With all the skeptical naysayers, it's easy to feel cynical about marriage counseling. Why risk going to a therapist if it ends up making some relationships worse? Even if you've read that modern marriage counseling now helps 70% of couples who seek treatment, you might still worry about being part of the 30 percent whose relationships cannot be saved by couples counseling. Making the decision to go to online therapy is already hard enough.
However, not only does research show that many marriage counseling methods are effective, it also reveals how and why marriage counseling works, and what factors increase the likelihood it will help you. The type of counseling you get, the specific therapist you choose, the relationship issues you're trying to address, and at what point you go to counseling all play a role in determining whether therapy will help you heal your relationship.
Marriage counseling is a form of therapy that specifically works with married couples to address a variety of different issues and barriers in their relationship. If you are interested in learning how to save a marriage, how to make a marriage work, or you are just going through a tough time in your relationship, marriage counseling can not only identify the problems in your relationship, but it can also help you work towards addressing and resolving these problems. This type of therapy is often focused on conflict resolution, and improving your relationship with your partner.
Marriage counseling is for married couples in addition to any couple in a long term partnership. Couples that plan to get married soon can also participate in marriage counseling, but this is normally called pre-marital counseling.
Marriage counseling can help address issues like communication problems, substance abuse, infidelity, financial issues and conflicts that arise from blended families. It can also help you and your partner navigate changing life circumstances such as parenthood, death of a loved one, unemployment, empty-nesting, retirement and things of that nature. Marriage counseling is not only about solving problems in your relationship, it’s also about strengthening the bond between you and your partner to help create a stronger connection.
Marriage counseling is typically facilitated by a licensed marriage therapist who guides couples through talk therapy sessions to help them understand and navigate their relationship. While all types of marriage counseling aims to address similar problems, there are many different philosophies that guide marriage counseling. You may have heard of the Gottman Method, for example, a type of research-based marriage counseling that focuses on improving verbal communication, and increasing intimacy, respect, and affection. It aims at removing barriers to conflict resolution and creating more empathy and compassion within relationships. The Gottman Method is one of the most popular types of marriage counseling, but it is by no means the only type of therapy out there. There is also psychoanalytic relationship theory, for example, that focuses on childhood issues and the unconscious and how these things affect interpersonal relationships and marriages.
Strategic-structural philosophy focuses on present problems and changing the structure within a relationship. Additionally, the social-cognitive method examines our learned behaviors and evaluates how to unlearn the bad behaviors and address problems in the relationship.
Finding the right type of counseling for you will often take some shopping around. It’s important to approach marriage counseling with patience and an open mind so that you and your partner can find the most appropriate form of counseling for you.
While some marriage counseling plans do only involve one partner, most treatments require both partners to participate in counseling. For many couples, it is crucial for both people to participate in the counseling process, so that together you learn how to communicate with one another, see the other’s point of view, and navigate problems more effectively. But in some cases, it's not necessary to pursue marriage counseling. Sometimes, one partner refuses to attend marriage counseling, but the other person is still struggling. It’s possible to seek individual therapy with a couples counselor so that you can work through your relationship issues as much as possible on your own.
When both partners come to the session, marriage counseling can be a great resource in navigating problems in your relationship or problems related to how you interact with one another. But, marriage counseling can’t really help you overcome these issues if the source of the problem is an unaddressed issue with either you or your partner as an individual. Marriage counseling probably isn’t for you if the problems in your relationship stem from you or your partner’s anger management issues, or controlling tendencies for example.
In these cases, it might be necessary for you or your partner to seek individual therapy to help sort through how to deal with these things on a personal level before coming together for marriage counseling. It’s also common for partners to continue with individual therapy at the same time as marriage counseling.
It’s important that partners support one another as they navigate what can be difficult individual therapy, but it’s not necessary to pursue couples therapy in these cases. Individual counseling can often be more effective than marriage counseling in cases where your interpersonal problems are stemming from someone’s personal problems. Individual counseling is often much cheaper than marriage counseling, and will often end up improving your marriage.
Marriage counseling can be beneficial for your marriage no matter what stage your relationship is in. Each of the five stages of a long term relationship –– the honeymoon, power struggle, stability, acceptance and lasting love –– all have unique problems that can be addressed with marriage counseling. Whether you are having some problems in your relationship or are just looking to grow closer to your partner, marriage counseling can help you learn the skills to navigate problems as a team and grow together. Marriage counseling is all about establishing the skills to navigate the problems in your relationship.
