Success of Marriage Counseling

Your Quick Guide to Relationship Success
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Your Quick Guide to Relationship Success
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Have you ever wondered about the success of marriage counseling? With the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it seems like no matter what people try, nothing works. Does this include counseling, and if so, what’s the point? It’s not just you that may be wondering

A recent study of college students sought to determine whether professional counselors were effective.

Steven M Cohn, PhD, LMFT
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
1940 NE Broadway
Portland, Oregon  97232

Couple's in counseling

Students were asked about many different types of counseling and whether or not they would recommend that someone experiencing problems in different areas of their lives should pursue therapy

When asked if a family unit reporting communication problems, negative interactions, and criticisms might find therapy helpful, 76% of respondents said yes. This compared less favorably to the students’ opinion of counselors’ effectiveness in helping with other issues such as homesickness, roommate problems, depression, insomnia, academic problems, and job dissatisfaction. The students had lower expectations of counselor effectiveness for drug abuse, ADHD, psychiatric disorders, unemployment, and IQ testing, placing the expected success of marriage counseling somewhere in the middle of the pack.(1) As the authors of the above study are careful to point out, perception is not reality, but it may indeed drive behavior and decisions made by consumers, or in this case, people who may be considering therapy.

One important component of the success of marriage counseling may well be the soundness of the marriage before the couple enters therapy. Riggio and Weiser recently found that attitudes that are embedded more deeply in the minds of the marriage partners have, not surprisingly, more of a predictive value of marriage success than attitudes which are less deeply embedded. Such embedded attitudes predict the amount of conflict in the marriage relationship, the level of commitment, the desirability of alternatives, and the partners’ overall expectation of relationship success. Also not too surprising, their study found that children of divorce are likely to have more negative attitudes about marriage than children whose parents stayed together; and, people who grew up in homes with a high degree of conflict were likely to have more conflict in their own marriage relationships than those whose birth homes were more harmonious. (2)

One of the most common reasons couples seek marriage counseling is infidelity. As many as 70% of couples who request marriage counseling do so because the occurrence of an affair precipitated a crisis in their marriage. (3) When you are trying to find a counselor to help you deal with issues of real or perceived infidelity, you might want to ask about his or her experience in dealing with three areas: handling disclosures, traumatic reactions, and fostering forgiveness. According to McGill University researchers, these are the essential tasks for the success of marriage counseling following the discovery of infidelity.(4)

Perhaps the best indicator of whether or not you will experience the success of marriage counseling is how well you and your spouse interact with the counselor. Your relationship with the counselor may be enhanced if you know what to expect, and you can start learning what to expect by reading questions about success of marriage counseling


(1)Wantz RA, and Firmin, M. Perceptions of Professional Counselors: Survey of College Student Views. The Professional Counselor: Research and Practice 1(1): 71 – 81. January, 2011.

(2)Riggio HR, and Weiser DA. Attitudes Toward Marriage: Embeddedness and Outcomes in Personal Relationships. Personal Relationships 15(1); 123 – 140, March, 2008.

(3)Brown, EM. Patterns of Infidelity and Their Treatment, Edition 2. Psychology Press, 2001. ISBN 9781583913697.

(4)De Stefano J, and Oala, M. Extramarital Affairs: Basic Considerations and Essential Tasks in Clinical Work. The Family Journey 16 (1): 13 – 19. January, 2008.

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Steven M Cohn, PhD is pleased to have been featured on Oregon Live "Why Oregon's Latest Divorce Statistics May Be Divorced From Reality"

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Steven M Cohn, PhD, MBA, LMFT has twice been named one of the top three marriage counselors in Portland, Oregon by the non-profit organization Three Best Rated

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