Does marriage counseling work? It’s something I’m asked on an almost daily basis. The answer is complicated, but I’m going to try and explain it in the simplest way possible.

Before I begin, though, let’s get one thing straight: all three of the authors who run this website (myself included) are marriage counselors or relationship coaches. So, clearly, we’re not going to say that getting professional help to resolve your marriage problems is a bad idea… we all know it can work because we help couples achieve their relationship goals on a regular basis.

That said, though, it’s not all roses and rainbows… there are times when marriage counseling doesn’t work or isn’t a good choice. Let’s look at the pros and cons of relationship counseling, shall we?

marriage conflictMarriage Counseling Is Effective When…

  • The couple has just begun to experience problems in the marriage, but both partners still want to stay together.
  • The couple is eager to change and both partners are willing to commit to the process.
  • The couple is young and recently married.
  • The counselor is certified, experienced, competent, and compassionate.

Marriage Counseling Is Not Effective When…

  • Only one partner is willing to commit to change or put in the effort to save the marriage.
  • One partner is determined to get a divorce or has already initiated the separation process.
  • The couple is set in their ways and/or one partner is particularly stubborn and closed-minded.
  • The counselor lacks certification, is not competent, or does not have the necessary experience.

Good Alternatives To Counseling

The single best resource that I recommend to my clients is Brad Browning’s best-selling program called Mend the Marriage.  It’s a comprehensive guide that costs roughly the same as half an hour with a certified marriage counselor, and it offers a significant amount of highly useful information that you can’t get from a counselor or therapist.

Click here to learn about the MEN’S version of Brad Browning’s award winning marriage-saving program…

…or click here to learn about the WOMEN’S version of the Mend the Marriage system.

There are other similar programs and books out there, but I’ve only personally dealt with Brad’s program, and it’s excellent, so that is my #1 recommended alternative to counseling or therapy.

Facts & Stats About Marriage Counseling

    • The average couple that enters marriage counseling has experienced marital difficulties for over six years. (source)
    • Research about marriage counseling is highly mixed – a 2011 paper suggests that marriage counseling helps 7 out of 10 couples, while another study found that more than 50% of couples saw their marriages either get worse or remain unchanged.
    • Marriage counseling has the lowest rating of satisfaction of all the different types of psychotherapy. (source)
    • According to a Consumer Reports study, “most therapists practicing today never took a course in couple’s therapy and never did their internships under supervision from someone who’d mastered the art.”

Successful Counseling Requires Commitment

This isn’t really a shock, is it? In order for couples therapy to be effective, the couple (both husband and wife!) need to be committed to making things work. That may sound easy enough, especially if your spouse is also interested in working on saving your marriage, but it often isn’t as easy as it seems to get both parties to buy in.

One thing I see often, for example, is one spouse being far more interested in working on repairing the marriage than the other person. (If this is happening to you, read our article on saving your marriage alone.) In cases like this, marriage counselling often isn’t helpful. Having both parties committed to change and to putting into practice what the counselor or therapist recommends is crucial.

Success Requires A Trained, Competent Counselor

Many people assume that all counselors and therapists are generally the same. This definitely isn’t the truth — at conferences and training seminars around the world, I’ve met all types of counselors and coaches ranging from incredibly talented (look no further than my colleague Dr Janet Wilson!) to unintelligent and downright embarrassing.

If you’re in North American and wanting to find a competent and highly qualified therapist in your area, consult the PsychologyToday database and ensure the counselor you’re looking at is certified by an association such as the AAMFT or NBCC.