Falling in love, watching your relationship grow, and getting married can all be wonderful experiences, but relationships come with challenges. Unfortunately, it’s the long-term of a marriage that can be hard on a relationship. Raising children, financial stress, long hours at the office, personal struggles — just learning how to navigate the ups and downs of life together can take a toll on any relationship. Marriage counseling can help.
Recent research estimates that more than 40% of marriages will end in divorce. It’s true that some marriages just weren’t meant to be. Couples can grow apart, or they might realize that they’re incompatible. The truth, however, is that many marriages end because they don’t have the right tools to manage their problems.
Marriage counseling allows couples to work through their issues with the help of a trained professional. Does marriage counseling work? Are there different types of counseling? You’ll find answers to all your questions about counseling below.
What Is Marriage Counseling?
Marriage counseling focuses on relationships and marriages. It’s also commonly referred to as couples therapy or marriage therapy. Marriage counselors are trained and certified to help couples diagnose relationship problems and develop practical solutions.
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Therapy will be a safe place for couples to talk about how they really feel. Open communication is vital when it comes to solving marital problems, and marriage counseling (or even premarital counseling) is one of the best ways to improve communication skills, come to mutual understandings, and figure out how to move forward as a couple — or amicably end a marriage, if that is the right choice for the couple.
Marriage counseling aims to give couples the tools they need to understand each other and resolve conflicts. While couples often turn to relationship counseling during turmoil, it’s beneficial at any relationship stage. Marriage counselors can help couples with issues such as:
- Resolving financial disputes
- Learning how to communicate in a relationship
- Improving conflict resolution
- Identifying and addressing issues affecting the relationship
- Working on trust issues in a relationship
- Recapturing the spark or building intimacy
- Overcoming infidelity in a relationship
- Addressing disagreements about parenting styles
- Saving a marriage to avoid divorce
- Finding a healthy way to end a relationship
Types of marriage counseling
Like individual counseling, marriage therapy uses a variety of approaches and techniques. Learning more about the different types of couples therapy will help you find the right counselor.
- Gottman method couples therapy: Developed by married psychologists John and Julie Gottman, the Gottman method focuses on harmful behaviors that damage relationships and cause marriage problems. These behaviors can include defensiveness, criticism, stonewalling, or contempt.
- Discernment counseling: Couples are sometimes on different pages regarding ending relationships. Discernment counseling is a short-term form of therapy designed to help two people decide what their next step should be.
- Solution-focused therapy: This counseling style helps couples find solutions to specific problems or disputes. With the help of a therapist, couples will set and work towards relationship goals.
- Emotionally focused therapy (EFT): EFT involves discussing specific, distressing events in the relationship. These discussions can help couples understand the emotions and behaviors behind what occurred.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): While CBT is often used to treat issues like anxiety and depression, studies show it’s an effective form of couples therapy. It can address difficulties with communication and conflict resolution.
What type of therapy is best for married couples?
The best type of therapy can vary based on your personal preferences and goals. So, in addition to finding the correct type of counseling, you must find a therapist who’s a good fit for both partners’ needs.
Does Marriage Counseling Work?
Marital counseling research is promising. Studies by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) note that:
- More than 98% of couples who try marriage counseling report that therapy sessions are either “excellent” or “good”
- Of couples who try marriage counseling, 90% say emotional health has improved
- Two-thirds say they’ve seen improvements in their physical health after seeking counseling
Many couples find marriage therapy effective, but counseling can be effective whether you’ve been together for 2 months or 20 years. Studies suggest that communication issues, such as poor conflict management or a lack of positive communication, frequently lead to relationship problems. Counseling can help resolve these issues before significant disputes happen.
Research also shows that counseling can help couples with serious issues — one study compared couples who sought therapy after infidelity to relationships that didn’t. Unsurprisingly, the couples seeking professional help reported a higher increase in relationship satisfaction. Marriage counseling can be very effective when couples are committed to the process.
Who Should Seek Marriage Counseling?
