Does Marital Counseling Really Work?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated November 29, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Though some people may believe marital counseling is reserved for those considering divorce or experiencing relationship issues, many couples can benefit from seek marriage counseling and the help of a licensed therapist for many reasons. Some couples wait until small problems become larger, however, counseling can help you and your spouse improve communication, understand each other better, and build on your connection and intimacy before issues become overwhelming. In-person and online marriage counseling work may improve relationship satisfaction, though they could require a significant commitment from both spouses.

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Is Marriage Counseling Effective? 

According to one survey, approximately 49% of couples use marital counseling services or marriage therapy at some point during their marriage, and 70% of these couples report that these services are beneficial. Marital counseling can benefit couples because long-term committed relationships might experience periods of disharmony, and individuals may not be educated on tools to repair and strengthen romantic connections. 

These tools, which marriage counselors often teach, include strategies for practicing empathy, learning to resolve conflicts, learning to accept responsibility, reducing avoidant behaviors, fostering connection, and expressing concerns constructively. 

Some couples may be worried about the stigma associated with marriage counseling. For example, they might believe they will divorce if they try marriage counseling. However, according to Dr. Joel Block, the author of a popular psychology book called The 15-Minute Relationship Fix, couples may benefit from seeking support as soon as issues arise rather than waiting for challenges to become insurmountable. 

Couples without discernable issues could also benefit from marital counseling to strengthen partnerships. Like individual therapy and family thereapy, couples therapy can be a form of self-care and proactive relationship maintenance. 

Marriage counseling sessions are typically collaborative, and your therapist may use a variety of clinical psychology techniques including:

  • Solution focused therapy (SFT) 
  • Discernment counseling
  • Positive psychology therapy (PPT) 
  • Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) 
  • The Gottman Method Couple’s Therapy, developed by John Gottman

All of these methods are commonly used in marital and family therapy.  Couples counseling provides professional help that may improve men’s and women’s health individually while also improving their marriage and family life as well.  


When To Consider Marital Counseling

You and your partner do not have to be experiencing conflict to participate in marriage counseling. Couples counseling can be a time to learn how you best work together or prepare for the future. The following are some other reasons. You and your spouse might seek marital counseling:

  • A desire to strengthen your partnership
  • Frequent arguments 
  • Difficulty compromising or working together
  • Lack of trust
  • Physical or emotional disconnection 
  • Sexual intimacy difficulties or sexual issues
  • Lifestyle preference differences, such as the desire to have children, parenting styles, travel, or move
  • Mental illnesses that impact the relationship
  • Infidelity

Many couples find marital counseling works because it can provide a space for vulnerability and honesty that might be difficult for some couples to achieve without a therapist acting as an impartial moderator. 

Studies On Marital Counseling 

Studies repeatedly show that evidence-based couples therapy is effective. A 2020 study found that a specific type of couples therapy, called cognitive-behavioral couples therapy (CBCT), is effective at reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression and improving relationship perception. This therapy focuses on understanding and reframing thoughts and emotions that can lead to harmful or unproductive behaviors in relationships. CBCT can help address many challenges within a relationship, with the goal of reducing emotional relationship distress. 

How Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Marriage counseling sessions are usually conducted by a mental health professional—often, someone with a specialty in marriage and family therapy. The marriage and family  therapist may approach counseling differently depending on their background, education, expertise, and the specific challenges in your relationship. Typically, marriage counseling works through a process of identifying growth areas, establishing goals, and developing solutions that will help couples improve their relationship. Often, sessions may involve guided conversations that help you and your spouse identify areas of concern within your relationship. 

Marital counselors may help you and your partner: 

  • Adopt healthier and better communication strategies
  • Practice vulnerability
  • Feel compassion during the conflict, and avoid using hurtful language during emotional discussions
  • Make time for intimacy and connection
  • Think more positively about each other

While marriage counseling can be effective, it may require a significant commitment from you and your spouse to create a healthy marriage. Therapy can provide tools and feedback, but you may need to commit to incorporating them into your daily lives. 

To make marital counseling more effective, many therapists provide clients with worksheets or homework assignments. Couples' "homework" may include building furniture together, making time for emotional check-ins, writing each other letters, or using "I" statements. You can also ensure marriage counseling works as effectively as possible by finding the right services for you, which we’ll discuss below.

Looking To Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Spouse?

Finding Marital Counseling Services

There are many ways to search for marital counseling services. For example, you may find that an organization in your community, such as a religious institution or a community center, offers marital or pre-marital classes that teach communication strategies. You can also ask your primary care provider—who usually provides you with medical advice, diagnosis, etc.—for a referral to a counseling service. If you prefer seeing a licensed therapist, you can search online for a therapist near you, both in person at a therapist’s office, or online in your home. Many companies and individual therapists also offer online therapy services. 

When considering the type of marital counseling service to try, it can be helpful to understand therapy pricing. While individual therapy may be covered by insurance at a one on one practice, many health insurers do not cover couples or marital counseling. If your insurance company does not cover this type of therapy, you may be expected to pay approximately $175-$250 per session. However, some therapists offer sliding scale payments or discounts when you purchase a package of multiple sessions. 

Suppose you and your spouse do not wish to seek therapy or struggle to afford the cost of therapy. In that case, you might try using alternative sources, such as mobile applications designed to help build trust and improve communication strategies. However, unlike therapy sessions from a licensed professional, apps may show your profile, and strategies may not be effective or evidence-based. Alternatively, you can try using free worksheets that are available online. 

Counseling Options 

You can also find cost-effective support and treatment through a provider online. Many online platforms offer relationship therapy sessions for an average of $65 to $90 weekly. You can also take advantage of benefits like diverse options for meeting with your therapist. For example, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions. 

In addition to studying in-person marital counseling, many researchers have assessed the effectiveness of online therapy. A 2022 study found that online couples therapy is an effective alternative to in-person therapy and can improve both mental health and relationship satisfaction. While platforms like BetterHelp do not accept insurance, they offer online marital counseling at rates comparable to typical therapy co-pays. This factor may make evidence-based, effective marital therapy from a licensed professional a more affordable option for you.  


Nearly half of all US married couples seek marital counseling at some point. Though they might reach out to discuss serious relationship challenges, many spouses seek therapy as a form of self-care or to grow as partners. Reaching out for support before major disputes arise can be a beneficial prevention strategy. Just as your doctor might give you medical advice so that you can avoid health concerns, a therapist can help you and your partner work together and avoid future conflict and tension.

Marital counseling can improve relationship perception and mental health if both partners are committed to the process. Additionally, online therapy is an effective alternative to in-person couples therapy and may be a more affordable option. If you're interested in reaching out for support, consider contacting a therapist for further guidance.

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