Counseling For Couples - How Does Couples Therapy Work?

By: Robert Porter

Updated May 12, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC

Why Do Couples Have Emotional Disagreements, And How Are They Solved?

Every couple experiences conflict, from small-scale spats to larger fights. According to marriage and family counselors, couples often have disagreements that go unresolved. In fact, many arguments end in frustration or lead to yet another fight. And these arguments tend to have the same patterns, including causes and consequences. This article will take a look at these patterns and offer tips you can use to strengthen your relationship, as well as valuable information about couples counseling.

An engaged couple link fingers, showing their love before marriage.

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What causes tension in relationships? The most common topics of arguments for couples include:

  • Free time (where to eat, which movies to watch, etc.)

  • Money

  • Housework

  • Physical intimacy

  • Extended family obligations and issues

  • Children

  • Career

  • Snoring and other sleeping habits

  • Past relationships

Even a simple matter such as leaving the toilet seat up can cause tension in a relationship. But in many cases, couples argue about larger-scale issues such as infidelity, betrayal of trust, and other toxic behaviors.

If you and your partner are experiencing constant conflict, couples therapy could be a valuable support for your relationship. Couples therapy can provide answers to couples' most pressing concerns. The good news is, many couples have succeeding in strengthening their relationships — you can too. All you need are the right tools. We will start by taking a look at some of them.

Counseling: A Foundation To Communicate

Instead of focusing on fighting less, it is helpful for couples to focus on better communication when disagreements arise. Be an active listener: truly listen to what your partner has to say. While in the heat of the moment, it can be challenging to be objective, but learning how to discuss thoughts and feelings is an invaluable foundation for a healthier relationship. Counseling can help create this foundation.

Know Your Issues And Experience

Knowing your issues includes you and your partner identifying recurring patterns in your arguments. Have you been stressed out about monthly bills? Do you have disagreements on how to parent your children? Are you feeling overwhelmed with other family obligations? Whatever is going on, talk to your partner so that you have a clear understanding about where you both stand on key issues within your household.

A couple sits together, growing closer after couples therapy.
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Stick To The Emotional Issues At Hand

It can be difficult to not make a mountain out of a molehill. When a disagreement arises, think about the current situation and its underlying cause. Don't bring in irrelevant information that could cause an even bigger fight. Be fair, and try not to guilt trip by bringing up past arguments. Refrain from saying things like "You always do this" or "This happened every time before."

Find Areas Of Healthy Agreement

While agreeing simply for the sake of avoiding an argument is not always a great strategy, identifying a place where you agree in the midst of an argument can be helpful and constructive. For example, let's say a couple disagrees on whether their young daughter should be home schooled. Instead of either arguing or “agreeing to disagree,”one partner could say, "I know we both value education and want what is best for our child.Now let's create a pros and cons list of each option so we can figure out the best solution." Acknowledging an area of agreement creates a sense of alliance, which makes finding a compromise more likely.

Step Into Your Partner’s Shoes And Learn

Assess your values, thoughts, beliefs, and other integral parts of yourself. Where do they match up with your partner's, and where are they different? Different values could be the real cause of your argument—it helps to understand that. Or you might recognize that the real cause of an argument is your partner feeling they have less control than you do, which made them pick a fight. Although controlling other people is not a healthy way to operate, trying to understand the argument from the other person's perspective will help you approach the situation with empathy.

"A licensed therapist will help you not only solve your immediate relationship issue, but also create long-lasting solutions that will aid in both partners' communication, interaction, and displays of love throughout your relationship."

Couples will not see eye to eye on everything. Once you're able to accept that, you'll also be able to move past previous arguments.

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Learn What's Behind The Scenes

Contrary to popular belief, people don't usually get upset for no reason. If your partner is coming across as angry or upset and you can’t figure out why, there's likely some sort of internal conflict going on. Maybe they had a bad day at work. Maybe there is conflict that you’re not aware of with a friend or family member.Maybe they're battling a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety — you never know.

The point here is that rather than assuming that your partner's behavior is irrational, you should do your best to identify what might be causing it. The most effective way to do this is to make time to talk about it.

How Does Couples Therapy Work?

Couple's therapy can help couples learn the above strategies and more. According to Psychology Today, for couple's therapy to work, both individuals must be committed to improving their relationship while also acknowledging their individual strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing one’s own difficult habits is as important as identifying what about your partner drives you crazy. Couples therapy isn't a place for one partner to unload anger, resentment, or damaging behaviors on the other. It's about unlocking solutions based on love, dedication, and the willingness to work toward a healthy relationship.

A couples therapist may observe a couple's relationship and provide them with insight into both their shared and individual strengths and weaknesses. They may also act as a neutral mediator, giving advice to both partners. Finally, counseling may teach the couple more effective ways to interact and communicate, and brainstorm with the couple about ways they can show their love and support for each other even while dealing with conflict. Research shows that online therapy can be a powerful tool in addressing relationship issues and strengthening relationships. 

You may read the full study here: Marriage: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Web-Based OurRelationship Program: Effects on Relationship and Individual Functioning

What Are The Benefits Of Couples Therapy?

While couples therapy may not help every couple in every situation, it is highly effective for many couples. Some benefits of couples therapy include the following:

High Levels Of Emotional Satisfaction

During and after therapy sessions, couples express high levels of satisfaction and greater happiness. According to a study conducted by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, 97 percent of couples surveyed said they received the help they needed. They reported that their therapist gave them the resources they needed to make more effective decisions about their relationships. As a side effect, their overall mental and physical health improved, as well as their work performance.

