What Are The Most Common And Effective Couples Therapy Methods?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated December 13, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Research shows that approximately 70-75% of distressed relationships are able to recover their partnership due to emotionally focused couples therapy. There are many reasons why people in relationships may opt to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor, and it isn’t always what everyone expects.

Many partners attend sessions of couples therapy to gain a deeper understanding of each other, and to strengthen their relationship so that they’re prepared for any potential problems in the future. In some cases, until they are in the middle of their session, partners might not realize that they have a problem that actually warrants getting help.

In this article we will discuss some common reasons people in a relationship might seek advice, as well as several methods that are effective for nourishing communication and connection within a partnership.

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Why Couples Might Seek Expert Advice

Many people assume that couples therapy can help only couples that are on a brink of splitting up and see it as a kind of last-ditch effort. However, this is not always the case.

Some couples therapy sessions are for serious reasons, such as when one or both spouses have had an affair. A therapist can help both individuals in an adult relationship to process emotions following a serious issue like this, including feelings of betrayal and distrust, and move towards rebuilding a relationship, if both people are committed to doing so.

That being said, there are other situations that aren’t necessarily as serious where therapy can help a couple develop a healthy relationship. In the case of even relatively normal challenges in relationships, it can be difficult for partners to sort through their own situation to determine where a problem is coming from. And, if they talk to people that they know on a personal level, the person may feel inclined to take sides, which is something that a therapist usually won’t do.

An example of a situation in which professional therapy may help is partners that are struggling with communication skills. Maybe there have been unhealthy patterns of communication during conflict which impedes on relationship satisfaction and can lead to couples having a breakdown in different areas of their relationship as well. Working with a licensed therapist in couples counseling can help partners to recognize unproductive patterns of communication and develop skills for navigating conflict in healthier ways. 

Couples therapy can also help when one or both people in a relationship are experiencing a mental illness or processing a loss or major life event. Even if actual symptoms and negative behavior patterns are only being experienced by one person in a relationship, it can still impact the relationship and the other person, which can lead to difficulties. A counselor can help to treat a person who is living with a mental illness while also helping them identify ways that it’s impacting their significant other and give them ways to manage those impacts. They can also help provide valuable tips on what the other person can do to support their partner through their illness, which can improve relationship satisfaction.

When Should You Pursue Couples Therapy?

Perhaps you are wondering how to know it could be time to seek out professional support to work on relationship issues like emotional intimacy.

According to licensed couples therapist Ian Kerner, the earlier you and your partner seek couples therapy for dysfunctional behavior, the better. If you’re having trouble with financial concerns, your sex life, infidelity, or any potentially sensitive subject, it can help to get those relationship issues out in the open and discuss them before they turn into bigger problems.  

Couples therapy can help for providing a safe space for you and your partner to address any of your concerns. Couples therapy can also allow you to take home training materials, techniques, and strategies to continue the work outside of your sessions.

It’s important to note that couples therapy isn’t usually viewed as a primary treatment for individuals with a medical history of experiencing depression, but it can be an excellent concurrent therapy as living with depression can affect all areas of a person’s life, including in relationships. All interactions provided in therapy allow each partner to examine their own behaviors and provides immediate feedback on the positive aspects like the success of a new skill.

While couples therapy is not primarily focused on treating mental illness, it can help with treatment by offering strategies on things like conflict resolution or reflective listening with your partner. By putting effort into areas like reflective listening and the ability to manage conflict, couples therapy can help both partners improve; when one partner works to improve the relationship, it often motivates the other partner to try harder, too.

Therapy Can Give Both Partners A Comfortable Environment

Happiness isn’t just about what goes on inside your mind, but often includes how well your personal needs are being met. Unresolved grief or unmet needs can result in symptoms that come to the surface much later in life, which can develop into a troubling conflict of role disputes or role transitions with the need for problem solving in different forms. An effective couples counselor creates a safe environment for identifying any personal issues and exploring solutions that will meet each person’s needs.

