ll get into the specifics of each of these outcomes later, but it’s important to understand that couples therapy can be successful even if all of these milestones aren’t achieved. Every relationship is unique, and so the ideal end result will be different for each couple.
Well, what about divorce rates—does marriage counseling really help marriages last?
What Percentage of Couples in Therapy Get Divorced?
Up to thirty-eight percent of married couples get divorced within 4 years after completing counseling. Considering that nearly 50% of marriages in the United States are expected to end in divorce, marriage counseling does give you a better chance of saving your relationship than working through your challenges alone.
When To Go to Couples Therapy
If you are in a distressed relationship, it’s a good idea to begin couples therapy before underlying issues escalate into full-blown catastrophes. So what can cause distress in a relationship, and how do you know when it’s time to get professional help? Let’s take a look:
- Small disputes escalate into major arguments
- Disagreements on how to manage finances
- Unbalanced desire for sexual intimacy between partners
- Trust issues
- Unequal distribution of household chores and parenting responsibilities
- Conflicting parenting styles
- Inability to communicate effectively
- Attachment and codependency issues
- Difficulties connecting with each other’s social circles and in-laws
- Physical and mental health conditions
- Lack of emotional support
- Falling out of love or feeling like the “spark” is gone
These issues are common in relationships, but they don’t always present themselves clearly. For example, not putting effort into communication could be caused by a lack of excitement in the relationship. You don’t feel motivated to talk about big, difficult topics like how to manage finances and coordinate parenting styles because it all feels like work—with none of the spark that was there when you first got together.
Even if you are able to navigate your way through the surfacing issues, leaving underlying conflicts unresolved will only lead to more stress. That’s the primary benefit of couples therapy—getting to the root cause of what’s holding your relationship back, so you can experience long-lasting benefits in other aspects of your life.
If your relationship is preparing to go through a major change, such as marriage, it can also help to begin pre-marriage counseling. Think of it like preventive care. If you strengthen your relationship before facing significant challenges, you’ll be more likely to get through those challenges with less strain on your partnership.
Marriage Counseling Do’s and Don’ts
To get the most out of marriage counseling from the start, it helps to know some things you should do and others that you shouldn’t:
- Be willing to take responsibility
- Be committed to working on your personal growth
- Give your partner space to explain their perspective
- Be active in the conversation—both when listening and sharing your thoughts
- Be willing to compromise
- Expect immediate results
- Find every opportunity to blame your partner
- Interrupt your partner
- Threaten divorce (or anything else)
- Try to “win” counseling
How Do I Know If My Marriage Counseling Is Working?
The exact signs of success in marriage counseling vary from couple to couple depending on what their relationship needs, but common green flags are:
Your Relationship Is Healing
This is the big one. Most couples go into therapy together because they want their relationship to work, but they’re not sure how to get there on their own. Healing starts with communication. Sometimes it’s hard to express what you need, and sometimes it’s harder to know exactly what that is. A good sign that your therapy is working is that you and your partner feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable truths without worrying about backlash.
Another sign that couples therapy is working is that you feel more affection for your partner again. When the hard work of relationships takes priority—whether that’s paying bills, raising kids, operating a family business, maintaining a home, or anything else—it’s easy for attraction to take a backseat. You may feel more like coworkers than romantic partners. When you start to feel that connection come back, you know your relationship is on the right path. You can see this through small changes like performing small acts of kindness for each other, flirting, and making time for emotional and physical intimacy.
Willingness To Attend Therapy Sessions
Therapy is hard, and if you’re there to discuss what isn’t going right in your relationship, it usually isn’t fun. But if you and your partner are making progress, it’s easier to attend those appointments, even knowing that they will challenge you. The hard conversations, the self-reflection, and the reevaluation of roles are paying off.
You Can Acknowledge Both the Good and the Bad of the Relationship
It’s easy to get caught up in the negative when things aren’t going well. You feel angry, lost, and hurt. How can anything good come out of this relationship? On the other hand, the idea of admitting that anything is wrong at all could be too intimidating. If you acknowledge even minor flaws, then the whole relationship must be a failure, right? Not at all.
Even the healthiest relationships have their mix of good and bad. Part of the healing process is being able to acknowledge both without ignoring the other. For example, if you do all of the household chores, it’s easy to complain that your partner doesn’t contribute at all, and therefore conclude they aren’t putting enough into the relationship. But at the same time, your partner also works long hours to provide for your family and plans major trips. Instead of just labeling them as lazy, it’s important to acknowledge that they also work hard on different tasks. Then you could seek a compromise where your partner helps more around the house on a daily basis, while you participate more in planning vacations.
You Are Willing To Do the Work—During Sessions and at Home
Opening up to your partner is hard. It’s even harder when someone else is in the room with you—at least at the beginning. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and that step alone is a good sign that your couples therapy is off to a promising start.
But therapy doesn’t end once your appointment is over. There’s also important work to be done at home to change your behaviors and make lasting improvements. Couples therapy homework can include:
- Writing a letter about your partner’s best qualities so you remember why you fell in love with them in the first place
- Having conversations with “I feel” statements to bring up strong emotions that usually get bottled up
- Recording memories to capture the meaningful moments throughout your relationship and get inspired to make more
- Sharing your favorite things, like music, art, and movies, to help your partner understand how you relate to the world
- Asking icebreaker questions—these may seem silly, but your partner’s favorite color, ice cream flavor, and so much more may have changed since you first met
Life’s busy, so if you and your partner are willing to make room for these exercises, it’s a good sign that you’re invested in getting the most out of couples therapy.
You Like Working with Your Marriage Counselor
Your marriage counselor can make or break your healing process. If they’re not doing their job well, sessions could turn into shouting matches and you leave feeling worse than when you showed up. On the other hand, the signs of a good couples therapist are that they help each person take responsibility for their feelings and set boundaries. At Well Marriage Center, we work hard to help couples build trust, work through trauma, and navigate conflict.
When To Stop Marriage Counseling
There are two reasons to stop marriage counseling: you and your partner have strengthened your relationship and can continue the work at home or you and your partner have decided to end your relationship. Typically, marriage counseling lasts up to six months before couples reach either of these points.
What Kind of Therapist Is Best for Couples?
As we mentioned earlier, great marriage counselors encourage you and your partner to open up about difficult feelings in a constructive way. Our team of licensed, professional therapists at Well Marriage Center does just that to help couples find their way back to each other. We understand that each relationship has its own personality, challenges, and strengths, and can benefit from a personalized approach.
To learn more about how to begin taking steps toward a healthier relationship, explore our website. If you feel ready for next steps, our Intake Coordinator, Melinda, would be happy to help you schedule an appointment.