It’s interesting to look at relationships as having levels of risk. Relationships with low risk aren’t threatened by disbanding. Some couples come to couples counseling when the risk is low. They want to improve their relationship, but their relationship is unlikely to end at this point in time. They may be aware that their trajectory is gradually leaning downward, and they want to move towards an upward trajectory again. Often these couples talk about wanting to improve their communication.

Most couples in marriage counseling are at high risk. If they don’t intervene at this point in time, their relationship is likely to end. If they were to stay together, they would certainly be anywhere from unhappy to miserable. These couples need intervention to redirect their downward trajectory. 

Couples are at high risk when there is contempt: name-calling, mockery, and sarcasm since contempt is the number one cause of divorce. Couples are also at high risk when they are disengaged from each other. These couples are unlikely to create sustainable changes on their own.

Couples at moderate risk can also reach a point in their relationship in which they are unable to improve the relationship on their own. When this occurs, professional intervention is needed to avoid becoming a high-risk couple. When couples are at high risk, the chance of one or both partners not wanting to work on improving the relationship increases significantly. This is the death knell in a relationship unless they ask for help in time.