Military marriages have higher divorce rates than civilian marriages. According to Pentagon data from 2019, among female service members, the divorce rate averages 7%, and among male service members, it is 2.5%. Military divorce rates are 3.2%, whereas civilian divorce rates are 2.9%.
This may be due to the additional challenges military couples face, such as frequent moves and deployments and the resulting loneliness. A 2017 survey reported that 88% of military spouses expressed loneliness due to deployment.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage, marriage counseling may help. It can help couples improve their communication, resolve conflicts and strengthen their relationships.
Marriage counseling offers a safe, neutral environment for you and your partner to discuss your feelings and any problems you are having. The counselor will guide you through the process, ensuring you both have time to speak, and offering insights and suggestions.
What to Expect from Couples Counseling
If you are hesitant about marriage counseling, knowing what to expect may help.
- You will talk about the problems you are having in your marriage, as well as what’s working well and what your vision is for your relationship. The counselor will help you understand the sources of your conflict. It can be difficult to share these intimate details with the therapist at first, but they are trained to help put you at ease and help you open up.
- Couples therapy is not about handing your problems over to a counselor to fix. It’s also not about “fixing” your spouse. There is work involved – and possibly even homework. You are working to better understand and improve yourself. Part of the process is learning and improving relationship skills, including ways to communicate, manage stress, problem-solve and resolve conflicts.
- Therapy is often short-term – an average of 12 sessions, although many couples come longer, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Nearly two-thirds of couples complete their counseling within 20 sessions, and nearly 90% complete it within 50 sessions.
Does Marriage Counseling Work?
A study by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy shows that couples therapy is effective – more than 75% of participants reported improvements in their relationships. They also reported improvements in their health: nearly 90% said their mental health improved, while about 65% said their physical health had. In addition, nearly 75% of participants found they got along better with their children following marriage counseling.
Marriage Counseling Resources
The military offers several options for finding the right help for your relationship. All services are confidential.
Military OneSource: The confidential Non-medical Counseling Program offers up to 12 face-to-face, phone or online counseling sessions for individuals or couples. Active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members, their immediate family members and survivors can access this service, as can military academy cadets and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students. Military OneSource also offers several free webinars for couples, including “Building a Healthy Marriage” and “Challenges Faced by Military Couples.” Building Healthy Relationships is a new program that offers coaching sessions, problem-solving techniques, communication refreshers and more to help strengthen couple and family relationships.
Military and Family Support Center: The Military and Family Life Counseling Program also offers free short-term counseling for individuals or couples. You can seek support for relationship building, deployment adjustments and more. Contact your base’s Military and Family Support Center for support.
Faith-based Counseling: If you are looking for faith-centered support, contact your base chapel.
Army: The Strong Bonds Program offers a retreat designed to help couples strengthen their relationship sin a fun, relaxed environment.
Marine Corps: The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program helps couples improve their communication and relationship skills.
Navy: The Navy offers marriage enrichment retreats through its Chaplains Religious Enrichment Development Operation. Couples learn to improve their communication and conflict resolution skills to strengthen their relationship.
Air Force: The MarriageCare program offers opportunities to work on communication and other relationship skills, weekend couples retreats and other programs through the Air Force Chaplain Corps. Contact your installation’s chaplain for more information.
Note: Tricare covers marriage counseling only when it is necessary for the treatment of a mental health disorder.
Kristen Baker-Geczy is a communications specialist, active-duty military spouse, and former MWR marketing coordinator. She was also deployed to Southwest Asia as an Air Force contractor.