February 10, 2024

How often does marriage counseling end in divorce?

A couple divorcing

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IN THIS ARTICLE: 

  • Benefits of marriage counseling 
  • Success rates of marriage counseling 
  • Divorce rates after marriage counseling 
Outdoor Protrait of Black African American Couple Embracing Eac

Marriage counseling s a form of counseling that helps couples improve their relationships with the help of a licensed therapist. Often times marriage counseling help couples improve their communication, resolve conflict, develop solutions to problems, enhance understanding of each other, and improve intimacy. This article will provide an overview often benefits of marriage counseling, the success rates of marriage counseling, and the divorce rates after completing marriage counseling. 

Benefits of marriage counseling

There are many benefits to marriage counseling including improved communication and conflict resolution skills. By learning to communicate clearly, really listen and hear each other, couples walk away from marriage counseling with a better understanding of each others perspectives. This enhanced understanding for each other’s point of view can help couples naturally find solutions and compromises to problems. As couples understand each other, and practice new communication and negotiation skills, they develop a deeper sense of closeness, connection, and intimacy. For a more in-depth overview of the benefits of marriage counseling, check out this article

Success rates of marriage counseling 

Success rates of marriage counseling vary based on many factors, including the level of motivation for couples counseling each partner has, how committed each partner is to the relationship, how long the couple has been marriages, and the skills level and level of experience of the marriage counselor. 

The exact rates are somewhat difficult to determine. Across all types of therapy, 80% of people find counseling to be helpful. When we look specifically at the general field of marriage and family therapy, there is about a 40-50% success rate. However, there is one type of marriage counseling that has the best research to support it–Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) (You can learn more about how EFT works here). In the clinical trials, EFT has a 70-73% success rate at achieving the goals of the therapy, with a 90% improvement rate even when not all goals were achieved (learn more about the effectiveness of EFT here). However, even with the most successful type of couples therapy, there are still some people who do not find marriage counseling helpful. 

Young Couple Having Marriage Counselling

Divorce rates after marriage counseling 

There are several factors that influence divorce rates both before and after marriage counseling. Research suggests that couples wait an average of 6 years after problems have started to go to couples counseling. At that point, there is so much damage to the relationship that about a third of couples stop marriage counseling in the first 3-4 assessment sessions due to divorce. I alway like to think about it as how much energy people still have for working on their marriage. The couples who wait until the very last minute to do marriage counseling often have run out of the energy needed to improve things before they even really get started in marriage counseling. 

There are times where people give up on the process of marriage counseling early. I usually recommend that couples give it 3-6 month of weekly counseling to determine if it feels like marriage counseling is at least moving in the right duration. If it feels like there is no improvement at the 6-month mark, then it may be time to switch counseling approaches, switch therapists, or evaluate the relationship. 

There have also been times where I have seen couples make progress in marriage counseling and they still decide to divorce. I have seen this most often when someone changes their mind about something that is non-negotiable to the other partner. For example, if they originally agreed they did not want to have kids and then years later one of them does want to have kids. In these instances, if couples can still be improving in their communication, conflict resolution, and connection and choose to separate or divorce due to incompatible life goals. If a couple decide to divorce from a place of mutual wisdom, versus negative reactivity, we would still consider this a positive outcome of marriage counseling. 

There are couples who end marriage counseling and decide to divorce. Factors that play a role if if couples divorce after marriage counseling include the severity of their problems, level of addiction or infidelity or domestic violence, and whether they dropped out of marriage counseling early versus continuing until the therapist discharged them. The type of therapy makes a difference too. For example, couples who complete EFT couples therapy tend to continue to experience improvements for two year after the completion of therapy. So the type of marriage counseling that was received and completed can also make a difference on the divorce rates after completing marriage counseling (learn more about types of marriage counseling here). 
While marriage counseling can have many benefits, there is no guarantee that divorce can be prevented. Divorce rates really depend on each persons level of commitment to the relationship, motivation for improving the relationship, how long they waited until going to counseling, the amount of damage that has been done to the relationship, and the effectiveness off the type of marriage counseling. For couples who are motivated and committed, many can repair their marriages and decrease the risk of divorce. 

Looking to start marriage counseling?

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online Emotionally Focused Couples Counseling, as well as weekend-long Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consult.

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.

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