Can Marriage Counseling Help? (Cost, Insurance, Success Rates)

We’ve all heard of marriage counseling, but we aren’t sure it will work. Back when my marriage was struggling, I wondered can marriage counseling help?

Marriage counseling can help if both spouses are willing to go. Both spouses also need to be 100% honest in therapy, being willing to take ownership of their part in hurting the marriage (it’s almost never 100% the fault of one spouse) and to be willing to change their behavior moving forward.

In this post, we’ll walk through exactly what a good marriage therapist does. We explore how to find one, what it costs and what they do.

You can have a more connected relationship and replace the fear, criticism, anger or apathy with love and warmth.

Most importantly we’ll talk about exactly how it can help you get the relationship you’ve always dreamed of.

Are you and/or your spouse wanting to try marriage counseling?

Has one of you already mentioned divorce or separation?

Perhaps one of you had an affair and you’re not sure if that’s a deal-breaker? Or maybe you’re just wondering if it’s too late for marriage counseling?

Maybe one of you has already moved out or are staying with friends.

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then it’s time for you to take action. After all, your marriage is in danger! 

You didn’t say “I do” with the intent of throwing in the towel shortly into the marriage.  Neither did your spouse.

That’s the Good News! You and your spouse, at least at one time, had the same goals. It’s just time to get back to remembering that.

Personally, I have seen therapists many times over the years, both individually and as a couple.  4 1/2 years ago my wife and I discussed and considered divorce!  I’ve been there. I have seen it.

Believe me; if you are asking yourself any of those questions above, I have asked them too and come out on the other side successful.  And marriage counseling DID help!

Is marriage counseling effective?

Any time we get intentional about our actions, have a clear goal in mind and seek out the help or guidance of an expert we’re almost guaranteed success.

Thus, a couple whose marriage is in trouble that decides to go to counseling is definitely increasing the chances of success significantly.

Marriage counseling will be most effective if:

  1. Both parties want to make the marriage work
  2. You have a good therapist
  3. Both you and your spouse are willing to change your behavior
  4. You and your spouse are equally ready to admit fault in causing the demise of the relationship

While it isn’t always 50/50 in terms of damaging the marriage, it’s very rarely, if ever, all the fault of just one person. It takes 2 to make a marriage and it takes 2 to destroy one.

Wondering if your marriage is headed for divorce court?

Check out my most shared post on marriage & relationships which covers the Top 3 Reasons for Divorce (click to read them all on my site) and what you can do to avoid them.

Middle Class Dad can marriage counseling help couple kissing

What do they do in marriage counseling?

A good marriage counselor simply listens.

And they ensure the partners stop and listen to each other.  They may redirect and they might ask each party to repeat back what they just heard. However, a therapist will rarely take sides or call a behavior out as wrong.

A good therapist will listen more than they talk and will ask questions more than they make statements.  They provide a safe environment for couples to communicate the good, the bad, and the ugly.

So in your marriage counseling be prepared to sit, face your partner, be honest, accept honest feedback, and have the therapist play the role of neutral mediator 3rd party.

What if 1 spouse refuses to go to marriage counseling?

Sadly, this isn’t that uncommon in troubled marriages.

Your approach, however, can make a lot of difference though. For starters, don’t schedule it or pick a therapist without first sitting down together and talking about it.

Many of us guys can get a little defensive and that will only be worse if it’s sprung on us last minute or we feel like our personal business has already been discussed behind our backs.

Ego and stubbornness have prevented a LOT of marriages from being saved, so it’s worth treading lightly here to find a way to make things work.

Make sure to talk about your feelings and avoid blame or trying to guilt your partner into going, They DO, however, need to understand that this is serious and that seeking outside help is necessary.

If they absolutely refuse to go, there’s not much you can do to make them other than making sure they understand that you may choose to end the marriage the situation doesn’t improve.

It’s also worth considering seeking therapy on your own.

It’s not as beneficial for saving a marriage as going with your spouse, but it’s definitely better than doing nothing.

The added benefit of you going to therapy alone is your spouse will see both your commitment and may see positive changes in how you communicate and carry yourself and that could spur them into going with you.

Worst case scenario, seeing a therapist alone would at least help you through the separation process.

What is the success rate of marriage counseling?

According to Health Research Funding, they found that couples who received pre-marital counseling were 30% more likely to have a successful marriage.

But for already married couples, a study by the National Institutes of Health looked at “134 chronically and seriously distressed married couples”.