Even though it’s called “marriage counseling,” as we’ve established, counseling isn’t just for people who’ve already tied the knot. There aren’t major differences in the techniques used with couples therapy vs. marriage counseling. Anyone can seek therapy, regardless of the status of their relationship. People who can benefit from marriage counseling include:
- Straight couples
- LGBT couples
- Engaged couples
- Couples that are dating
- Couples in long-distance relationships
- Couples in open relationships
- Couples who’ve separated
Again, there are no restrictions as to why you might consider marriage counseling. Any issue you can’t solve on your own might benefit from therapy. A licensed, objective, unbiased perspective often helps, usually in just a few sessions.
Keep in mind you can seek therapy for specific issues a relationship is facing. For example, online LGBTQ therapy can benefit couples facing problems in their relationship that are unique to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Other issues couples may seek counseling for include those who feel like:
- They just repeat the same disagreement or fight and can’t find a solution
- They disagree about finances, parenting, or lifestyle choices
- Household chores and responsibilities aren’t equal, and they want to figure out how to communicate better
- They’ve lost romantic or sexual chemistry
- Their relationship is “on auto-pilot”
- They’re unheard or unseen in the relationship, or their partner is emotionally unavailable
- They’ve experienced trauma or loss and are having trouble processing it
- Dealing with mental health struggles, infidelity, or substance abuse is affecting their relationship
While most partners can benefit from therapy, couples counseling may not be recommended for people in abusive relationships. If you or someone you love is struggling with any form of abuse, seek individual therapy and help immediately.
“Marriage counseling can be beneficial for those who’ve used psychoeducational resources with little success; for couples who find themselves fighting until it’s harmful to their quality of life; for couples looking to have a mediator help them decide their best options; for couples whose fights feel repetitive and have changed very little over time; or for couples contemplating separation and/or divorce.”– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
What Happens During Marriage Counseling?
Most marriage counselors encourage both partners to be present at counseling sessions. This is the most effective process because a therapist needs to see how you interact and communicate so they can offer the best tools to improve.
However, if your partner feels reluctant or cannot attend an appointment, you can attend marriage counseling alone. There can still be benefits for you: you can learn about yourself and how you feel about your relationship. Here’s what to expect from marriage counseling:
During your first session
Marriage counselors typically ask lots of questions during the first few therapy sessions. This allows them to learn more about each of you as an individual. It also helps them understand how you function as a married couple.
In addition to asking questions about your relationship, your couples therapist may ask about your childhood, family, or other aspects of your personal life. It can be difficult to share these things with a stranger, but opening up is an integral part of the process.
Setting a timeline and goals
Once your couples therapist has had the chance to learn more about you, you’ll be asked to discuss what you’d like to accomplish during counseling. Then, you’ll be able to choose goals you’d like to work on. For example, you may want to learn to understand your partner or find ways to compromise when you disagree.
Marriage counseling is very personalized. There’s no specific timeline or number of sessions required. You may reach your goals after a few sessions or decide to see a therapist on a long-term basis. If you feel that you’re benefiting from counseling, you should continue therapy as long as you like.
“Both parties are encouraged to share their lens on their dynamic. The counselor will ask many questions to ensure they fully understand the couple’s short- and long-term goals. From there, the counselor will challenge daily behaviors that don’t align with the future goals and objectives.”– Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
How to Start Marriage Counseling
The following tips will help you navigate broaching the subject of marriage counseling with your partner.
Talking to your partner
Marriage counseling is a two-person process. This means you’ll have to suggest counseling to your partner before you can get started. It can be intimidating since you’ll need to be vulnerable, especially if you don’t know how they’ll react. However, the payoff will be worth it if the process strengthens your relationship in the end.
Focus on explaining your motives to your partner. Avoid putting any blame on them. Instead, let them know that you want to work on your relationship with the help of a counselor. Share that counseling offers valuable tools and you want to help your relationship.
Ultimately, you and your partner must be willing to start marriage counseling for it to be effective. If your partner is resistant, many marriage counselors will agree — at least in the beginning — to see partners individually. This way, each person feels they can tell their side of the story without criticism.
Finding a counselor
If you’re ready to start looking for a counselor, take your time and make sure you find the right fit. You want both partners to feel comfortable with the therapist you end up working with.
Need help with how to find a good marriage counselor? An excellent option to consider is online couples therapy. In-person therapy can be expensive, and finding time in both your busy schedules can be challenging. Online therapy is a flexible solution that’s perfect for couples with demanding jobs or limited options for childcare.
