How Can A Couples Counselor Help My Relationship?

Updated October 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

All relationships have the potential to improve, grow, and change. Couples counselors can facilitate a relationship's growth by encouraging communication, fostering acceptance, and analyzing the source of any problems. While many couples seek counseling to resolve a specific concern, it is a common misconception that counseling is reserved for only the most severe relationship problems.  Experts suggest that couples who attend therapy at the earliest sign of difficulties in their relationship see a greater improvement than couples who wait for problems to escalate.

The role of a couples counselor is to create a safe space for relationships, free of judgment, where partners can effectively resolve conflict. While it may seem daunting to navigate relationship problems with a therapist, most couples who attend therapy see significant improvement in their relationships and overall well-being.

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Why Couples Seek Therapy  

A severe problem within the relationship is one reason a couple might seek therapy, but it’s not the only reason. Partners may simply wish to improve communication, better understand their partner, or improve trust. A couple might also visit a therapist to gain a specific skill such as learning to engage positively or listen actively, for instance. Some people who see a couples counselor may have no immediate concerns, but simply wish to take advantage of the counselor's relationship expertise. An example is pre-marital therapy. In pre-marital therapy, partners visit a counselor—often a licensed marriage and family therapist—to learn relationship skills, uncover potential issues, and address these issues before they impact the marriage.   

Couples therapists can also provide relationship tools for resolving issues that have grown beyond what the partners feel they can handle. Many couples counselors are mental health professionals who are licensed in marriage and family therapy. Counselors who provide couples therapy regularly work with severe relationship problems. They may be adept at helping clients restore trust, resolve anger, and reach a mutual understanding. Partners who seek counseling can expect a non-judgmental atmosphere that prioritizes growth. Focus tends to be placed on the well-being and happiness of both partners, not on assigning blame or determining who is right and who is wrong.

There is no prerequisite for seeking couples therapy. Nearly every relationship has room for improvement, and couples counseling can provide an environment to safely explore how a relationship can reach its greatest potential.

Evolution Of Couples Therapy

Today's couples therapists may use techniques based on nearly a century of scientific investigation and discovery. Researchers first began to apply psychotherapeutic techniques to couples in the 1930s. The methods of the time bore little resemblance to their modern counterparts. The first contemporary therapeutic strategies emerged in the 1960s. The mid-20th century was a period of enormous progress for psychotherapy. During this time, the scientific community introduced several new, empirically supported counseling techniques that proved more effective than previous methods.

Since the 1960s, couples counseling has continued to improve. The success rate has steadily increased as techniques become more effective and counselors receive additional tools to address relationship concerns. Modern couples counseling has also grown more inclusive. In the past, couples therapy was termed "marital therapy" and was intended only for straight, married couples. Today's methods tend to incorporate an understanding of modern cultural norms and various relationship dynamics.

Couples counseling recently experienced another major boom spurred by the growing popularity of teletherapy. The option to attend counseling online has removed barriers many partners face when accessing therapeutic services, including cost, transportation, and comfortability. Community perception is also shifting; the influx of new couples seeking therapy might indicate a greater acceptance of couples counseling, especially as a preventative measure. The number of couples seeking counseling to improve communication in their relationship or address minor problems has also increased.

Effectiveness Of Couples Therapy

Modern couples therapy can be highly effective, and most couples tend to be happier with their relationships after counseling. Research indicates that over 70% of couples are likely to report a significant improvement in their relationship after attending couples therapy, which is on par with success rates for individual therapy. In addition, several couples therapy treatments have proven effective in treating specific relationship issues such as sexual dysfunction or infidelity.

There is also a vast body of evidence supporting an improvement in each partner's general well-being as well as coexisting emotional or behavioral concerns as a result of couples counseling. This improvement is significant enough that researchers and therapists are adapting couples counseling techniques to treat individual concerns. Couple-based intervention can leverage the benefits of couples therapy to help one partner address physical or mental health hurdles. The emergence of couple-based interventions may speak to the effectiveness of couples counseling and could represent one of the most important recent innovations in relationship science.  

