Marriage counseling can be lifechanging. Couples have progressed from the brink of divorce to loving and strong relationships through marriage counseling. Several types of marriage therapy are research-based and successful (some studies have found a success rate of 75%). Why doesn’t marriage counseling work for some couples? Why should you care?
What are the costs/benefits of marriage counseling?
While marriage counseling has many benefits to couples, there is a cost. Marriage counseling can be an exciting process of growth and healing, but it can also be challenging. To get the most of marriage counseling and see the process through, couples must be motivated. Here are some of the costs involved with couples counseling.
- Time – Couples counseling sessions generally last 60 to 90 minutes. While a few couples only need a few sessions (and a few need long term therapy), most couples need between 8 and 12 sessions to fully benefit from couples therapy. In addition to the time in the therapy room, couples counseling also requires a time investment between sessions. This may involve reading or personal growth, but most often involves activities with the spouse.
- Financial – Couples counseling can be expensive. Insurance plans can pay for couples counseling, but only if it is billed as “family therapy” and if a billable diagnosis is assigned to the insured patient. Some counselors do not understand this process and some couples do not want to use insurance or do not have insurance with a mental health benefit. The cost of couples counseling varies depending on the region (and city residents generally pay the highest fees). The cost is generally at least $120.00 per session and often higher.
- Emotional Energy – perhaps the biggest cost for marriage counseling is the emotional energy required. Couples therapy is not a passive process and there are times in which the process can be painful. However, for motivated couples, this emotional investment has a major payoff.
- preventing a divorce – A divorce is extremely costly. It is not unusual for a middle-class family to pay over $40,000 in legal fees, and then have a high cost of dividing assets and property after legal costs have been paid. Young children often act out as they adjust to separation and divorce, requiring a high investment on the part of the parents. Divorces are generally not quick or easy, especially if either party disputes a mutual agreement, and children or significant financial assets are involved. Marriage counseling can be expensive financially, but it is an order of magnitude less costly than a divorce.
- Improved Friendship – If marriage counseling is successful, the prevention of a divorce is not the only benefit. You will have much more than a roommate and an absence of legal bills. A healthy marriage involves a deeper friendship. Imagine looking forward to spending evenings and weekends with your best friend, not merely surviving a divorce.
- Improved Physical Health – Married men live longer than single men by approximately 6 years. Women tend to outlive men, so it is difficult to estimate the impact of marriage on women’s longevity. Individuals in happy marriages tend to be healthier. Marriage counseling is not only an investment in your relationship, but also an investment in your health.
What predicts success and failure in marriage counseling?
Marriage counseling does not always succeed. The success of couples counseling is not based on chance. The reasons for success and failure may not always be known, but there are underlying causes that lead to a couple meeting their goals through counseling and for any outcome that is less than that.
- Life/Stress – These factors may be referred to as “extra-therapy factors” and refer to situations the couple may be experiencing that impact their quality of life. If a family lacks basic needs, such as financial means, food, shelter, or safety, their ability to achieve a positive outcome in counseling will be extremely difficult. If one partner is going through a situation that is extremely stressful, and the couple is not able to work together to provide support, that may negatively impact counseling success. Conversely, a couple that has a number of strengths (physical health, financial, social support, lack of negative stress) will have distinct advantages in fully capitalizing on the opportunity for growth available through counseling.
- Motivation – Both partners must have adequate motivation to succeed in couples counseling. Counseling is not something that is done to a passive target. Effective counseling requires active participation and engagement by all parties. Early sessions of counseling may be used to help both partners achieve a level of motivation, but ultimately, it will be up to the couple if they are ready to engage in counseling.
- The goodness of fit with the therapist – Many mental health professionals do not have specific training or experience in the provision of couples therapy. It is a very different skill set than individual therapy. Some therapists may be effective at couples therapy, but for whatever reason, the personality fit between counselor and patient is not right. The chemistry is not good, the patient will not feel comfortable working with the therapist and this will limit the effectiveness of counseling.
- Timing – Timing is an extremely important factor in counseling success. Does the couple still value their relationship enough to work towards saving it? Are they motivated enough? Are there external situations (job stress, a sick loved one, childcare responsibilities, etc) that may distract from the counseling process? Each couple will need to decide for themselves if the timing is right for counseling. In general, it is better to address problems before they become severe, so waiting to address relationship problems is normally not the best course of action.
Why Should I Care?
Are you concerned about your relationship? Timing is critical. If your partner is willing, it would be best to address relationship problems and work towards a healthy and growing relationship immediately. If your partner is not motivated, or if your circumstances will not allow for marriage counseling at this time, consider at least reading and learning more about relationships. Make sure that you are reading books that are not merely popular, but also come recommend by reliable sources. Dr. John Gottman and Ms. Sue Johnson are two experts on marital healing and growth. You can be confident in their publications and recommendations.
If you have additional questions about marriage counseling, feel free to search our website or call us at Piedmont Counseling Center. Even if you are outside of our area, we will be glad to provide you with helpful information. You can read more about our couples counseling services here:
You can contact us using the information on our contact page.
All the best to you and your loved ones as you work towards creating the best possible relationships.