Learning and refining these skills will help at any point in a marriage, so starting before there are any major problems can be advantageous. Marriage counseling can seem intimidating and even awkward at times, but committing to the process and learning to trust your couples therapist and your partner can lead to huge improvements in your relationship. And, while some problems can be sorted out without a therapist, it is sometimes necessary to have a trained and experienced third party weigh in on things.
It’s important to be realistic about your expectations before going into treatment. Participating in marriage counseling likely won’t fix all your problems overnight, but it will give you and your partner tools and strategies to help you navigate your marriage. Having techniques to fall back on during rough patches can be the difference between a disagreement and testing the limits of the relationship. It can also be helpful and refreshing to have an outside perspective on recurring issues where you have trouble seeing each other’s side. While it can be vulnerable to air your dirty laundry with a stranger, it’s also empowering to open up about your intimate problems in an attempt to solve them.
Marriage counseling is not the solution for every couple, but it does have a lot of benefits for couples that buy into the process and learn to implement the skills they learn through their marriage therapy sessions.
While there are many benefits to marriage counseling, there are also some drawbacks. Marriage counseling is, more often than not, more expensive than individual therapy and is rarely covered by insurance providers. The investment can definitely be worth your time, but if money is already a source of stress in your marriage it’s better to avoid adding any financial stress to the situation.
In addition to high costs (and also a contributing factor to the high cost) is the amount of time that traditional marriage counseling requires. Traditional relationship counseling is a long term investment that requires meeting with your therapist for a short period of time over an extended number of weeks, months and maybe even years. Not everyone has the time to dedicate to this type of counseling, and not everyone can afford the price of marriage counseling for that amount of time. Read our blog post answering the question, “how much is marriage counseling,” for more details.
In addition to these drawbacks, marriage counseling can also be inconvenient, depending on your schedules. If you and your partner already feel like you don’t have enough time together it can be hard to justify spending your time together at therapy. If you are both super busy, it can also be very difficult to find a time that works for you, your partner and your therapist. You should not use scheduling issues as an excuse not to address your relationship problems, but it is true that scheduling and lack of free time are barriers to traditional marriage counseling.
Furthermore, it can be very difficult to find the perfect match with a counselor. Finding the perfect counselor (someone that both you and your partner like and find helpful) can often take a bit of shopping around. This means that you may need to go to a couple consultations before the real work on addressing your relationship issues can even begin. Finding the right counselor is such an important part of the process, but it can take some time.
All of these barriers are not meant to deter you and your partner from getting the marriage support that you need, they are just things that you should consider before entering what can be a long-term and pricey engagement.
As mentioned, finding the right match in a therapist for your relationship is critical to the success of your treatment. This means your counselor is aligned with approach, philosophy, background, personality, location, accessibility, and affordability.
It’s also important to seek out therapists who align with the way relationships work for you without you having to teach your therapist terminology. For inclusive therapists in the United States who have specific training on sexuality, nonmonogamy, and kink/BDSM, as well as gender identity/expression, look for therapists who are also certified sex therapists of the American Association of Sexuality, Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, as those therapists undergo specialized training for working with erotically marginalized clients.
If you’re comfortable with it, another way to find a good therapist is to ask friends or co-workers if they could make a recommendation.
During this step, you may also want to explore how to pay for therapy. It’s worth noting that a more expensive licensed therapist does not always mean you will receive better therapy or faster improvements. While therapy is expensive, if it helps save and repair your marriage, it will be less expensive than a divorce in the long-run. For additional cost-saving ideas, check your insurance or with your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Additionally, some therapists have sliding fees for lower income couples, and universities have couples therapy training programs that offer therapists-in-training with quality supervision at affordable rates.
Advekit is one of the easiest, most trusted ways to find a good marriage counselor and mental health professional. In minutes your search can be narrowed down to a shortlist of therapists who match your requirements and criteria. From there you can take intro calls and work with an Advekit representative to make sure you understand your insurance benefits, and that you get the lowest rate possible.
Research shows that couples who stick with therapy show the most improvements long-term, so it’s worth putting in the time and money to find the right marriage counselor for your relationship.
Experienced and effective couples therapists know that there is a difference between improvements from addressing surface issues and the lasting improvements that come from addressing the root marital problems. It’s possible that within the first handful of sessions you may see significant improvements. With this in mind, consider committing to eight to ten sessions before evaluating whether married couple therapy is working. This way you are ensuring both the surface issues and the deeper issues are being addressed.