Sometimes it will be necessary for that individual to have one-on-one sessions with a therapist to help them feel more comfortable opening up to get to problem solving. However, it’s a good idea for each partner to eventually attend therapy together to see how new information and changes can be incorporated into the relationship and what any new needs are as a result. The new needs might be as simple as more quality time to increase intimacy and social bonds, or it could be more serious where one partner might feel hurt on a deeper level of underlying issues in their daily lives.

Whatever is causing hurt to your well-being, quality time with your partner in couples therapy can help to shed light on the conflict.

Improving Communications: Couples Therapy Techniques

Poor communication isn’t necessarily a result of a poor choice of words. Couples may be sending out certain wrong signals through body language, avoidance of their emotional state, or burying issues. A couple’s therapist helps each partner draw on their feelings and explore any things that may have gone wrong in a relationship.

An experienced therapist usually knows the right questions to ask that will inspire those in therapy to have to dig deep and draw out any underlying cause of a problem. They can also provide exercises that each partner can begin to do in order to learn how to improve their communication skills with each other. For example, when one partner questions the actions of the other, the other partners can learn to not take it as a criticism out of self-reflection.

Couples Connection: Meditation And Relaxation Therapy

Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety can affect the mental state of the partner as well as the individual experiencing it, according to peer reviewed studies. A person living with an anxiety disorder may transfer stress or may have lost interest in sexual activity and intimacy. A person who isn’t experiencing depression may perceive the symptoms as a problem with the relationship. Therapists can help open communication, bring the couple together into a single story of love languages, and reduce conflict to restore intimacy.

Meditation and relaxation can play a role in creating an effective treatment for couples. Relaxation techniques are generally easier to maintain when they are shared between a couple. This can be as simple as listening to favorite music together, taking afternoon walks, or breathing exercises designed to relax tension and build harmony. When couples attend therapy sessions together, they may learn what activities they can try together in order to build connection and strengthen their intimacy, communication, and relationship overall.

Additional Forms of Couples Therapy

There are a number of specific forms of couples therapy that are designed for unique purposes outside of more general sessions.

First, there is the Gottman Method from John Gottman as put forth by the Gottman Institute. From their website, the Gottman Method seeks, "to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship."

Another form of therapy was developed by known couples counselors Helen LaKelly Hunt and Harville Hendrix who called it Imago Relationship Therapy, which can be performed as live workshops or couples therapy. Imago therapy focuses on turning conflict between couples into growth.

Narrative therapy is another form of couples therapy. Narrative therapy focuses on the narrative form of the story that you tell about your life. With the help of narrative therapy, you and your partner can put your story back on the same path.

One last form of therapy to mention is Emotionally Focused Therapy. Emotionally Focused Therapy is a short-term therapy that tries to improve attachment and bonding over a short period of time. Emotionally Focused Therapy has three stages: de-escalation, restructuring, and consolidation.

There are many more forms and types of couples therapy to help you and your partner rebuild a strong relationship. This article focused on the general ideas, but there are many different specific strategies that can be better discussed in couples therapy.

Online Couples Therapy

Online therapy sessions, such as those offered by BetterHelp, can be a good fit for couples because it allows them to attend sessions from the comfort of their home. If couples have busy schedules or, perhaps because of their marital issues, have a hard time being in the same room as the other person, online counseling can help them remotely see a counselor to begin the process of working through their situation. It’s also a great fit for couples that have young children and that struggle to find a babysitter to be able to attend sessions together.

Recent studies have found that online therapy, for both couples and individuals, is as effective as in-person therapy in many cases, and can be an excellent option for those who have had previous poor experiences with in-person therapy or who are unable to attend in-person therapy for any reason, including those listed above.

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that online therapy can help any couples, regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status. Marriage and family therapists can also help. Marriage and family therapists are able to help any type of relationship from siblings to parents with their kids. Marriage and family therapy is often similar to couples therapy.


Regardless of what difficulties you may be experiencing in your relationship, consider taking the step of seeking support. Talking with a professional may be what is needed to move towards healthier communication and any intimacy and connection you desire with your partner. 

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