Does couples counseling work? This is the first question that comes to mind when a couple decides to try counseling to resolve issues or conflicts within their relationship. It’s a valid question. The moment you decide to undergo marriage therapy is an indicator that you may have some serious issues within the relationship – it’s something that is way beyond the scope of regular fights that most couples go through. On the contrary, some couples pre-empt the development of serious relationship issues by seeking pre-marriage counseling, or even address conflicts as soon as negative patterns develop early-on in the marriage.
It is a healthy sign when both partners decide to pursue therapy and counseling. It means that both of you want to make the relationship work and that you are willing to give it a shot. There is no surefire way to answer what will be best for your marriage. However, one of the best ways to answer what may be right for you and your spouse is to look at the results that other couples have experienced after going through couples counseling, as well as learning from their experiences so you can improve the results on your end.
What is the Success Rate of Couples Counseling?
The reluctance to undergo couples counseling is a valid concern. Its effectiveness has been questioned, but the success rate of couples counseling has dramatically improved over time as more research is taking place in the field or marriage and couples therapy. Before the 1980s, the methods used in counseling were very limited in terms of its ability to address common relationship issues. As a result, standard marriage therapy only had a success rate of 50%. Taking a 50/50 chance on your relationship may not sound very reassuring.
Over time, couples counselors and therapists have learned new techniques and methodologies. The success of the counseling is also dependent on the skills and expertise of the marriage therapist. In addition, it is also important to take into account the unique factors that affect the situation of the couple undergoing therapy, since every couple has its own culture. You want to work with a couples counselor who understands you, or at least can image where you’re coming from.
The success of couples counseling depends on the method of therapy, the expertise of the marriage therapist, and the issues within the marriage. Both Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and Gottman Method Couples Therapy have shown significant improvements to help distressed couples. EFT, for instance, has been shown to help dramatically improve 70% of distressed relationships. Schema Therapy for Couples (ST-C) is especially helpful to address chronic issues that one or both partners has had throughout their lives, including personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
While the majority of the counseling’s success rate relies heavily on the therapist and their knowledge and skills, this is not the only factor that can determine the success. Even highly distressed couples can make significant improvements in their relationship. In fact, the level of distress in a marriage only predicts 4% of the outcomes in effective couples counseling. This low number is usually a factor for couples with significant betrayals and mistrust issues, including affairs or significant moments of abandonment. An experienced couples therapist should know how to help highly distressed couples face these pains to increase the odds of success in the marriage.
Defining the success rate of couples counseling may have a lot of grey areas if taken as a whole. However, pinpointing factors can help you significantly increase your chances by selecting the right therapist with a therapeutic model that fits you and your spouse.
What Does a Relationship Therapist Do?
A relationship therapist has undergone extensive training and study in relation to maintaining and promoting a healthy interpersonal relationship, especially in couples and marriages. They are trained to identify and address mental and emotional health concerns within a relationship. Relationship therapists are different from other types of psychotherapists because they have specific training to improve relationships.
Like other professionals in the mental health field, couples counselors are also qualified to treat a wide range of behavioral problems – cognitive, nervous, and mood. They can offer counseling for couples, whether together or individually. A relationship therapist employs a wide range of therapeutic techniques designed to identify the emotional and mental health triggers that are causing relationship problems to arise. Their objective is to address these issues individually as they can have a huge impact on the relationship.
Before a relationship therapist can be certified to facilitate couples counseling, they should have completed the required educational background in the field of psychotherapy as a licensed clinician. A bachelor’s degree is required in the field, including clinical social work, marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, psychiatry and psychology. As most clinicians will attest, post-graduate training is where they learn and gain the most skills. Couples counselors who have legitimate certificates in extensive training programs stand-out significantly from weekend courses. For instance, Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapists, Certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapists, and Certified Schema Therapists have completed years of training under expert supervision that make them stand-out in the couples counseling field.
In the practical application of these techniques and knowledge, a relationship therapist is someone who provides counseling to help a couple decipher what the issues are that are plaguing their relationship. The marriage therapist provides an objective viewpoint of the issues in question. In addition, they can mediate the discussion so that the couple can speak honestly, without the fear of judgment.
A relationship therapist is also someone who must listen and suggest ways in which to resolve issues using the most empirically-validated approaches. Since they are objective observers of the relationship, they can recommend suggestions based purely on what the couple needs rather than taking sides. Contrary to what many partners may feel, it is almost always above improving the relationship rather than “fixing” one partner to make the relationship better. The therapist focuses on taking away blame, and increasing understanding and repair.
Can Couples Counseling Make Things Worse?
A study conducted by the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy cited that about 70% of those who underwent couples counseling saw positive changes in their relationship. What about the other 30%?
Going into a couples therapy, there is always that lingering concern in the couples’ minds: what if it makes things worse?
Indeed, couples counseling or marital therapy can make things worse if not executed properly. Just showing up to your sessions and completing all of the therapy sessions required won’t mean that you have successfully addressed the issues of your relationship.
There are many ways that marital therapy can go wrong, and you need to know them so that you can avoid them. The following are some of the scenarios that can worsen your relationship:
If the therapist allowed you to bicker during your session without intervening, this could damage the environment with which the therapy was built upon. An expert therapist must be able to snuff out negative behaviors and encourage a healthy discussion.
If the therapist seems to side with one individual over the other, they can damage your relationship, since therapists must side with the relationship and not one partner over the other. Both partners play a role in any relationship dynamic, and focusing on understanding and validating each other’s experiences is crucial, rather than pathologizing one or the other.
If the therapist dwells too much on the problems or conflicts and not the cause, they are getting stuck in content rather than addressing the overall patterns that got you stuck together. This could stem from a lack of knowledge and training on the therapist’s end. Individual therapists without enough experience in couples dynamics can easily fall prey to this error. Conflicts in relationships need to be addressed effectively by an experienced therapist who understands your dynamic and can help you change your negative patterns together.
It goes without saying that you need to choose your therapist wisely. They should have the right knowledge, skills, and training to facilitate the conflict resolution for unhappy couples. As a couple, this could be one of the most important decisions you make to save your relationship.