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It Saves You Time

Most couples therapists have seen and heard it all, from the smallest problems to the most pressing relationship issues. Therefore, they are prepared with methods to help you as efficiently and effectively as possible. Attempting to solve issues on your own is likely to be more time consuming, as you will need to figure out what works as you go along.

You'll Know The Answers And Information To Move Forward

Sometimes, couples therapy will show you that you're truly meant to be with your partner. Other times, it will indicate that your relationship isn't right for either or both of you. Either way, couples therapy helps you answer important questions about the health of your relationship, leading to greater fulfillment in the long term. It's important to note that in couples therapy divorce or ending a marriage will not be recommended; instead, the couples therapist will help you determine what's the healthiest option for yourself. 

What Are Couples Therapy Techniques?

Most couples therapy centers on increasing effective communication and strengthening attachment bonds. For example, emotionally focused therapy (EFT)  uses knowledge of adult attachment and bonding to guide therapists in helping couples. EFT therapists help couples assess and strengthen their emotional responses, interactions, and bonds. This therapy helps couples come to peace with the past and move forward into the future.

Other couples therapy modalities include:

  • Gottman Method:This approach helps couples (in marriage or relationships) increase their overall closeness, respect, and affection through "love maps."

  • Narrative Therapy: Couples identify and name their internalized issues, which can then be viewed from multiple angles and worked with constructively.

  • Positive Psychology: Therapists use this method to emphasize the positive aspects of relationships, increasing happiness.

  • Imago Relationship Therapy: This method combines behavioral and spiritual techniques, posing questions to couples such as "Why did you choose your partner?"

Will Couples Therapy Work For My Partner and Me?

Success or failure depends on the extent to which both partners are willing to commit to couples therapy techniques and exercises. If one or both of you are unwilling to fully engage, then couples therapy is not likely to work. In addition, both partners must be willing to change their behavior. Finally, the fit between therapist and clients must be good enough.

Another consideration is the level of marital stress. Seeking help early in your relationship, when disagreements are just starting to emerge, can establish ground rules and prevent issues down the road. It may also be a good idea to sign up for premarital counseling if you are engaged or thinking about marriage.

If your partner refuses to go to couples therapy , you might consider individual therapy to sort out your own issues related to the relationship and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

Alternative Solutions To Couples Therapy

Maybe you and your partner have been considering counseling but aren't 100 percent sure it's right for you. Before committing to couples therapy, you can try out a few alternatives.

Commit to A "Date Night" Experience

Sometimes we get so caught up in our busy lives that we forget to make time for our loved ones. Here’s a solution. Pick a weekly date night that you and your partner can devote to shared quality time. Whether that means going out to dinner and a show or simply staying at home and cuddling in front of the TV, mark your calendar and commit.

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Have More Sex

Lack of physical intimacy can lead to both partners feeling more stressed and less connected. Studies have shown that having more sex with your partner can open the door to more positive communication, as well as an increase in overall happiness. It's also worth noting that sex can increase memory as well as boost the immune system. However, you should never feel pressured to have sex, even in a committed relationship. The ongoing and enthusiastic consent of both partners is essential for a healthy sex life.

Consider If It's Time To Take A Safe Break

If issues between you and your partner become too overwhelming to deal with, it might be time to take a short break from each other. Although this may seem like a last resort, it can help the relationship by revealing whether you are happier with or without each other. There is no set amount of time for a break; you and your partner can decide together.

How Mental Health Professionals Can Support You

A licensed therapist will help you to not only solve your immediate relationship issues, but also create long-lasting solutions that will aid in both partners' communication, interaction, and displays of love throughout your relationship. You deserve to be happy — let us help.

Evidence And Research For The Success of Couples Therapy

According to research, couples therapy is effective in reducing relationship distress; however, it is used by less than one third of divorcing couples. Online couples therapy was proposed as a solution, as it is more easily accessible than in-person therapy. Three hundred couples participated in the OurRelationship (OR) program study. Couples were randomly assigned to treatment or a waitlist control condition. Those assigned to the treatment condition received seven hours of online activities and four 15-minute calls with staff members.The couples that received treatment had significant improvements as compared to the waitlist group in relationship satisfaction, relationship confidence, and negative relationship quality. Members of the couples also reported significant improvements in their individual functioning, including in depressive and anxious symptoms, perceived health, work functioning, and quality of life.

The Benefits of Online Couples Therapy

As discussed above, online therapy is an exciting option for couples wanting to improve their relationships, especially as it can be difficult to find time in two busy schedules for in-person therapy. This is where BetterHelp comes in. You can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office.BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped individuals and couples with relationship issues. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counseling Reviews

"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!"


"Nicole has helped me turn my entire mentality towards relationships around! My relationship with my significant other has never been stronger or healthier, and it's all thanks to her. She knows exactly how to help me process what I'm feeling and how to move forward with what I want while juggling what my partner wants, as well as our needs. It's only been a few months, but my entire mental state has improved 3000%!"

Conclusion: Couples Therapy Tends To Create Emotional Wellness

Couples therapy may not sound appealing at first, but it might just save your relationship with the one you love. As strong of a bond as you and your partner may have, sometimes it's just not enough to break through some of the more difficult issues. In this case, talk to your partner and decide if counseling may be right for you. Take the first step to a fulfilling, loving relationship today.


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