Online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. The marriage counselors at Talkspace are licensed and highly qualified therapists with plenty of experience. Treatment is available in many forms, including video and phone sessions.
Whatever type of marriage counseling you’re looking for, find a therapist who’s positive, open-minded, solution-oriented, and who treats you both with compassion. Feel free to “shop around” until you find a marriage counselor who meets your expectations.
Prepare yourself for the process
Once you’ve found a counselor, make sure you’re ready for the challenges ahead. Counseling can be uncomfortable or even painful, but if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll get a lot out of it. Being open, honest, and receptive throughout the process is essential.
Marriage Counseling with Talkspace
Marriage, like anything else, requires work and maintenance. For many couples, marriage counseling helps them move through their struggles and endure as a couple. Counseling may not always be easy, especially at first, but your marriage is worth the work.
In addition to couples therapy, Talkspace offers online therapy for individuals. It’s discreet, convenient, and more affordable than in-person therapy. If you’re ready to try marriage counseling, Talkspace is the perfect place to start.
- Happy couples: How to keep your relationship healthy. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/marriage-relationships/healthy-relationships. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Fischer MS, Baucom DH, Cohen MJ. Cognitive-behavioral couple therapies: Review of the evidence for the treatment of relationship distress, psychopathology, and chronic health conditions. Family Process. 2016;55(3):423-442. doi:10.1111/famp.12227. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27226429/. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Advanced Solutions International I. About Marriage and Family Therapists. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx#. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Markman HJ. Application of a behavioral model of marriage in predicting relationship satisfaction of couples planning marriage. J Consult Clin Psychol. 1979;47(4):743-749. doi:10.1037//0022-006x.47.4.743. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/500910/. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Atkins DC, Eldridge KA, Baucom DH, Christensen A. Infidelity and behavioral couple therapy: Optimism in the face of betrayal. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2005;73(1):144-150. doi:10.1037/0022-006x.73.1.144. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15709841/. Accessed November 21, 2022.
- Karakurt G, Whiting K, van Esch C, Bolen SD, Calabrese JR. Couples therapy for intimate partner violence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 2016;42(4):567-583. doi:10.1111/jmft.12178. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5050084/. Accessed November 21, 2022.
Commonly Asked Questions
Many believe that only couples about to divorce or split up seek marriage counseling. In reality, though, all marriages can benefit from counseling.
Being in a successful relationship is complicated. It takes consistent and diligent maintenance. Sometimes, having an unbiased person involved can be incredibly beneficial.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be married to seek marriage counseling. Any couple can choose to attend counseling regardless of relationship status. There are no restrictions on why you might try out marriage counseling. Any issue you and your partner can’t solve might be helped with a trained, objective, unbiased perspective. All relationships can benefit from a few marriage counseling sessions.
Marriage counseling is a safe place for you and your partner to work through your problems and share feelings that you might not have previously communicated. It’s common for marriage counseling to include intense emotions, a bit of crying, and likely some raised voices. Your therapist will create a safe space where you can voice your feelings and concerns. They’ll provide practical solutions to improve your communication and problem-solving techniques in the future.
Marriage counseling is all about being open and honest. Don’t worry about filtering yourself too much. Your therapist will work to create a safe space for each of you to voice your feelings. There are no fast rules about marriage counseling — just be respectful and honest and listen to your therapist or partner when they’re speaking.
Couples can choose to separate for various reasons, whether as a step in the divorce process, to gain perspective, or in hopes of enhancing their marriage. Separation can be beneficial if you and your spouse feel you need some time apart. If, while separated, you think you want to work on the marriage, here are some things that might help:
- Don’t talk to too many people about your situation — everyone will have an opinion, and it’s best to figure out this personal matter together or with a therapist
- Speak openly and honestly about how you’re feeling with your spouse
- Set some ground rules — for example, how often will you communicate with each other? When can you see one another?
- Make sure your goals are aligned
Being separated from your spouse might help clarify your perspective on the relationship. Hopefully, the time apart will give you more tools to build a strong relationship. Consider speaking to a marriage counselor about this decision for more advice tailored to your relationship.