People seek marriage counseling for a variety of reasons: infidelity, communication problems, and lack of intimacy, to name a few. Those that opt for online marriage counseling typically do so with the same motivations as those that prefer the in-person alternatives but prefer the added convenience and cost savings associated with online sessions.
Whatever the reason, what is clear is that most of these people want to strengthen their marriages and prevent problems from escalating. Unfortunately, many couples approach counseling as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. It begs the question: does marriage counseling, and more specifically its modern-day digital version, prevent divorce?
Why Seek Marriage Counseling Online?
First, we need to discuss why one might seek online marriage counseling versus in-person therapy. One of the most difficult parts of face-to-face marriage therapy is getting three people with different schedules in a room at the same time. That frequently causes interrupted and inconsistent treatment schedules.
Online counseling for couples, on the other hand, offers unmatched flexibility. It allows the consistent scheduling of sessions, something that is integral to treatment success. In addition, on some platforms, the therapists are available for daily consultations as problems arise. Further, having sessions from the comfort of one’s home often creates a more inviting environment to talk about difficult issues. Couples can also continue to talk about the session after it ends since they don’t have to zip off in their cars to go somewhere else.
Why is Marriage Counseling Sometimes Unsuccessful?
Before we look at the advantages of online marriage counseling, let’s explore several factors that get in the way of effective marital therapy:
- Waiting Too Long– Famed couples researcher John Gottman reports that the average couple goes through six years of marital difficulties before they seek marriage counseling. By that time, problems may be too entrenched to work out. As a rule, the earlier you seek counseling for marital problems the better.
- Lack of Motivation– One common scenario is when one member of a couple drags their partner other into marriage counseling. One person is motivated, the other is not. A marriage is a relationship between two people. Marital therapy cannot succeed if only one member of the couple is motivated to make a change.
- One Person Wants Out- Sometimes the reason one partner is unmotivated is because they have already decided they want to end the marriage. They enter into marriage counseling in the hope that they can disclose their true feelings and work through issues related to separation and divorce. Although counseling aims to improve a marriage, it can also serve another valuable function: dissolve the marriage in the smoothest way possible.
- Abuse and Addiction Issues– A marriage counselor can only do so much. If there are addiction and abuse issues related to marital strife, then those issues need to first be individually addressed before marital counseling can be effective. In certain cases, it may be more advisable for the couple to separate than remain together.
How Online Marriage Counseling Can Help
Surprisingly, there is little research on the direct effect of marriage counseling on divorce rates but what exists is encouraging. What is plentiful, however, is research that supports how counseling can help improve factors that are important to a healthy marriage. Generally, marriage counseling has been found to increase marital satisfaction in 70% of couples. And let’s face it, people that are satisfied in their marriage do not get a divorce.
Emotional focused couples therapy, a popular form of couples counseling, has been shown to increase many types of intimacy between partners. Moreover, many people begin marriage counseling due to a crisis and experience high levels of distress. Marriage counseling has been shown to significantly help decrease stress levels for couples. Finally, unless the positive effects of marriage counseling last, what good is it? Even after two years, a study concluded that the beneficial results of marital therapy remained.
While these studies focus on the concept of couples counseling as a whole, without explicitly exploring online couples counseling, they certainly do provide optimism regarding its possible efficacy. To date, no major studies exist that directly focus on online counseling for married couples, one study does clearly conclude that couples participating on online therapy experience a greater sense of control and comfort and find the sessions to be beneficial and positive.
Online Marriage Counseling Can Prevent Divorce
If you look at the reasons why marriage counseling may not work, it usually has little to do with the counseling itself. Yes, sometimes a therapist may be unqualified to provide marital therapy, but most of the factors are related to long-standing issues that reside within the relationship. Those problems notwithstanding, it is clear that online marriage counseling, much like in-person counseling, can help with many marital issues and reverse problems that lead to divorce.
- Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (1999). The marriage survival kit: A research-based marital therapy. In R. Berger & M. T. Hannah (Eds.), Preventive approaches in couples therapy (p. 304–330). Brunner/Mazel.
- Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2012). Research on the treatment of couple distress. Journal of marital and family therapy, 38(1), 145–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x
- Azadeh Soltani, Javad Molazadeh, Mohammad Mahmoodi, Samaneh Hosseini, A Study on the Effectiveness of Emotional Focused Couple Therapy on Intimacy of Couples, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 82, 2013, Pages 461-465, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.06.293.
- Lundblad, Ann-Marie & Hansson, Kjell. (2006). Couples therapy: Effectiveness of treatment and long-term follow-up. Journal of Family Therapy. 28. 136 – 152. 10.1111/j.1467-6427.2006.00343.x.
- Kysely A, Bishop B, Kane R, Cheng M, De Palma M and Rooney R (2020) Expectations and Experiences of Couples Receiving Therapy Through Videoconferencing: A Qualitative Study. Front. Psychol. 10:2992. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02992