Veterans Who Prematurely End Couples Therapy at Increased Risk for Divorce

Military personnel are exposed to situations that put their relationships under tremendous stress. Statistically, veterans of recent wars have divorce rates that have increased by more than 30% in the past decade. “Not surprisingly, problems in interpersonal relationships are one of the most common reasons for seeking mental health services within the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center system,” said Brian Doss of the University of Miami. Doss, along with colleagues from Texas A&M University, recently conducted a study to determine the long-term effects of prematurely terminating (PT) counseling in this group of individuals.

The team assessed 177 military couples and realized that between 50%-80% of them had prematurely terminated their couples’ therapy. They interviewed the couples at the beginning of treatment through a questionnaire, and then followed up 18 months after therapy. The researchers used the Quality of Marriage Index and the Marital Status Inventory to gauge levels of marital satisfaction before and after treatment. Additionally, the therapists treating the couples rated their level of future happiness based on clinical observations. The team found that based on all evaluations, if a couple ended therapy early and they fell in the therapists’ range of distressed relationships, they were more likely to seek a divorce than those who stayed in therapy or exhibited higher levels of satisfaction at termination.

“As a result, clinicians should carefully consider the decision to terminate couple therapy when couples are still scoring in the distressed range (even if that couple has made notable gains) as those couples are more likely to subsequently lose therapy gains,” said the team. The likelihood of future divorce seemed to be directly linked to the therapists’ measure of happiness. The team believes this is significant for the clinicians treating these couples. They added, “The ability of therapists to predict future relationship happiness and stability partially support previous conclusions that ‘therapist judgment may ultimately prove to be the best method of defining dropout.”

Doss, B. D., Hsueh, A. C., & Carhart, K. (2011, August 29). Premature Termination in Couple Therapy With Veterans: Definitions and Prediction of Long-Term Outcomes. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025239

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jacob Warren Cantel

    Jacob Warren Cantel

    September 7th, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    Not to surprising of a study if you ask me. It merely adds further proof of the effectiveness of professional counseling. The further along in counseling a military veteran couple gets, the less likely that they should get divorced. This seems like common sense to me, not just for veterans but for all couples. If this study had different results, us counselors would be in trouble, since couples with a veteran would have no reason to finish counseling. What I’d really like to see is a study that compares the divorce rate of distressed couples who receive counseling but terminate it early with distressed couples who never receive any counseling.

  • leroy


    September 7th, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    whatever time therapy is terminated(before completion),it does mean that te relationship is in danger.nobody quits therapy if they feel things are improving. Only when they think it’s not working do they quit therapy.and a divorce after quitting should not be surprising.

  • R.C.


    September 7th, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    I think military families should be given special consideration when the decision is being made on whether or not to terminate couple therapy by clinicians. That decision needs to be held to a different standard. Bear in mind they could within weeks of that be spending months and months apart when the military spouse is deployed.

    How can they be expected to keep on top of their relationship issues and continue to employ the techniques they have learned via therapy if they aren’t even in the same country, never mind the same home? They need a more solid foundation than most.

  • A.J. Graeme

    A.J. Graeme

    September 8th, 2011 at 12:00 AM

    Doesn’t surprise me that ending any kind of therapy ends with negative results when you’ve not finished it. It’s the same problem with patients on prescriptions. The doctor gives them the antibiotics, and they come back complaining they didn’t work before admitting they didn’t take the full course because they felt a little better. You don’t get the full benefit if you quit halfway.

  • drew mcguire

    drew mcguire

    September 8th, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    @ R.C. — I agree with your thinking. I certainly feel that it would be fairer to set a higher benchmark for military couples to attain prior to termination of couples therapy than a non-military couple would require.

    A military marriage is already under the gigantic pressure of separation and anxiety on both sides. The spouse that’s left behind to cope with family and home is worrying every day that their mate will be injured or killed, and the spouse in the combat zone is fearing the same thing. When they return home, they are different having seen what they have seen, often suffering mood swings and generally being very hard to live with.

    These are not everyday pressures any civilian family faces and that should be taken into account.