That study looked at 2 different kinds of couples counseling. First, they studied traditional behavioral couple therapy (TBCT).  Then they looked at integrative behavioral couple therapy (IBCT).

The results were interesting.

At the 2-year follow up mark, the couples who engaged in the integrative therapy were clearly rating higher on the marital satisfaction gauge.

But at 5 years, those results were almost equal. In the end, about 50% of the couples divorced and 50% stayed married and saw an improved connection with their spouse.

So while naysayers could look at those results and point towards a 50% divorce rate, I take a different approach.

I say that 50% of those distressed marriages were able to be saved by therapy.

If a couple is wondering if it’s too late for marriage counseling and you tell me that by taking this specific action they have a 50% chance of saving that relationship, I’ll take those odds every time.

So yes. The answer to the question “can marriage counseling help” is clearly yes!  And don’t be afraid to get marriage counseling both before and during the marriage.

How much does it cost to go to marriage counseling?

The average cost of marriage counseling is a range between $75-$150 per hour (or more in some cases).  Some therapists may have a sliding scale for those on a tight budget so it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You can typically expect to go once a week and as someone who has done a good bit of therapy over the years, I would suggest planning to go for at least 8-12 weeks.

Also, realize too that the first 1 or 2 sessions will be focused on bringing the therapist up to speed on each of you individually as well as being a couple.

After all, all of us bring baggage from childhood and previous relationships to the table.

All of those play a role in how we interact with our spouse today.  Thus it’s important that your therapist get a good feeling for who you are and what you’ve been through.

Can marriage counseling help? Definitely, but don’t expect a miracle your first session. The true magic of therapy may not even begin until session 3 or later.

Does insurance cover marriage therapy?

In most cases no, it does not.

If you or your spouse have been diagnosed as bipolar or another similar diagnosis it is possible that therapy, in general, would be covered, so talk to your therapist and/or your insurance company to be sure.

One thing is certain! Marriage counseling is cheaper than divorce!

However, if your insurance and/or employer provides for a Cafeteria Plan or some type of Flexible Spending Account (FSA or HRA) you may be able to get reimbursed for what you spend on marriage counseling.

These types of plans either allow you to get reimbursed for qualified (ie: government-approved) expenses or you can set money aside pre-tax out of your paycheck in a saving account and later use that money for one of these qualified expenses.

In most cases expect to pay out of pocket for your therapy and then file a claim.

You can see a complete list of all qualified expenses on the IRS website. Page 13 is where it specifically lists Psychiatric Care, Psychoanalysis, and Psychologists.

How long does marriage counseling usually last?

Most therapists would work with a couple for 1 hour.

Given the emotional nature of marriage counseling, any longer than 1 hour could be counter-productive as couples (or 1 person) become drained, feel defeated or get more agitated.

In terms of how many sessions a couple should go to, that will vary greatly from couple to couple and how bad their problems are.

Also, understand that to really help you, the counselor needs to really get to know each of you and your history as well as see the dynamic between you.

Thus, I would say at a bare minimum, if you’re going once a week, you would want to go for at least 1-2 months. You certainly don’t need to go indefinitely, but in some cases, you may want to go as long as 6 months.

How often should you go to marriage counseling?

Ultimately the answer to this question would depend greatly on how bad things have gotten in your relationship.

In many cases, however, seeing a therapist together once a week for a period of a few months or longer is what works best for most couples.

In some cases each spouse might want to engage in solo therapy also as without a doubt, we all bring issues to the marriage that have nothing to do with our spouse.

My wife I saw a therapist together in Dallas about a decade ago but we also would see her individually sometimes too. Some therapists only want to see individuals or couples and not both, but for us, this really worked well.

We both wanted things to work and we both had nothing to hide.

Therefore it was extremely beneficial for our therapist to really understand some of our childhood issues and baggage from previous relationships as they were no doubt impacting our marriage.

What are the different types of marriage counselors?

As someone not engrossed in the industry, it can be very hard to know the difference between the types of therapists.

You see a long list of letters following their title, but what do they mean?  Why are some listed as Doctor? Does that mean they went to medical school?  Can therapists prescribe medicine?

In short, outside the industry, it can be very confusing so let’s review the most common types, names, and differentiators.

Psychiatrist – A medical doctor who specializes in mental health. Unlike counselors and psychotherapists, they can prescribe drugs if they feel it fits the symptoms.

Psychologist – A therapist who possesses a Ph.D. or PsyD. Thus they will have the title of Doctor, but do not prescribe medication.

