What Are Your Chances of Success
With Marriage Counseling?

The success of marriage counseling depends on how both spouses choose to define it
The success of marriage counseling for any given couple depends on how they define it. And defining success can be tricky. Evidence shows that women more often go into couple therapy wanting change, while men seek to preserve the status quo. So a positive outcome for one may not be a positive outcome for the other. Therefore, it is important to have agreement on what you want to accomplish.[1]

But, you don’t need to agree on goals before going into counseling. Your counselor can help you reach a consensus. Sometimes, what appears to be competing goals can be tweaked just enough that you can work together to achieve both. Sometimes, with a little guided discussion, you may realize you want the same things.

In marriage counseling some types of therapy show more gains early on. Others show more enduring gains. Don’t be upset if your progress is slow. You could be building a much stronger and long-lasting relationship that way. But, don’t hesitate to discuss the matter with the therapist and your spouse.

Do a reality check often to determine if the therapy is right for you. Don’t rely solely on the therapist to save your marriage. Be proactive. You may need to tweak the therapy, switch to a different therapy, or even switch to a different therapist to get the success you want.

Relapse is a big problem. 30-60% of individuals who make gains in couple therapy later show signs of significant deterioration.[2] For long-term success, any counseling or therapy must address your ability to use what you’ve learned after therapy is over, to continue doing what worked in your sessions, and to resist backsliding into old habits and thoughts.

While it is true that some marriages just cannot survive certain problems, and some never should have happened in the first place, most people and most therapists give up too easily and too soon.

Can Anything Predict the Success of
Marriage Counseling?

Predictors of success in marriage counseling include age, education, employment, cultural background, commitment level, your belief about what your spouse thinks, traditionality, the order in which a therapy’s elements are presented, and lots of other factors. They have been tested and used to predict the success or failure of marriage counseling.[3]

Where one study says a factor can be used in predicting therapy outcome, either another says that isn’t true or there is no other study. So what’s the point in listing them? Is there any value in reporting that 46% of couples in a certain category showed improvement six months after therapy is over? How would you know if you would be in that 46% or not? There would have to be other variables than just that one category to explain why 46% improved and 54% didn’t. And why would you care about improvement just 6 months away when what you want is a great, life-long marriage?

Is your response: “Well, I want to know if I’m fighting a losing battle. Are all my efforts going to pay off, or will I go through all of this and still end up divorced?” The statistics just can’t give you a definite answer. But, that response suggests that you may have a low level of commitment, which is not a good sign. How do I know? Well, two studies show that lack of commitment is “associated with poor treatment outcome.” However, a third study says that’s not so.[4] Which brings us back to, “Why bring it up? Why worry about it?”

You won’t know how well marriage counseling will work for you until you get into it. And if you are at a higher risk for failure, you will need to work harder. You don’t need to know what the risk factors are, because:
  • You probably can’t do anything about it. (Can you change your age or ethnicity?)
  • They may not specifically apply to you.
  • Those that do apply are likely to be identified and addressed in your counseling sessions.

The Bottom Line

If your marriage is on the rocks, or even if you just feel that it isn’t all it should or could be, and if you think having a third party involved to help you find your way to a terrific marriage, then use the information on Marriage Guardian to get you there.


Next: How do you choose a good marriage counselor?

Previous: What Makes Good Marriage Counseling Good? - Part 2


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[1] ^ Neil Jacobson & Michael Addis, “Research on Couples and Couple Therapy,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Feb. 1993.
[2] ^ Douglas K. Snyder et al., “Current Status and Future Directions in Couple Therapy,” Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 57, 2006.
[3] ^ Snyder, 2006.
[4] ^ Snyder, 2006.
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