Marital distress is extremely common. Any person who has experienced significant marital distress, or witnessed the feelings of a friend or family member in the midst of such distress, easily recognizes that troubled marriages are among the most complex and upsetting of human problems. Powerful feelings of sadness, anger, rage, disbelief, shock, and depression typically accompany high levels of marital distress. Unhappiness and conflict in a marriage can be a major factor in the genesis of diagnosable individual psychopathology such as dysthymic disorder. And for many, marital distress ultimately results in divorce with its myriad of additional difficulties and risk factors.
Statistics regarding distressed marriages in our society point to how overwhelming and insidious a problem this is. Studies typically find 20% of the population to be maritally distressed at any moment in time (Gurman & Fraenkel, 2002). The divorce rate has stabilized, with approximately half of all marriages ending in divorce. Ten to fifteen percent of couples separate in the first four years of marriage, and only 70% make it through the first decade of marriage. Sobering facts…
Whisman (1999) found a strong association between marital dissatisfaction and the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in general, and that of each of the major 15 groups of psychiatric disorders. Typically, rates of these disorders were double for those who were maritally distressed compared to those who were not. Among those with significant levels of marital distress, 15% had concurrent mood disorders, 28% anxiety disorders, and 15% alcohol and substance use disorders. Numerous studies have also demonstrated the impact of marital distress on physical health, decreased work productivity, and on the frequency and severity of problems in children (the latter especially in marriages in which there are high levels of conflict) (Snyder & Whisman, 2004). Given its impact, it is no surprise that marital distress is the most frequent problem for which people seek psychotherapy, with a full 40% of clients surveyed reporting that this is the reason they sought treatment (Gurman & Fraenkel, 2002).
A copule clarifications are necessary concerning the term “marital distress” as used in this blog. “Marital distress” refers to one or both partners in a committed relationship experiencing a high level of dissatisfaction about that relationships and distressed feelings accompanying that state. Thus, marital distress only requires that one partner be experiencing the relationship as distressed; if one partner does, the relationship is considered distressed. And, to experience marital distress, one does not need to be legally married. Those in longstanding, committed relationships who are not married are equally likely to experience these difficulties. For examples, gay and lesbian couples living in states that do not legally recognize their unions are just as vulnerable to these problems as legally married couples. Thus, the word “marital” is use to describe the full range of committed couple relationships. Therefore the terms “marital therapy” and “couple therapy” are interchangeable.
Check back for more information about marital distress and ways to ease the discomfort and set the stage for a healthy outcome…
Lebow, Jay. May/June, 2005. AAMFT Clinical Update: Marital Distress.