The Firm For Men is not a firm against women. Indeed, our livelihoods depend on Virginia men and Virginia women finding each other and marrying. We are not against marriage; though we represent and advocate strongly (some might say too strongly) for men, we also respect the sanctity of marriage; we wish more couples would not let slip the bonds of matrimony. We feel in our hearts (yes, yes, lawyers really do have hearts!) that marriage counseling can help couples facing problems and contemplating separation or divorce. Can we back it up, though? What are the facts: is marriage counseling worth a try?

Number Cruncher: Virginia Divorce Stats

Virginia’s rate of divorce may surprise you (because of how low it is), with only 3.3 divorces per 1,000 persons divorcing in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The national average is 3.1 per 1,000. Arkansas leads the pack at 4.8 per 1,000; Iowans are either very content or in complete denial, with only 1.2 divorces per 1,000.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) puts out a very discouraging, though delightfully colorful, single image that shows an alarming trend upwards with nearly 30,000 divorces for 2013 summarized as a blot on a graph. If you need even more disheartening facts, look at the VDH’s table of numbers, showing all 29,465 divorces and annulments for 2013, broken down by county.

There’s More Hope for Parents

The same piece of evidence used to make you feel awful about your prospects for staying married reveals something wonderful: The VDH table shows that, if you have kids, you are less likely to divorce. Most (16,756) divorces went to couples with no kids. The trend is clear:

  • One child — 6,454 divorces
  • Two children — 4,478 divorces
  • Three children — 1,223 divorces
  • Four or more children — 308 divorces

This indicates that a Virginia man and woman who stay together long enough to have children will adapt, learn, cope, and work to make the marriage a success. (It does not say, “Have a baby to save a marriage.”)

What Can You Expect from Marriage Counseling?

One way to work at marriage is through a marriage counselor. Unlike a legal counselor, a marriage counselor will not stuff her (or his) fingers in her (or his) ears when you start talking about your unhappy sex lives. Your legal counselor is accustomed to hearing all sorts of strange confidences, but the goal of a law firm is to advocate for our client, not to listen to your hinks and kinks.

Marriage counselors, on the other hand, can not only listen to your fantasies about yellow squash and whipped cream (we have no idea — we literally just put two items from our refrigerator together for the sake of an example; we don’t judge), they can help you two figure out how to play nice and save your marriage.

Is there, you may ask, any statistical evidence marriage counseling does any good at all? Anecdotally, Virginia family law firms can say couples in the midst of separating have sometimes tried marriage counseling with mixed results. This is not scientific, because a man who comes to our firm is already on the road to separation.

Statistics on the Success of Marriage Counseling

In 2010, UCLA published a study of 134 couples who were “‘chronically, seriously distressed’ and fought frequently,” but who wanted to improve their marriages. After attending up to 26 marriage counseling sessions in a year, “about two-thirds of the couples overall had shown significant clinical improvement.”

Okay, that may be a fair return rate, you think, but will it last? We purposely picked the UCLA study because it included a five-year checkup. Five years after the sessions,

“about half the couples were significantly improved from where they were at the start of treatment, about a quarter were separated or divorced, and about a quarter were unchanged.”

The best part of the study said about a third of the once-warring pairs were normal, happy couples five years out.

Other data also support this. According to Statistic Brain, 75 percent of couples believe they are “better off” after marriage counseling. A whopping 65 percent reported “significant” improvements in their marriages after counseling. And exactly half of counseled couples were still maintaining their improved relationships two years after counseling.

(Not All Good News)

Lawyers are adept at delivering favorable news to their clients, but we are also willing to deliver hard truths: Of divorced couples, 43 percent attended marriage counseling before their divorces. Sounds grim, right? Well consider: they were already in a “divorce” mindset anyway; it’s a bit like administering CPR. If you have ever taken a CPR course, you know the instructors tell you your actions are, technically, performed on a dead person. That we get any survivors at all is to be celebrated. So what if 43 percent of divorced couples tried marriage counseling and still got divorced; many try it and avoid divorce altogether.

When Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work

For help with family law, separation, divorce and other issues relating to your Virginia marriage, please contact The Firm For Men or call us at 757-383-9184. Please leave your yellow squash and whipped cream at home, thanks.

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