Danish couples rarely seek relationship help

Almost every second Danish marriage ends in divorce and a substantial proportion of Danish couples are experiencing significant problems in their relationships. Still Danes are cautious about asking for help when their relationship is deteriorating, and when they do ask for help, they often ask for individual-based solutions. This is the result of a new study from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS.


Despite the fact that Denmark has one of the highest divorce rates in the world - almost 47 per cent in 2017 -, only seven per cent of Danes have sought relationship help through couples therapy. And only three per cent have participated in relationship lectures or courses with their partners.

This is the result of a new study conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at Aarhus BSS. The study was conducted among a representative sample of 1,371 Danes between 18 and 65 years who are in a relationship.

The study has just been published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

“We seek help and coaching in many areas of our lives, but when it comes to making our relationship work or learning how to handle problems and crises in our closest relations, Danes are much more cautious about asking for help,” concludes Hanne Nørr Fentz, who is a postdoc at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences and TrygFonden's Centre for Child Research at Aarhus BSS.

She has conducted the study together with Associate Professor Tea Trillingsgaard, the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, and Psychologist Trine Klostergaard Sørensen.

Far fewer couples seek help than in the US

In the US, previous studies of a similar nature show that Americans are much more likely to seek relationship help. In one study, 19 per cent of the American couples indicated that they had sought counselling or couples therapy, while 31 per cent of the couples had participated in relationship courses. According to the Danish researchers, this might be due to cultural differences, but also that Danes are not as aware of the different kinds of help available and do not have a tradition for thinking about relationships in preventive terms.

However, although Danes are much less likely than Americans to ask for relationship help, this does not mean that Danish relationships are without problems and conflicts. One in six participants in the study indicated that they were currently having significant problems in their relationship. In addition, 14 per cent indicated that their relationship had been through a serious crisis in the past year.

“The study doesn’t say anything about what prevents Danish couples from seeking help together, but it could be due to barriers such as high prices, the challenges of coordinating two busy schedules and logistical problems to difficulties agreeing on whether or not to get help or wanting to sort out one’s problems without the help of others,” says Hanne Nørr Fentz.

"There seems to be potential in helping couples to seek help at an earlier stage before serious crises appear. In some cases, we might even be able to prevent some of the human and financial costs"

Hanne Nørr Fentz - psychologist and postdoc, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Science, Aarhus BSS

Online searches and individual therapy

The study also showed that when Danes do ask for help, they often prefer individual offers such as searching for relevant relationship topics on the internet.

In the group who had experienced a serious relationship crisis in the past year, 40 per cent of the women and 28 per cent of the men had searched for relevant relationship topics online.

In addition, 19 per cent of women and 6 per cent of men had sought individual relationship therapy.

“Individual therapy may be a good idea for the individual, but it is not necessarily the best help option for people with relationship problems. Much of the help that we can get through the Danish public sector - e.g. through the health insurance system - is indeed based on individual offers. However, when the problem is relational in nature it will often be a good idea to include one’s partner in the conversation,” says Fentz, who also sees possibilities in the fact that the participants in the study often search for help online.

“Through our research and in collaboration with experienced practitioners, we are trying to develop a number of offers that can be accessed online,” she says referring to websites such as www.par-tjek.dk (couple’s check-up), which offers Danish couples access to a free online relationship check-up. Par-tjek was developed on the basis of a research project at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences in collaboration with professor James Cordova and his research team from Clark University, USA.

“A relationship check-up can be one way to break down some of the barriers that obviously prevent us from seeking help. A relationship check-up is a good place to start as it gives couples a greater insight into their particular strengths and challenges as a couple and offers inspiration for how they should proceed. In this way, we may prevent couples from waiting too long before getting help,” says Fentz.

Women lead the way

That the women in the study are much more likely than men to seek relationship help comes as no surprise to the researchers. This is completely in line with previous international studies.

“Typically women are the first to notice that something is wrong in the relationship. And they are typically also the ones who act on it.  In this study, it is striking that 50 per cent more women than men indicate that they have had a serious talk with their partner about ending the relationship,” the researcher points out.

“We know that divorces and relationship break-ups can cause depression and illness, and there are also consequences if there are children involved. These are very costly negative long-term effects. Some of this money could be used to prevent relationship problems through pathways such as public information, education and more preventive offers for couples. Naturally, divorce should be a possibility, but there seems to be potential in helping couples to seek help at an earlier stage before serious crises appear. In some cases, we might even be able to prevent some of the human and financial costs,” says Fentz.

Read the full research article here (Pay wall may occur)