University of Alberta: More support options needed for couples considering divorce, study suggests

Couples pondering divorce often don’t seek professional counselling, showing a need for different ways of reaching them, University of Alberta research suggests.

A survey of 745 troubled couples who were thinking about divorce showed that 80 per cent of them weren’t seeking professional help, but turning instead to friends, books and websites for advice, according to the recent study.

That combination of ambiguity and lack of professional guidance can prevent people from effectively sorting through their feelings and coming to a decision that lets them move forward, says study co-author Adam Galovan, a family scientist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

“If one partner wants to hang on to the relationship and work it out, but the other person doesn’t, having the opportunity to talk through that decision helps them get on the same page. If the person clinging to the relationship doesn’t have that help, the default is that the divorce goes forward and they have to struggle with the implications.”

There’s also a question of unnecessary divorce, he adds. “Are there couples who maybe, if they got better help, could get things figured out and end up happy?”

“It’s important that they have clarity so they aren’t always looking back and worrying that they made the wrong decision.”

People may not be seeking therapy for any number of reasons, such as the stigma of seeming “broken” or mistrust of therapists, Galovan says.

That means therapists should consider more low-key approaches for people reluctant to seek formal counselling, the study suggests.

Short-term options like discernment counselling, a model recently developed by family scientists, can help couples methodically dig into any ambiguity they feel about splitting up, Galovan says.

“It can help couples decide what path they are going to take, whereas traditional therapy sometimes assumes a path without having a meaningful discussion and getting clarity on what they want to do. We need an approach to help couples think through and support the decision-making process, rather than just helping them either make their marriage better or get a divorce.”

Other resources like information pamphlets, booklets or short online videos done by professional counsellors could also be a way of reaching people who need help, Galovan suggests.

“A lot of people who don’t want to come in and talk seem to be willing to read things.”