Couples Therapy

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you're concerned because you and your partner have been arguing and feel like you need support as a couple, couples therapy can help. Couples therapy exercises may help you both learn the effective communication methods to enhance your relationship. Many couples argue. Therapy may help you and your partner assess these patterns and learn the right strategies to strengthen your relationship. Continue reading if you've ever wondered, "How does marriage therapy work?"

couples therapy
Couples can explore couples counseling online with BetterHelp. Getty/AnnaStills
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Relationship tension

Couples’ arguments may involve a variety of concerns, including: 

  • Money
  • Fair distribution of housework or other chores
  • Physical intimacy
  • Extended family obligations and issues
  • Children or parenting 
  • Careers
  • Sleeping habits, such as snoring or staying awake late at night 
  • Past relationships
  • Substance use 
  • Unhealthy behavioral patterns 

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.

In a relationship, the reasons for arguments can vary greatly, from clothes on the floor to betrayals of trust. If you and your partner often argue, you might wonder if behavioral couples therapy would be beneficial for your particular relationship dynamic. Relationship counseling with the right therapist may answer questions you and your partner have about your relationship. Does couple counseling work? Evidence based studies show that couples or marriage counseling is one form of therapy that positively improves 70% of relationships when practiced. If you aren't sure you can afford therapy, you may be able to find free marriage counseling online. What does a couples counselor do? A couples counselor may teach you new healthy relationship skills, help you identify unhealthy behaviors, and assist you in developing your communication and addressing relationship issues. 
Couples Therapy

Instead of focusing on fighting less, couples in counseling might focus on better communication when disagreements arise. In couples therapy, you learn focused therapy techniques to actively listen by hearing what your partner has to say and giving them space to speak their mind. While in the heat of the moment, it can feel challenging to act objectively. However, learning to discuss these thoughts and feelings healthily from week to week may be an invaluable foundation for a healthier relationship. In couples or relationship counseling, it can help to have the following points in mind. 

Be aware of any problem behaviors

Awareness of problem behaviors can include identifying recurring patterns in your arguments. You may want to look at both sides of the argument. Have you been stressed out about monthly bills or health issues? Do you have disagreements on how to parent your children? Are you feeling overwhelmed with other family obligations? Whatever is going on, you can bring your concerns to therapy. It unlocks a space to talk openly without judgment and create strategies for change. You might identify areas where you and your partner could both improve. Also, it may help to try not to express only your partner’s wrongdoings during the therapy session. When working with a therapist, you will often discuss both sides of the conflict. Your counselor may feel better equipped to offer support if they understand what is happening for each of you.

Stick to present concerns in therapy

When a disagreement arises, consider the current situation and its underlying cause instead of bringing in irrelevant information, other people’s relationships, or past hurts. If you wish to discuss past hurts, consider doing so in a separate therapy session. It may help to take each problem one at a time so that you and your partner can fully focus on the concerns completely. 

Find areas of healthy agreement

While agreeing to avoid an argument may not solve concerns, identifying an area where you agree amid an argument may be constructive for couples. For example, perhaps a couple disagrees on whether to let their daughter have a cell phone. Instead of arguing or “agreeing to disagree,” one partner could say, “I know we both value our daughter’s safety and well-being. Let’s create a pros and cons list of each option so we can figure out the best solution.” Acknowledging an area of agreement may foment a sense of alliance, which could make compromise easier during a conversation. If it’s difficult to find common ground, you can ask your therapist to help use tactics for counseling couples such as having you create a chart of areas where you might agree.

Step into your partner’s shoes

During couples therapy, it can also be helpful to assess your values, thoughts, and beliefs. Where do they match up with your partner’s, and where are there feelings of disconnection? Different values could be a root problem for some concerns. Consider why your partner is upset, temporarily disregarding what caused you to feel your emotions. Do they feel unheard, unloved, or disrespected? By stepping into your partner’s shoes and understanding their behavior patterns, you can discover a hidden world of knowledge.  Understanding the argument from the other person’s perspective may allow you to approach the situation with empathy. A licensed therapist can use this form of psychotherapy to help you solve your immediate relationship challenges and create long-lasting solutions that will aid in both partners’ communication, interaction, and displays of love. 

Can couples or marriage therapy make things worse?

