Marriage Counseling: How It Can Help You

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Marriage can come with challenges, which marriage counseling can help with. Even if you love your spouse, feelings of infatuation may fade over time with the passage through various stages of love. As relationships change, the behavioral patterns within them can too. If you think your marriage could improve or you find yourself experiencing frequent arguments and disagreements, you may consider marriage counseling.

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Marriage counseling

Couples therapy can offer you the tools to improve your communication, mental health, and other aspects of your relationship, regardless of your life stage. From premarital counseling onward, professional help can put you on the path toward a healthy marriage.

Even in a healthy relationship, some couples reach out for support from a marriage and family therapist before conflict or relationship troubles occur to create a plan for the future. You do not need a mental illness or a diagnosis to go to therapy. However, your insurance company might require it if you seek in-person therapy with a couples therapist.  

Many couples use counseling as a strategy for problem-solving. Often, these couples wait until serious issues have arisen and they’re in dire need of relationship help. If you're still unsure whether marriage counseling is for you, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy states that over 90% of couples seeking support feel they receive the desired results. In general, it can be said that marriage counseling can help and that it works to address issues in a couple’s relationship. Professional marriage and family therapy is often highly effective and can help you achieve long-term results in the health of your marriage.

What to keep in mind during marriage counseling

What does a couples counselor do? You may find yourself asking a lot of questions about what it might be like to start marriage counseling. Before you seek therapy, it’s important to review how counseling works, as well as what it can and cannot do. When seeking relationship therapy, its effectiveness may depend on both you and your partner being willing to make changes and learn lessons. When couples choose talk therapy together, it can signify they value their marriage and wish to preserve it and it may not be effective if only one person is a willing participant or if one partner refuses to go at all. However, couples therapy might only benefit clients when they consistently attend therapy sessions and enter a therapeutic alliance with the counselor and one another simultaneously. For couples with children, therapy may be a whole family process, and seeking a family therapist may be beneficial. Below are a few tips to bear in mind when considering marriage or couples counseling:

  • The therapist or marriage counselor cannot "fix" you
  • Marriage therapy is not individual therapy for one partner
  • The therapist or counselor is not a referee
  • The therapist or counselor does not take sides
  • Therapy does not rewrite the past
  • Marriage and family therapy may not work if one person isn’t willing to commit to the time it takes to work through life challenges
  • Therapy does not necessarily right wrongs
  • Your therapist may not tell you to divorce or separate without you bringing up the subject or asking for advice

Every relationship therapist can be different, so ask questions to learn more about their approach to treating relationships. 

Why do people choose marriage counseling?

Many couples seek marriage counseling because they want to strengthen their relationship, improve their communication skills, or address typical relationship challenges in the presence of a mental health professional. Couples may also experience conflict and face challenges to keeping a relationship healthy, such as infidelity (for example, an extramarital affair), disagreements over parenting styles and how to raise their children, or constant arguing, which may lead them to seek counseling, either on its own or in addition to individual therapy. If you’ve encountered the same argument over and over, it can indicate that you and your partner may have poor communication and active listening skills, which can be learned in therapy.

Challenges with communication or making healthy choices can lead to these conflicts. Past experiences, family concerns, or past relationship challenges could also impact a couple's decision to see a therapist. Regardless of the couple's concerns, relationship therapy can provide a space of support, education, and guidance as the couple works to resolve conflicts, come to their own conclusions, and practice new ways of relating to each other. 

When a couple chooses to attend couples therapy, sessions are overseen by licensed professionals, such as marriage and family therapists, who are versed in clinical psychology and the dynamics between partners. A licensed therapist can teach couples communication techniques and offer advice for intimacy and emotional closeness. This can help with the couple’s sexual chemistry and overall relationship status. It can also be a jumping-off point for individual self-improvement.

During marriage counseling sessions, participants may discuss relationship problems as well as each individual's feelings, thoughts, and behavioral patterns. Like in individual therapy, many couples therapists offer specific therapy modalities or specialties. Some therapists might specialize in sexual intimacy, while others might specialize in a specific type of therapy, like discernment counseling, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), solution focused therapy (SFBT), or emotionally focused therapy (EFT).

Prepare for marriage counseling sessions

Whether you're already living together before marriage or not yet, the decision to seek marriage counseling can be a positive one. Some couples might feel excited about the prospect of taking the step to talk to a relationship counselor, which could temporarily unify them. This excitement could lead to couples mistaking these positive feelings for a sign that their relationship has improved. The decision to see a counselor might lift stress from the couple's shoulders, and they may feel they no longer need relationship counseling. 

To support your decision to see the positive impacts of counseling, try to list the subjects you'd like to discuss in your first marriage counseling session, and remember why you're attending counseling. Some couples notice a difference after just a few sessions of marital therapy. However, even if you see results after the first session, continue going to sessions to see how it impacts you. Studies reveal that couples who completed couples therapy are better than 70-80% of those who do not.

Cost of marriage counseling cost

The costs for marriage counseling, couples counseling, and marital and family therapy can vary based on a number of factors. These may include your area, the kind of therapist you see, and the number of sessions you'll need. According to Forbes, couples therapy can cost $175 to $250 per session

You may pay around $700 to $980 monthly for four sessions. Your insurance policy might cover some of the costs. However, you could be responsible for co-pays. If you opt for an online version of marriage counseling, you may find it more cost-effective, with an average cost of $65 to $90 per session. 

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Approaches to marriage counseling

There are several approaches to marriage counseling, including but not limited to the following:

  • Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)
  • The Adlerian approach
  • The therapeutic model for marriage counseling
  • The pragmatic approach
  • The Gottman method by John Gottman

Many of these approaches are endorsed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy certifies marriage and family therapists in providing these modalities and others, whether a therapist specializes in in-person or online therapy. Below are further descriptions of these methods. 