  • Lady J

    Lady J

    September 8th, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    There is always a lot of hard work that has to be completed in couples therapy. I think that some people go into this kind of therapy and think that it is going to be all fun and games but I can assure you from experience that this is not the case. There can all of a sudden be things that come up from years ago that both partners might think had been resolved but then they come up all over again and have to be dealt with in a a different way. If you are not willing to do the time and the work, for any couple, this could be the end of the road.

  • Corrinne Baye

    Corrinne Baye

    September 8th, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    It is impossible for even the best therapist to get a couple to stay in therapy if that is not what they want to do. You can jump hoops and if the couple is not feeling it or is not dedicated to the work then it is not going to happen. You can map out a treatment plan all you want but everyone has to be dedicated to seeing it through. If not then I think that we all know that it is never going to work.

  • Francis Vaughan

    Francis Vaughan

    September 8th, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    Veterans are already suffering from all kinds of mental trauma and a divorce can be one of the most stressful things to go through for anybody. Unless you have both agreed it will be civilized and planned everything in advance to make it plain sailing from the get-go, it’s yet another source of stress. I’m sure that divorce is their last resort, not their first. They are in a world of pain as it is.

    So let’s not be too quick to judge. Most of us wouldn’t have the guts to go into couples therapy at all. At least they tried.

  • kirsty corrigan

    kirsty corrigan

    September 8th, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    @Francis: Who would honestly plan a civilized divorce? There’s a misnomer if ever I heard one. It is a good idea. Unrealistic but good. Think about it. You’re getting divorced. The relationship’s already broken down beyond repair. Civility is a very remote possibility by then.

    It would take a special couple to do that and if you can have that good a relationship with each other in the midst of divorcing, you probably shouldn’t be divorcing at all. I’d be fighting to keep my marriage in one piece instead.

  • Andrew. Strauss

    Andrew. Strauss

    September 8th, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    An important question here would be WHY do they end it prematurely?! I’m not an expert in this but the way I see it-veterans have a lot of stress and problems. And unless they fix these issues within themselves first how will they be able to fix issues with their spouse?!

    Their individual problems inside them do not let them carry on with marriage counseling in my opinion. What do ya all think?

  • D. Gunn

    D. Gunn

    September 8th, 2011 at 7:44 PM

    Constantly relocating your family and having to live on an army base with all its rules and regulations, losing your friends every time you move, packing up, moving on, packing up all over again…that can be tough on the civilian partner, not being able to put down permanent roots. Waking up in a warzone for months or years on end, wondering every day if today will be your last is obviously incredibly tough on the soldier.

    Each face different stressors and it’s a miracle military families last at all. I wish them all the luck in the world.

  • K.L.


    September 8th, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    Extramarital affairs happen in military marriages too, you know. They are not some angelic band of brothers.

    When he or she’s away for so long and living in such close quarters with others, it’s almost inevitable. It’s all kept quiet so the top brass can deny that it’s a problem that needs addressed. And I’m not talking about the spouses left at home although some are guilty of that too. I’m talking about between service personnel.

    Don’t ask, don’t tell didn’t only apply to gays in the military – the cheaters and their CO’s count on it too. Don’t get caught is the unofficial guideline you’ll never see in black and white. Couples therapy and the divorces aren’t always just about stress.

  • T.R. Williams

    T.R. Williams

    September 9th, 2011 at 7:29 PM

    Personally I would lay the blame at the clinician’s door if the couples’ therapy was terminated too soon. They may be going “by the book” and ending it despite there being a clear visual on a problem that’s not resolving itself for whatever reason. Some days the book needs tossed out the window and commonsense must prevail.

  • S. Stephens

    S. Stephens

    September 9th, 2011 at 7:36 PM

    “The likelihood of future divorce seemed to be directly linked to the therapists’ measure of happiness…”

    Although this seems obvious it’s not the whole truth. I’ve gotten divorced for financial reasons. It was when I was very young. I married at 16. Doing the math after less than a year together we had to face that we could not make enough to feed us, pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads while together. Splitting up meant one or both of us could move back in with our own parents. We thought we could get back together later when we were both earning more. (That’s logic only the young can come up with!).

    Neither family would have taken us in together you see because they didn’t approve of us marrying so young and would never have let us continue seeing each other. They were right about that being a big mistake. We thought love would solve everything LOL.

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