Couples Therapy: Does It Really Work?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated July 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Couples therapy generally pairs partners with a therapist who can help them collaboratively work through concerns and challenges while improving communication. You don’t have to be married to benefit from couples therapy, and you can engage in this type of therapy in person or online. Often, results are better when both partners are willing to put in the effort to change and improve. Some other keys to success may include setting boundaries with friends, finding a mental health professional you’re both comfortable with, being willing to look at oneself honestly, and going to couples counseling or marriage counseling before problems spiral out of control. 

What is couples therapy?

Couples therapy typically helps couples handle concerns like arguing too much, growing apart, or managing job stress that impacts their relationship. These challenges (among many others) can be overwhelming, but there are therapeutic approaches that can help. Couples therapy generally aims to give you and your partner the tools to successfully communicate with each other and navigate your specific relationship challenges.

When most people ask ‘Does couple counseling work?’ what they really mean is, will it save their relationship?

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 97.1% of surveyed clients said they received the help they needed from couples therapy.

Upwards of 80% said that relationship therapy had a positive impact. However, success may be more likely if both partners are willing to put in the effort. 

Considerations for couples therapy

Effective couples therapy may help you and your partner better understand your relationship and assist you in increasing skills that support healthy relationships. These may include effective communication skills, conflict resolution, and listening skills, as well as strategies to increase the harmony and positive aspects of your relationship.

Learn strategies to strengthen your relationship


It may be helpful not to think of couples therapy as "divorce counseling," or as a type of punishment your partner must endure to prove their love for you. You might keep in mind that you only have control over yourself. You can impact others, especially those with whom you are in a close relationship, but you may not be able to choose a path for your partner or dictate their actions. Even in marital therapy, you might achieve the most success by focusing on yourself: your thoughts, attitudes, intentions, and actions. This can be a simple yet powerful strategy to maximize the effectiveness of the unhappy marriage therapy process.

As human beings, we tend to be resistant to change. We are usually more comfortable with the situations we’ve come to regard as normal, regardless of how painful our current reality may be. This is not necessarily because we like pain, but because what is familiar also tends to be most comfortable and requires the least amount of effort. This can be one of the most significant challenges when going through both individual and couples therapy.

As mentioned previously, successful couples therapy typically requires the motivation of both partners. However, some partners may not be open to the therapy process. One partner may agree to couples therapy merely so they can claim to have tried to save the relationship. While it can be possible for these partners to gain more than they expect, meaningful change may require sincere commitment, intentionality, and effort on the part of both partners.

Marital status

Dating couples can have challenges just as married couples can. Couples therapy may give you and your partner the tools needed to overcome these challenges and improve the quality of your relationship, whether you've been dating for a few months or you’ve been married for decades. Couples therapy before marriage is often referred to as premarital counseling, and studies have shown that couples who receive premarital counseling may enjoy a long-term healthy marriage. This is likely because the counseling sessions can give the couple a healthy foundation for their marriage by covering topics like children, finances, and responsibilities.

Even if you have a happy marriage, you might choose to seek marriage counseling. Some couples who would describe their marriage as healthy choose to participate in monthly marriage counseling sessions. This time with a marriage counselor helps maintain the strong status of their relationship and head off issues before they turn into bigger problems. In this way, marriage counseling works as a preventative rather than a reactive measure. 

Family status

Adding children into a relationship adds an extra layer to an already complicated dynamic. This can be especially true if both partners are bringing children from a previous relationship. In this instance, the entire family may benefit from family therapy. A family therapist is focused on improving the relationship between all family, which can be beneficial in any sort of blended situation. Both marriage and family therapists may help to support partners who are creating a new blended family by offering solution-focused therapy. With this approach, the family works together to identify what’s currently working within their home and how they can build on that to strengthen their relationships with one another. 

Your mental health

Your relationship can have a major impact on your mental health, as well as that of your partner. While healthy relationships can reduce stress and improve overall health, poor relationships may increase your chances of experiencing depression. Poor relationships can also affect your physical health by weakening your immune system, contributing to high blood pressure, and causing other physical symptoms. If you are having relationship difficulties and you and your partner are unable to successfully overcome the challenges you are facing, couples therapy may minimize the negative impacts your relationship could have on your mental and physical health.

Set yourself up for success

If you are looking into couples therapy, here are four things you can do to improve your chances of success.

1. Engage in soul-searching

Before heading into your first therapy session, you might think about what it is you want to achieve and the direction you’d like your relationship to go. It can be beneficial to be ready to accept your faults and your role in the current state of affairs and be prepared to do the personal work to make your therapy efforts successful.

2. Set boundaries with friends

Having the support of your friends, with boundaries in place, can be helpful in working through the challenges brought up during your therapy sessions. However, your progress may be hindered if your friends are continually telling you to leave your partner instead of respecting your ability to make your own decisions.


3. Find a therapist you are both comfortable with

Therapy generally requires collaboration between yourself, your partner, and your therapist. It is often helpful to find a therapist you are both comfortable with and be ready to move on to the next one if your current therapist isn't working out. Be sure that you choose a licensed marriage or couples therapist.

It’s also important to choose a therapist who uses an approach you think could be beneficial to your situation. While your family might benefit from solution-focused therapy, you might also prefer to engage in emotion-focused therapy. In this approach, your therapist helps to de-escalate relationship distress, restructure interactions, and improve relationship function. Emotionally focused therapy can then create a more secure attachment bond. 

4. Start early

Waiting too long to get help can allow problems to fester, potentially contributing to resentment. Getting help as soon as you start to have concerns may help the two of you overcome these challenges and strengthen your relationship.

Online couples therapy may be beneficial for you

Research shows that online therapy can be a powerful tool for couples to improve their relationships. For example, in a study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Medicine, researchers assessed the efficacy of online therapy for at-risk couples. The study mentions several potential benefits provided by online therapy, including higher relationship satisfaction, increased commitment and readiness for marriage, improved communication and problem-solving, and decreased aggression. 

As discussed above, online therapy can be a convenient form of help for you and your partner. With everything done online, appointment times can be flexible to suit both of your schedules. Another unique benefit of online couples therapy is that it can be a viable option for long-distance couples or those who have to spend time apart for work, especially since many one-on-one practice marriage therapists only offer in-person counseling. 

Learn strategies to strengthen your relationship

In couples therapy, partners are usually connected with a therapist who aims to help them work together to address their specific challenges. Several factors that may improve a couple’s likelihood of making marriage counseling work can include:

  • Having a positive mindset
  • Being willing to put in the necessary work
  • Engaging in some reflection and soul-searching before and during therapy
  • Setting boundaries with friends
  • Selecting a therapist that both partners are comfortable with
  • Choosing to attend therapy before problems get out of hand


Any couple may attend couples therapy, regardless of whether they are married. If you’re interested in trying couples therapy or if you simply have questions about the process, you can contact Regain for more information. With Regain, you can be matched with a therapist with experience helping couples navigate various relationship challenges. Take the first step to a healthier relationship and contact Regain today.
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