Couples Therapy Techniques

A couples counselor may have several different types of therapy—and a wide variety of techniques from which to choose. The modality they utilize for couples therapy may be based on each partner's needs, the desire to address a specific problem, and the severity of the concerns in the relationship. For example, marriage counseling for a couple who are considering divorce will likely look much different than therapy for partners who are only looking to strengthen their relationship prior to getting married. Couples counselors and clients can work together to decide the best course forward, often choosing a method that is attainable for the couple and addresses high-priority issues first. Some common approaches to couples therapy may include:

Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy is generally used in situations that have a specific issue at the center of the conflict. The couple and therapist work together to identify possible solutions to resolve the concerns of both partners. Solution-focused therapy doesn't usually take a deep dive into the problem itself. Instead, it may empower couples to identify what they need to move forward. The approach is forward-thinking and designed to reduce blame and anger.

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a popular technique that encourages partners to tell the "story" of their relationship. The therapist can help the couple frame their relationship as a narrative and use the story structure to help each partner better understand themselves and each other. Couples may be encouraged to adopt new narratives emphasizing respect and reducing blame.

Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion-focused therapy, also called emotionally focused therapy is a popular and well-understood therapeutic approach used in both couples and individual therapy. For couples, the process is grounded in attachment theory. Attachment theory, as the name suggests, describes how individuals attach and connect to others emotionally. It was first studied as a framework to understand parent-child relationships, but it has since been adapted to reflect other types of interpersonal relationships.

Behavioral Couple Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on specific behaviors that may impact a relationship. This approach acknowledges that certain behaviors are inherently beneficial to the relationship. The counselor might model and instruct partners on several relationship skills such as expressing emotions and negotiating requests, for example. Partners can then complete exercises outside of the counseling session to reinforce positive behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is perhaps one of the most widely used and best-understood therapeutic techniques available to counselors. It is often used with both couples and individuals and focuses on addressing thought patterns that negatively influence behavior. Unlike behavioral therapy, the focus is not on the behavior itself, but rather on the thoughts (cognitions) that lead to unhealthy behaviors in a relationship. A couples therapist utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy can also work with each partner to address individual mental health concerns that may be impacting the relationship.

The Gottman Method

John Gottman, a psychology professor and relationship expert, developed the Gottman method. Gottman focuses on the development of problem-solving skills and the recognition of behaviors that are destructive to the relationship. The Gottman method has become well-known among professionals and couples alike and is commonly used during couples counseling sessions.

The list above includes a few modern approaches to couples counseling. Dozens of additional techniques are available, all of which are backed by rigorous scientific evidence. If a couple does not feel that any of the methods listed are suitable for them, it can help to consider other options with a counselor. Couples counseling may begin with building trust between the couple and therapist, and both partners will have an opportunity to discuss various approaches before committing to the process.

Online Couples Therapy

Meeting with a couples counselor online is an increasingly popular approach to accessing therapy. The convenience of accessing therapy from the comfort of home has been a benefit since the early days of teletherapy. This advantage may be even more pronounced for couples who are juggling not one, but two busy schedules. 

Moreover, current research indicates that online relationship therapy may provide additional benefits for couples. For example, many couples report that online couples counseling allowed them to feel more engaged with their partner, and others found that online counseling increased their engagement with the therapeutic process.


Meeting with a couples counselor may be beneficial, even if a relationship has no apparent problems. If concerns about the relationship do exist, it may be advisable to seek therapy early rather than letting issues compound. Couples therapy is evidence-based and can be highly effective. Recent evidence has demonstrated that online couples counseling is just as effective as in-person counseling, which may lower the barrier to accessing care. To connect with a mental health professional who specializes in online couples counseling, reach out to BetterHelp today. 

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