The Research


We have first-of-a-kind national research on confidants for American marriages and long term committed relationships. As part of his role as a faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Social Science, Bill Doherty initiated a study of American adults to get baseline data upon which to build the Marital First Responders training.

The study involved a survey completed by Internet panel of 1,000 U.S. adults ages 25-70, conducted by, an academically respected Internet survey company. The sample was representative of the U.S. population on age, gender, race, and education. Here are the highlights, followed by detailed findings.

The great majority of American adults have had someone confide in them about a problem in a marriage.

Female friends and a variety of family members are most likely to confide in someone about a marriage problem.

People bring a wide range of problems to confidants, from mild to very serious.

Many confidants lack confidence in how to be helpful, and some of them are stressed by the role.

Listening, being supportive, and offering perspective were the most helpful things confidants do.

And here are more details:

73% of Americans have been confided in about marital distress

  • 73% of American adults have been a confidant about problems in someone's marriage/long term committed relationship
  • 69% of men of been a confidant
  • 78% of women

confiding relationship types

The most common relationships in which confiding occurs are:

  • Female friend (36%)
  • Family member (29%) (top two: siblings and adult children)
  • Male friend (18%)
  • Coworker (9%)

40% of Marital First Responders Feel Stress

Only half of confidants (49%) feel confident in their ability to help. Forty percent have felt stressed by these conversations. Leading stresses:

  • Feeling frustrated with the person
  • Worrying a lot about the situation
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling anxious about what to say
  • Not knowing what to say

Problems brought to Marital First Responders

People bring a wide range of problems, from mile to serious, to these confidants. The most common problems brought to confidants:

  • Growing apart (68%)
  • Not enough attention (63%)
  • Money (60%)
  • Not able to talk together (60%)
  • Spouse/partner’s personal habits (59%)
  • Considering divorce (58%)
  • Infidelity (51%)
  • Personal problem of the spouse/partner (49%)
  • Job-related problems (48%)
  • In-law and other relatives (47%)
  • Spouse’s leisure activities (41%)
  • Household responsibilities (41%)
  • Being controlled by the partner (40%)
  • Alcohol or drug problems (38%)
  • Sexual problems (38%)
  • Differences in tastes and preferences (37%)
  • Spouse/partner’s friends (34%)
  • Severe emotional abuse (32%)
  • Conflicts over raising children (30%)
  • Physical violence (27%)
  • Conflicts over child care responsibilities (22%)
  • Religious differences (14%)


What did confidants do that was most helpful for confiders? Top five:

  • Listened to me
  • Gave me emotional support
  • Gave me a helpful perspective
  • Helped me understand my own contributors to the problem
  • Helped me understand where my partner was coming from

Marital First Responders Not Helpful When.....

What did confidants do that was not helpful for confiders? Top five:

  • Gave too much useless advice
  • Talked to much about him/herself
  • Was too critical of my spouse/partner
  • Suggested I break up with my spouse/partner
  • Was judgmental or critical

Divorced Marital First Responders

Divorce and confiding

  • The great majority (72%) of people who have been divorced said they confided in someone (other than a professional) about the problem that was leading to the divorce. The most common confidants they talked with were:
  • Female friend (55%)
  • Parent (45%)
  • Male friend (39%)
  • Sibling (31%)
  • Co-worker (14%)

Who did divorced marital first responders confide in?

    Confiding in professionals before divorcing: 29% of divorced people confided in a professional counselor, and 15% in a clergy person