Professional & Graduate Studies

The State of Marriage Counseling [Study]

November 3, 2017

Although the myth that half of all marriages end in divorce has been debunked (it’s actually closer to about 30% according to the most recent census data), if you’re in a marriage for any period of time it’s likely that you are going to have your differences. But when those differences become too much to handle at home, couples may seek out some professional guidance in a marriage counselor

The State of Marriage Counseling infographic

We surveyed 1,000 engaged, married, and divorced people to get a sense of who was attending marriage counseling in 2017, what reasons they were going to counseling, and how often. Of these respondents, 49% said that they had attended some form of counseling with their spouse. Out of the three generations who were surveyed (Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers), the youngest age group—Millennials—were most likely to attend marriage counseling—with 51% of Millennial respondents indicating they had attended with their spouse. 

In addition to age, income also plays a large role in who is likely to attend marriage counseling. Interestingly, the respondents who make the most amount of money ($100,000 or more per year) were least likely to attend counseling with their spouse, and the respondents who made the least ($30,000 or less per year) were most likely to attend a marriage counseling session. 

But just because couples have attended marriage counseling doesn’t necessarily mean that they are sitting on their therapist’s couch each week. Though nearly half of respondents say they had attended a marriage counseling session in the past, not many couples are regularly attending sessions. Just 1 in 4 respondents who said they’ve attended marriage counseling previously say they still attend on a regular basis with 18% of respondents indicating they attend counseling once a week and 11% indicating they attend once per month. However, 51% of respondents say they have only attended a counseling session a handful of times.  

When couples do feel the need to seek out professional marriage counseling, they do so for a variety of issues or sore spots. According to the survey results, the most likely reason to seek out counseling was communication (or lack thereof), followed by an affair, money/debt, children, parenting style, in-laws, and lastly, work. The survey also tallied the perceived reasons why couples might attend marriage counseling, and those didn’t quite match up with the actual reasons. Fascinatingly, children ranked as the number one perceived reason, followed by work, communication, money/debt, an affair, in-laws, and finally, parenting style. 

Dr. Todd Frye, Professor and Dean of Behavioral Sciences and Counseling at MidAmerica Nazarene University, describes the reasons that couples seek out marriage counseling as a search for truth.   According to Frye, “I think truth about relationships can most easily be found in the characteristics of the Holy Trinity.  Within the three parts of the Trinity are characteristics of intimacy, vulnerability, dependency, equality, and respect which all marriages need. Accomplishing this can be very difficult as we tend to move easily toward our own defenses and individualistic ways of managing our fears.  These become a threat to the mutual give and receive that we were designed for.”   

While our survey results indicated that only about half of all couples have attended marriage counseling, 71% of those who have attended say that their experiences have ranged from helpful to very helpful. And of those who haven’t attended marriage counseling with a spouse, 52% are interested in trying it out. It seems that in 2017 most people have a generally good outlook of marriage counseling and therapy—with only 8% of those who said marriage counseling wasn’t an option indicating that it was because of the stigma surrounding counseling and therapy. 

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