How Do Relationship Counseling Sessions Work?

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated May 25, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you're concerned because you and your partner have been arguing and feel like you need support, marital counseling can help. You're not alone. Couple counseling exercises with a trained therapist may help you both learn effective communication methods to enhance your relationship. Many couples argue. According to marriage and family counselors, it can happen monthly or even weekly. However, if your arguments end with fights, resentment, or unhealthy coping mechanisms, it may be beneficial to seek out support.

Arguments often have patterns, including causes and consequences. Working with an experienced couples therapist may help you and your partner assess these patterns and learn evidence-based strategies to strengthen your relationship. Continue reading to find out how does marriage counseling work.

A bearded man with short dark hair and a blue t-shirt sits with his laptop and smiles at his partner, who has dark hair, a red bandana, and red button-up and smiles at him while kneeling beside him.
Are You Considering Couples Counseling?

What Causes Tension In Relationships?

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 
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 therapy would be beneficial for your particular arguments. 

Relationship therapy may answer questions you and your partner have about the healthiness of the relationship. Does couple counseling work?

Studies show that couples therapy or marriage counseling positively improves 70% of relationships when sought out. If you can't afford on paying for one, there are a lot of free marriage counseling online out there. What does a couples counselor do? A counselor may teach you new relational skills, help you identify unhealthy behaviors, and assist you in developing your communication. 

Couples Counseling: A Foundation For Communication

Instead of focusing on fighting less, couples in therapy might focus on better communication when disagreements arise. In therapy, you may learn 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 thoughts and feelings healthily 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. 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 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

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

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 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 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 they different? 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?

Understanding the argument from the other person’s perspective may allow you to approach the situation with empathy. A licensed therapist could 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 Online Relationship Counseling With Your Partner 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. Couples therapy may help you reach this point. 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.

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.

How Does Relationship Therapy Work?

Couples therapy may help a couple learn healthy relationship strategies. 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.

How Soon Is Too Soon To Begin Seeing 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 Partners Attend Sessions 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 outside of couples therapy. You might choose to bring topics from your therapy sessions to couples therapy, but that is up to you.

What Can Couples Therapy Offer?

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 couples therapy 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. 

What Are Some Benefits Of Therapy With Your Partner?

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

Emotional Satisfaction

During and after couples therapy 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 in a personalized manner.

Solving Conflicts 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 couples therapy 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 couples therapy, your therapist may not recommend breaking up or divorcing. Instead, your therapist might guide you toward finding the healthiest option for yourself. 

What Techniques Are Used During Couples Therapy?

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

Other couples therapy 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 Couples 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 therapy 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 therapy?
  • What do we wish to gain from therapy?
  • What is our end goal for each session?
  • What type of therapist are we looking for?
  • What aspects of our relationship will we talk about in our first 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 Marriage Counselor?

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 therapy 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. 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.

A man with short curly hair and a navy button-up works on a laptop alongside his colleague, who has dark shoulder-length hair and a gray top, in an office setting.
Are You Considering Couples Counseling?

Evidence Of The Effectiveness Of Online Couples 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 concerns and work to create long-lasting solutions for communication problems. According to research, couples therapy is effective in reducing relationship distress and improving relationship satisfaction. In one study with 300 couples, online couples therapy 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?

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. How much do couples counseling cost? Couples counseling through BetterHelp is between $60 and $90 per week.

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.

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 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, 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 couples therapy without insurance.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started