Two people may not see eye to eye on everything. However, you might be able to compromise, come to an agreement, or convince each other of another option. Similar to how family therapy can help form healthy relationships between family members, couples therapy unlocks the potential for you to reach this point with your partner. Online relationship counseling is often a way to improve relationship disagreements, not make them worse. However, if counseling leads to more arguments or an urge to break up, you can bring this up in your next session. You can let the therapist know why you’re concerned and ask what it could mean for the relationship. Your therapist may have valuable advice and counseling techniques to help any relationship distress you may be facing.

Why is my partner upset with me?

If your partner is coming across as angry, defensive, or upset and you can’t figure out why, there could be several reasons. For example, they may be experiencing:

  • An internal conflict unrelated to you or the relationship
  • Conflict with another relationship, such as with friends or family
  • Stress from a long day or mental burnout
  • Symptoms of a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety
  • Symptoms related to an unresolved conflict in your relationship
  • Loss or grief

Rather than assuming your partner’s behavior is irrational, you might try to open communication to find out what’s wrong. You can let your partner know that you’ve noticed their mood change and want to be there to support them. If they become defensive, consider having this conversation during therapy.

Relationship therapy

Couples therapy may help a couple learn healthy relationship strategies and problem solving tactics to help you and your partner change patterns. Recognizing your unhealthy habits can be as essential as identifying your partner’s unhealthy behaviors. A couples therapist may allow you to facilitate an open-ended discussion with a neutral third-party present.

Is it too soon to see a therapist together?

Couples who have been together for a few weeks or couples who have been together for many years may all benefit from counseling. There is no requirement related to how long you’ve been together to attend a session. Your therapist will likely be experienced with couples at all stages of relationships. 

Getty/Halfpoint Images

Can couples attend therapy together?

Couples sessions are often conducted together. In some cases, your therapist may meet with you both one-on-one before or after sessions to discuss any feelings you felt unable to say in front of your partner. Through these methods, your therapist may observe your relationship and provide insight into your strengths and weaknesses. They may also act as a neutral mediator, advising you and your partner as you work through conflict. In other cases, you and your partner may have an individual therapist as well. You might choose to bring topics from your therapy sessions to couples therapy, but that is up to you.

Couples counseling offers

Behavioral couples therapy may teach partners effective ways to interact and communicate. A counselor might brainstorm with the couple about ways to show their love and support for each other during conflict. Forbes indicates that couples therapy can work when both partners are present, willing to try, and ready to make changes. Although it may not fix all your conflicts, it is often meant as a tool to guide you as you and your partner work to solve the conflicts together. 

Benefits of couples counseling

While this therapy may not benefit every couple in every situation, it can be effective for many partnerships.

Emotional satisfaction

During and after sessions, couples tend to express high levels of satisfaction with the marriage therapist. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, over 90% of couples surveyed reported improved emotional health after attending sessions with a couples or marriage therapist. They reported that their marriage and family therapist gave them the resources they needed to make more effective decisions about their relationships. Note that what works for other relationships may not benefit your relationship. Couples therapy may help you look at your relationship without making comparisons. Thus, you may work through your conflicts, such as external stressors, intimacy issues, or communication difficulties, in a personalized manner.

Solving Conflicts In Couples Therapy May Save You Time

Couples therapists often work with couples from different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. For this reason, they are often prepared with methods for various situations. Additionally, they often have up-to-date research on interpersonal relationships available to support you with facts and studies. Attempting to solve conflicts on your own may feel time-consuming, as you may need to figure out what works as you go along without the support of a professional. Attending weekly therapy sessions may help a couple move forward with a structured plan for their relationship.

You may receive a resolution

At times, couples therapy may show you and your partner that you want to work through any concerns and move forward together. Other times, you or your partner may realize that the relationship isn’t for you. Either way, couples therapy could allow you to learn about the health of your relationship and offer a resolution. In counseling, your therapist may not recommend breaking up or divorcing. Instead, your therapist might guide you toward finding the healthiest option for yourself. 

Therapeutic techniques

Couples therapy often centers on increasing effective communication and strengthening attachment bonds. You may discuss your attachment style developed as a child and how it connects with your partner’s style.

There are a variety of options. For example, you might participate in emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT), which often uses adult attachment and bonding theories to guide clients. These therapists can help couples assess and strengthen their emotional responses, interactions, and bonds to move forward in the relationship.

Different forms and modalities include: 

Gottman method

This approach may help couples increase their overall closeness, respect, and affection through “love maps.”

