How long do people wait before seeking couples therapy? A research note

J Marital Fam Ther. 2021 Oct;47(4):882-890. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12479. Epub 2021 Jan 7.


A widely cited but poorly supported idea in the couples therapy field is that the average couple waits six years before starting therapy for serious relationship problems. This figure is often accompanied by the notion that many couples come "too late" and have poor prospects for recovery. This is the first large-sample study on the delay between the onset of serious marital problems and entry into couples therapy (N = 270) and individual therapy (N = 101) for relationship problems. We found an average interval of 2.68 years from onset of problems and entering couples therapy, with the great majority of couples entering therapy within two years. Findings were similar for seeking individual therapy for relationship problems. The main clinical implication is that therapists have little reason to be pessimistic about the majority of couples waiting so long before starting therapy that their problems are not resolvable.

MeSH terms

  • Couples Therapy*
  • Family Conflict
  • Humans