The Adlerian or individual approach

The Adlerian model of marriage counseling was devised by Alfred Adler, a pioneer in individual therapy. He believed each partner should be treated individually before being treated as a couple. With this approach, each person receives treatment separately. After individual sessions, the therapist or clinical psychologist can see both clients simultaneously. This approach allows the therapist to provide individual and joint support to couples. 

Therapeutic model for marriage counseling

With the therapeutic marriage counseling model, the counselor may treat the relationship like a mental health condition. The couple can work with the counselor to figure out the challenges impacting the relationship and how to fix them. This model may involve creating a strict treatment plan for communication issues, practicing trust exercises, or partaking in a specific therapy modality like debt. 

The pragmatic approach

The pragmatic approach to couples counseling can help encourage couples to face their sources of conflict head-on, whether from disagreements about the children, intimacy, communication, or another topic. The process may include self-examination, finding causes of distress, and remaining solution-oriented as you work to resolve conflicts effectively. Couples can learn to reduce blaming behaviors and cognitive distortions and learn how their partner is feeling by partaking in exercises to see the world from their lens.

Gottman method

Developed by John and Julie Gottman, Gottman therapy has been a successful therapeutic model for over 40 years. According to the Gottman Institute, several of the steps to this method include:

  • Learning to believe in commitment
  • Building trust
  • Telling dreams and visions
  • Talking about hopes, values, and aspirations
  • Managing rather than fixing conflicts
  • Gaining positive perspectives
  • Stating your needs
  • Expressing your fondness and admiration for each other
  • Building love maps

How long does marriage counseling for couples take? 

There may not be an overnight solution to a relationship concern. In addition, every couple has a different reason for seeking counseling, so counseling can be a personal experience. It can also be important to find the right counselor and to address any underlying mental health challenges, such as substance use. Regardless of the time it takes to receive support from therapy, the American Psychological Association shows that counseling can decrease the chance of divorce by 40% to 50%. Let your therapist know if you're concerned about the number of sessions you might commit to. They can help you develop a treatment plan and give you a potential estimate of how long it might take. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Lifestyle changes to improve your marriage without a marriage counselor

If you're still not decided on marriage counseling, you may decide to make other efforts at repairing your marriage. Below are a few lifestyle changes you can try to increase your connection with your partner. 

Go on regular date nights

Many married couples may feel that romance falls to the wayside in their relationship after marriage. Consider making it a habit to go on a scheduled regular date night and continue communicating with each other. If you want inspiration for dates, you can print out a date idea list from the internet, cut up the ideas into small papers, fold them, and add them to a jar to pull out when you're ready for a date. 

Communicate with each other

Focusing on your communication may allow you and your partner to reduce conflict. Actively listen by listening to hear and understand, not to respond. Engaging in conversation frequently can help you understand your partner and their needs. Some couples do weekly or monthly check-ins to see how each partner feels about the relationship. 

Practice gratitude

Find areas of your relationship to be thankful for. For example, smiling and thanking your spouse when they go out of their way to do the chores, give you some time off, or buy you a small present can show them you appreciate their efforts. If you feel your spouse doesn't pull their weight in the relationship, showing gratitude can also encourage them to continue positive behaviors in the relationship. 

Focus on the "minor" aspects of life

Living day in and day out with someone may lead you to forget what you once thought was significant. Focus on the "minor" things that make your partner feel loved. For example, hold their hand, hug them at the store, send them a cute text, or do the chores while they're at work. These actions might increase feelings of love and appreciation in your relationship. 

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Marriages can run into hurdles - learn the tools to overcome them

Marriage counseling options

There are various forms of counseling and mental health services available for couples. However, some couples may feel unable to get one-on-one practice therapy in person due to insurance costs, session rates, or a lack of availability. In these cases, online marriage counseling may prove effective. 

Because online marriage counseling can be done from anywhere with an internet connection, it is often more affordable than traditional face-to-face marriage counseling. The therapist or counselor saves money because they do not have to pay for purchasing or renting an office, staff, utilities, upkeep, and transportation. With online marriage counseling, you can use video, phone, or live chat sessions to talk to your therapist. In addition, partners can attend from two different locations or rooms. 

Research shows online therapy can also be a powerful tool for strengthening relationships and improving men’s and women’s health overall. In a systematic meta-content review conducted in 2021, researchers found that online couple relationship therapy was effective in improving relationship satisfaction, quality, confidence, commitment, and communication. Additionally, the study results yielded reduced instances of conflict and aggression.

If you're interested in partaking in online individual or couples therapy, consider platforms like BetterHelp for individuals and Regain for couples. Both options offer over 30,000 therapists specializing in various symptoms and areas of support. 

Counselor reviews

"This is my first time using an online counseling platform, and I couldn't be happier. The interactions with Theresa have been positive and profoundly useful. Since I started using this platform, my husband and I have signed up for online marriage counseling, which is going very well. I will never again need to miss work to attend an in-office meeting with my counselor."

"Stephanie is a gem! She's very thoughtful, thorough, honest, insightful, but, most of all, helpful. This is coming from a person that never wanted to do counseling and just "knew" I didn't need it. She's been key in helping my wife and I find our better place. She made us grow as a couple and individually. Thanks, Steph!"

Takeaway

Marriage counseling is designed to give you the tools to overcome the challenges you might face as a couple. Any couple can take advantage of these sessions to learn unique relationship skills that last. Consider taking the first step by contacting a licensed marriage and family therapist for guidance and support. 
Marriage can come with complex challenges
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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