Narrative therapy

In narrative therapy, couples might identify and name their internalized concerns, which may be viewed from multiple angles and worked with constructively. 

Positive psychology

This is one of the couple counseling techniques that therapists often use to emphasize the positive aspects of relationships. A therapist may use optimism practices to achieve this. 

Imago therapy

This method can combine behavioral and spiritual techniques, posing couples therapy questions such as, “Why did you choose your partner?”

Will relationship therapy work for us?

Success or failure in therapy may depend 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 engage and provide a commitment to the process thoroughly, you may not benefit as much as you would with a positive mindset. The couples counseling process can take effort from both sides. You may learn about areas where you acted unhealthily, which could feel challenging to address in front of a therapist and your partner. You and your partner may choose to go into therapy willing to change your behavioral patterns and learn new skills. Additionally, you might want to find the proper fit for a therapist before delving into deep counseling. Consider the following questions:

  • Why should we try it?
  • What do we wish to gain from therapy?
  • What is our end goal for each session?
  • What type of couples therapist are we looking for?
  • What aspects of our relationship will we talk about in our first couples counseling session?
  • Are there any subjects we don’t want to discuss with the therapist for some reason?
  • Is there any personal subject one or both of us don’t want to be brought up?

What should I not tell a couples therapist?

You may tell your therapist anything. However, it’s up to you whether you tell a piece of information. You can impart your information, but you might check with your partner before telling any of their details to the counselor. 

What should I do if my partner refuses to go to couples counseling?

If your partner refuses to try counseling, you might consider individual therapy to talk to a counselor about how you feel in your relationship. Individual counseling may focus only on your needs, so you might learn more about how the relationship harms or benefits you. 

Should partners see the same individual therapist?

Suppose your partner does not feel comfortable attending couples therapy but is willing to try therapy on their own. In that case, you might be able to see the same therapist individually. However, it is also possible to see separate therapists to work on your own feelings. It depends on your and your partner’s desires. 

Should I tell my partner what I talk about in therapy?

You can choose to talk to your spouse about what you discuss in therapy. Doing so may help them understand what areas of your life or relationship you’re working on. However, you can also keep details of your therapy sessions to yourself if you wish.

therapy for couples
A couple signs up for couples therapy with an online therapist. Getty/AnnaStills
Are you considering couples counseling?

Effectiveness of online therapy

"I can't find couples counseling near me, can I try online?" Wherever you live, a licensed therapist may help you solve immediate relationship difficulties and work to create long-lasting solutions for communication problems. According to research, couples counseling is effective in reducing relationship distress and improving relationship satisfaction. In one study with 300 real-life couples, online therapy for couples or marriage counseling online was proposed as a solution. Couples were randomly assigned to online treatment with the OurRelationship (OR) program or a waitlist control condition, so how to find a couples therapist?

Online couples therapist

The couples assigned to the treatment condition completed online activities in the OR program and had four 15-minute calls with staff associates. The couples that received treatment had significant improvements compared to the waitlist group in relationship satisfaction and relationship confidence. Couples also reported significant improvements in their functioning, including a reduction in depressive and anxious symptoms and improvements in perceived health, work functioning, and quality of life. You may wonder, "How much does couples counseling cost?" Couples counseling through BetterHelp is between $65 and $100 (based on factors such as your location, referral source, preferences, therapist availability and any applicable discounts or promotions that might apply) to have sessions with a qualified therapist. When compared to traditional in-person therapy at $100-$200 per session, online therapy can save you $10-$135 per session. If you’re ready to try counseling, consider signing up for a platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Take the first step and reach out today. You may find these approaches to couples counseling to be an authentic and visceral experience, leading to a stronger relationship.

Online counselor and BetterHelp counselor reviews

Stephanie, LCSW: “Stephanie is a gem! She’s very thoughtful, thorough, honest, insightful but most of all helpful. This is coming from a person who 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, LCSW: “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%!”.


If you’re experiencing arguments, life stressors, trauma, or another relationship concern, a couples therapist may benefit both you and your partner. Online couples therapy or online marriage counseling can also be a valuable option for couples who simply want to improve their relationship. One of the benefits of online couple counseling is the flexibility in scheduling, allowing you to set your appointment availability in a way that suits you and your partner. In addition, online couples therapy tends to offer lower pricing than in-person without insurance.

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