Marriage counseling does not have the best success rate for feuding couples for a variety of reasons, and statistics show that it does little to prevent divorce. But before you begin to think that couples counseling is useless, studies have confirmed that pre-marital counseling actually helps lower divorce rates and improve relationship harmony down the road.
So why does pre-marital counseling help more couples before marriage starts than therapy for those who have already taken wedding vows? In some cases, it helps prevent divorce by preventing a marriage altogether, such as Sandra Stith describes. Stith is a professor of family therapy and marriage for Kansas State University, and she says that pre-marital counseling helps reveal severe problem areas in a relationship, such as abuse or power imbalances. “Participate in pre-marital counseling or other forms of relationship counseling before finalizing wedding plans. [Couples are reluctant] to call off a wedding after the date is set and the dress is purchased.” Even if the relationship contains no abuse, couples undergoing pre-marital counseling may nevertheless realize that their relationship will simply not work in the long run, so they can prevent a divorce later down the road by deciding not to marry at all.
What about couples that still get married after pre-marital counseling? So far, the statistics are in their favor. For example, a 2003 meta-analysis called “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Pre-marital Prevention Programs” reviewed over twenty studies on pre-marital counseling, and researchers found that couples who underwent counseling before their wedding had a 30% higher marital success rate than those who did not. Seth Meyers, a psychologist with the L.A. Department of Mental Health, reviewed several of these pre-marital studies and wondered if other factors were present. For example, pre-marital counseling is more prevalent amongst religious communities or couples who express strong religious commitment. His conclusion? “As a therapist, I can say that the earlier a couple starts therapy, the better the prognosis is for the longevity of the relationship… Pre-marital counseling is the smartest decision that any couple can make, and you don’t need to be religious to try it.”
Pre-marital counseling allows couples to identify problem areas and develop tactics before patterns of resentment and distrust develop in the marriage. If you or a loved-one are considering saying “I do,” but you have doubts or fears of divorce down the road, see if pre-marital counseling is an option for you. Like any form of therapy, pre-marital therapy is not a foolproof solution for everyone; however, you can certainly benefit from counseling if both you and your spouse-to-be are willing to give it a try.