How Can A Couples Counselor Help My Relationship?

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated April 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many relationships have the potential to improve, grow, and change, and couples counseling exercises can provide tools and techniques to help partners strengthen their connection and overcome challenges. Couples counselors, which include marriage and family therapists, can promote a relationship's growth by encouraging communication, nurturing understanding, and examining the causes of conflicts.

While many couples seek counseling to resolve a specific concern, it is a common misconception that couple relationship counseling is reserved for those experiencing severe conflict or divorce. So, what does a couples counselor do?

The role of a couples counselor, sometimes known as a family or marriage counselor, is to create a safe space for relationships, free of judgment and anger, where partners can healthily resolve conflict. While therapy may seem daunting at first, 70% of couples report long-lasting positive results from regular therapy sessions. It may not be too late or too early to meet with a therapist—Any couple can visit a therapist at any time, for any reason.

Are You Ready To Improve Your Relationship?

Why Couples Might Seek Therapy  

Couples can seek therapy, such as marriage counseling techniques, for various reasons, regardless of severe couples conflict or a desire to separate. Partners may wish to improve communication, better understand each other, improve trust, or practice healthy coping mechanisms in a structured environment. A couple might also visit a therapist to gain a specific skill, such as learning to engage positively or actively listen

Some partners seeking a couples counselor may have no immediate concerns but wish to take advantage of the counselor's relationship expertise. For example, in premarital therapy, partners often visit a counselor to learn relationship skills, prepare for marriage, and discuss goals for the future.    

Couples therapists can also offer hope and guidance to partners whose issues have grown beyond what they feel they can handle. These professionals have often studied serious relationship conflicts and common themes of contention. They are often adept at helping clients restore trust, resolve anger, and reach an understanding. 

Partners seeking counseling can find a non-judgmental atmosphere prioritizing growth and connection. Focus can be placed on the well-being and happiness of both partners, not on assigning blame or determining who is right or wrong. Many relationships have room for improvement, and couples or relationship counseling provides an environment to safely explore how a relationship can reach its highest potential.

The History And Evolution Of Couples Therapy

Modern couples therapists 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, with the first contemporary therapeutic strategies emerging in the 1960s. The mid-20th century was a period of enormous progress for psychotherapy; the scientific community introduced several empirically supported counseling techniques that were far more effective than previous methods.

Since the 1960s, couples counseling has continued to widen its scope. The success rate has increased as techniques develop 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 intended only for straight, married couples. Current types of relationship therapy incorporate an understanding of modern cultural norms and various relationship dynamics, including LGBTQ, immigrant, BIPOC, and polyamorous relationships. 

In addition, attending counseling online has removed barriers many partners face when accessing therapeutic services. Community perception has also shifted. With over 49% of couples currently in therapy, there may be a wider societal acceptance of couples counseling. 

Effectiveness Of Couples Therapy

Modern couples therapy can be effective, and many couples may see long-lasting results. Research indicates that many couples report a significant improvement in relationship satisfaction after talk therapy, often lasting over a year post-treatment. In addition, several couples therapy treatments have a specialized focus, such as sex therapy or premarital counseling. With the number of options available, couples can find a therapist unique to their needs. Does couple counseling work?

A vast body of evidence shows that marriage counseling can promote a high level of sustained marital satisfaction. The evidence of improvement is significant enough that researchers and therapists may adapt couples counseling techniques to treat individual concerns. The emergence of couple-based interventions speaks to the effectiveness of couples counseling and represents crucial innovations in relationship science.  

The benefits of couples therapy may include improved relationship satisfaction through communication skills and an increased understanding of each other's needs and desires. During initial sessions, a licensed marriage and family therapist may consider the couple's cultural background, childhood experiences, and current situation. The ultimate goal of couples therapy is to help partners build better relationships.

Couples Therapy Techniques

A couples counselor can choose between various techniques. The selection may be based on the couples' needs, the desire to address a specific problem, and the severity of the concerns in the relationship. Couples counselors and couples can work together to decide on the best course of care. Below are a few common types of couples therapy. 

Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT) 

Solution-focused therapy is often used in situations requiring problem-solving. The couple and therapist work together to identify possible solutions that resolve the concern of both partners. Solution-focused therapy can be a short-term treatment that doesn't take a deep dive into the past or the emotions underlying a concern. Instead, it can empower couples to identify strategies to move forward, feel validated, and respect each other as a team. The approach is forward-thinking and designed to reduce blame and anger. However, it may not benefit those struggling with past adverse experiences or long-term conflict based on life challenges or emotions.  

Narrative Therapy

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

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) 

Also known as emotionally focused therapy, EFT is a practical therapeutic approach used in couples and individual therapy. For couples, the process is grounded in attachment theory. Attachment theory describes how individuals attach and connect emotionally based on childhood bonds with caregivers and life experiences. 

Behavioral Couples Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on specific behaviors that might impact a relationship. This approach relies on skills training. The counselor models and instructs partners on several relationship skills, such as expressing emotions and negotiating requests. Partners then complete exercises outside of the counseling session to reinforce positive behaviors.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used therapeutic techniques available to counselors. It can help couples and individuals address thought patterns that may negatively influence behavior. Unlike behavioral therapy, the focus is not on the behavior but on the thoughts (cognitions) that lead to unwanted behaviors in a 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 may harm a relationship. The Gottman therapy has become well-known among professionals and couples and is commonly used during counseling sessions or retreats.

Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago relationship therapy is a form of couples therapy that focuses on creating deeper understanding between partners. This approach addresses various relationship issues, enabling couples to work through conflicts and achieve a satisfying, healthy relationship. One of the main benefits couples experience through Imago relationship therapy is the development of effective communication skills.

Online Couples Therapy

Many couples may struggle to attend in-person therapy due to common barriers to care, like finances, scheduling, or distance. Meeting with a couples counselor online is an increasingly popular approach to accessing therapy. When couples sign up for an online therapy service, they can choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with a licensed therapist. Attending therapy from home can be more comfortable than doing so in a therapist’s office,, and some report that online couples counseling allowed them to feel more engaged with their partner, therapist, and the therapeutic process. 

As online counseling has become commonplace, many therapists have specialized in applying empirically supported techniques remotely. Scientists have dedicated efforts to validating the effectiveness of online couples therapy, and the results are favorable. Current research suggests that online couples counseling meets or exceeds the standard of in-person counseling. If you're interested in meeting with a professional through the internet, you can sign up for a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples to get started. 


Meeting with a couples counselor can have various benefits, regardless of whether a conflict exists in a relationship. Many couples wait until they reach a certain point of distress before seeking therapy. However, if problems arise, it's better to seek therapy early as a way to address them before they escalate. If you're ready to get started, reach out to a therapist in your area or online to learn more about couples therapy techniques and research and gain personalized guidance for your relationship. 

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