Psychotherapist – Sort of a catch-all term as technically both of the above could be described as psychotherapists.

Social Worker – A very broad category of therapists and counselors, but those who practice psychotherapy may have a master’s degree (but have not yet gotten a Ph.D.).

You also see the following letters following the names and titles of many:

  1. LCSWs (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
  2. LICSWs (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker)
  3. LSWs (Licensed Social Worker)
  4. LMHC (Licensed Mental Health Counselor)
  5. LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)
  6. LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Also, bear in mind that my generalizations are simplifications and I probably could go into much greater detail. Since I am based in the US, I also realize that the above may not apply to other countries.  See more detailed descriptions at BetterHelp.

In my opinion, having worked with at least 5 therapists over the years, the best results come from those with 10 or more years in the field.

That being said, a big factor is also how the personality of the person fits with you and your spouse.  Don’t be afraid to try a different one if the first therapist you select doesn’t feel quite right.

Does marriage counseling lead to divorce?

The short answer is probably not.

Of course, if one spouse has done something really bad and it only got uncovered in therapy, that could definitely make things worse. But ultimately it wasn’t because of marriage counseling and was just tied to the spouse’s action and dishonesty.

Also, if one (or both) spouse isn’t willing to be honest in therapy, that can severely limit the effectiveness. I recall working with a therapist (by myself) after I had an affair back in 2013 and I walked her through all our marital issues, but never actually mentioned the affair.

I was embarrassed at my own actions and convinced myself that my affair was a symptom of our marriage problems and that if I just focused on fixing those, it would blow over. Of course, that was the WRONG approach.

If you aren’t sure you can Save a Marriage After Infidelity (click to read my article), check out my article on my story coming back from my own infidelity a number of years ago. My marriage is PROOF that you can save a marriage after an affair.

Another factor in whether or not therapy leads to divorce is not getting a good therapist.

Marriage counselors, while having gone through training, are just like any other profession. There will be some great ones, some bad ones, and some mediocre ones.

So it’s important to try and figure out how good they are before you start to see one. Check Yelp reviews and other online review forums. But personally, I only have seen psychologists with a Ph.D.

Compared to other types of titles and training, a Ph.D. simply has a significantly greater amount of experience to bring to the table as they have spent countless hours both getting their degree and working with hundreds of individuals and couples.

Is it too late for marriage counseling?

In short, in my opinion, it’s never too late to save your marriage.

Can marriage counseling help? Absolutely! Relationships ebb and flow.  Life Happens!  Kids and careers happen!

All these things conspire, often slowly and unknowingly to disrupt the connection with our spouse. Over time that disconnect can derail even the strongest marriages.

Marriage counseling is a wonderful tool to help couples remember why they came together in the first place. 

It allows us to really hear our partner and their pain. Then we can begin to recognize our role in that pain, but also what we can do to move forward.

It’s never too late!

Even after the ink is dry on the divorce decree it’s still technically not too late.  All it takes are 2 people who are willing to try. Willing to fight to save their marriage and their family.

If you know your marriage has lost its luster, check out my ways to Rekindle Your Marriage (click to read how I did it). It certainly won’t hurt, and it just might save your marriage!

The 4 worst things you can do to destroy your relationship

Middle Class Dad can marriage counseling help Gottman infographic on the four horsemen

Dr. John Gottman is the author of the incredible book called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (click to read my review), he is generally regarded as the foremost expert on marriage and divorce.

For more than 40 years he and his wife and colleagues have studied tens of thousands of couples over many years.

Dr. Gottman can literally predict with 90% accuracy if a couple will stay together or divorce.  If you have mentioned divorce in your house, aside from finding a great therapist, you owe it to yourself and your marriage to get to know Dr. Gottman!

You’ll notice at the top left of the graphic that Dr. Gottman mentioned what he calls the Four Horsemen (of the Apocalypse).

Those are the 4 things couples do that derail the marriage faster than anything else.

Click the link above to read an in-depth post I did that explores those 4 in great detail.  If you are engaged in any of those behaviors (guilt!), now is the time to identify those behaviors and move in a new direction.

It’s not always easy to change our behavior, but EVERYTHING is possible with time, energy, focus, and help!

Final Thoughts

In this post, we took an in-depth look at the world of therapy and marriage counseling.

We explored what marriage counselors do, how much it costs, how successful it is, and answered all the top questions that come with those things.

Jeff Campbell

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