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Marriage Counselling, does it really work

The last thirty years has seen a great deal of change with regards to marriage and marriage counselling in Australia.


Across Australian society, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who are cohabitating, having children outside of marriage, divorcing (ABS 49%, 2003) and separating. See ABS figures


This has led to increasing numbers of single parent families. The latest trend is towards intentionally choosing a lifestyle of independence with the desire to live alone.


In more recent times there has been a growing interest by social science professionals questioning the benefits of marriage and marriage counselling.


As far back as the 1980's research has shown that marriage is strongly associated with

  1. people living healthier lifestyles,
  2. living longer,
  3. acquiring greater financial earning capacity and
  4. enjoying improved mental health.

In marriage, people are happier than their unmarried counterparts, including those who simply cohabitate. To review the literature see Linda Waite, A Case for Marriage, 2000. See Counselling as a Health tool

 "Men and women who divorce will still  try again to find that special person."

Despite all the social, financial and health benefits that a good marriage provides, many couples are reluctant to seek marriage counselling at early stages of relationship breakdown. It is critical to get help early.


What typically occurs, is that one person may be wanting marriage counselling, while the other is resistant to marriage counselling.

There appears to be two sides within the dynamics of the marital relationship. On the one hand marriage offers people an opportunity to have and to be with that one person who is friend, partner, lover and fellow life traveller. While on the other hand that very same person could become their most bitter enemy.


Having experienced a failed marriage and relationships, one would reasonably conclude that a person would give up on any idea of a life-union type relationship ever again, but interestingly, this is not the case.


Many men and women who divorce will spend a great deal of time and effort, trying to find that one special person. It would seem that the gravitational pull of a committed and loving relationship, including the possibility of another marriage, is simply too strong for both men and women to not seek.



Marriage is both challenging and supportive for both partners who together create something that is larger than the sum of their individual selves.


By requiring and freely giving commitment marriage liberates each person to fully become themselves with the knowledge that there is one other person on the planet who will always be fully and totally there for them.


If marriage is so good for us, why then do nearly half of all married couples set about destroying something so valuable'


"Severely unhappy marriages can be turned around."

The answer is complex but one thing that does stand out is that most couples who do participate in marriage counselling seek help later rather than sooner.


Often couples wait many years before taking the step to face their problems and seek marriage counselling, reducing the chances of preserving their marriage.


The good news is, when both partners apply themselves to the process of marriage counselling positive results have a great chance of being realised. Even severely unhappy marriages can turn around, and both partners will feel they are living a good, fulfilling and happy life together, brought about by marriage counselling.


The myths about Marriage Counselling.


For couples who have never been to marriage counselling it can seem a mystery and typically many have false assumptions and misbeliefs about what exactly it is and how it all happens. Many men in particular treat marriage counselling with suspicion.


Recently a 28 year old male spoke of his initial suspicion of marriage counselling referring to a line out of the movie Crocodile Dundee - "that if you can't tell your mates what's going on, than it ain't worth telling". Men often agree with this statement and as a result act accordingly.




However, it is a fair question to ask why can't talking to your friends rescue a troubled marriage rather than formal marriage counselling. There are many reasons why not.


The following offer some reasons:-

  • friends just want to be friends and will give you some support and a bit of advice, but beyond that friends will feel out of their depth;
  • friends do not want to take on the responsibility of your relationship and it is unfair that you innocently put this responsibility onto them;
  • friends are there for support;
  • friends are not trained and qualified in dealing with people's complex lives;
  • friends who are qualified social workers, psychologists or other health providers understand the value of independent and professional counselling and will refer you to a marriage counsellor and not counsel you themselves.

"Couples begin to enjoy the marriage counselling process itself."

What marriage counselling provides that friends cannot, is a level playing field, where both partners can express their thoughts and emotions in a safe and managed environment.


Frequently when couples decide to attend marriage counselling it is not uncommon for them to experience relief from the stresses of the troubled marriage.


Often couples when actively participating in marriage counselling begin to enjoy the marriage counselling process itself. It becomes that time and place devoted to the relationship where the difficult subjects are discussed, worked through and resolved. This is achieved without the marriage being threatened by disintegrating.




Sometimes there is one partner who is resistant to making positive change in the marriage. For these people, making positive change in any aspect of their lives is challenging. In marriage counselling, a person can review their history to see how bad patterns have been influencing many aspects of their life, not solely within the marriage.


This can be a real challenge, but more often than not those that have the courage to take that step nearly always live a more fulfilling and rewarding life.


Couples learn in marriage counselling the keys that work specifically to their relationship. These key aspects are teased out whilst participating in marriage counselling. Through this experiential learning, each partner acquires the knowledge and skills that work in their marriage.


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