How Do Couples Therapy Sessions Work?

Updated January 17, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many couples argue. According to marriage and family counselors, it can happen monthly or every few months for an average couple. 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 through behavioral therapy or learning interpersonal learning skills may benefit you when looking at these patterns and strengthening your relationships.

Are You And Your Partner Having Constant Disagreements?

What causes tension in relationships?

Couples’ arguments may involve: 

  • 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, you might find yourself arguing over a toilet seat being left up or clothes on the floor. Or you might find yourself returning to common topics, such as infidelity, uncleanliness, betrayal of trust, or other unhealthy behaviors. If you and your partner often argue, you might wonder if therapy would be beneficial. 

Relationship therapy could answer questions you and your partner have about the healthiness of the relationship. Studies show that couples therapy or marriage counseling positively improves 70% of relationships when sought out. 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 might focus on better communication when disagreements arise during a relationship. 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 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, bring these issues to therapy. Identify areas where you and your partner could both improve. 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. Don’t bring in irrelevant information or past hurts. If you wish to discuss past hurts, consider doing so in a separate session.

Take each problem one at a time so you and your partner can fully focus on the issues. Your therapist may encourage you to refrain from making statements such as, “you always do this” or “you never do anything right.”

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 cause a sense of alliance, which could make compromise easier during a conversation. If you struggle to find common ground, ask your therapist to help you create a chart or discuss the matter further.

Step Into Your Partner’s Shoes

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 a root issue. 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 issue and create long-lasting solutions that will aid in both partners’ communication, interaction, and displays of love throughout your relationship.

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.

Can 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. 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, bring this up in your next session. 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?

People may not experience distressing emotions for no reason. 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, try to open communication to find out what’s wrong. 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.

What Kind Of Therapist Is Best For Couples?

You may want to look for a couples therapist who fits your values. Some positive qualities you might look for include:

  • Honesty
  • Openness
  • Communication
  • Empathy

Ask your therapist what type of couples therapy they provide. For example, they may be focused more on trauma, intimacy, marriage, or general psychotherapy. Find a counselor who specializes in your area of concern.

How Soon Is Too Soon To Begin Seeing A Therapist Together?

If you feel your relationship would be supported by outside help, seeking help can be a brave first step. 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 limit on how long you’ve been together to attend a session. Your therapist should not judge you based on the length of your relationship.

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 mentioned individual 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 individual 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 itself may not fix your conflicts if you are not actively participating in therapy, 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 express high levels of satisfaction.

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.

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 issues 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 that you love your partner and want to work through any concerns with them. 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. They could ask leading questions or provide research on healthy relationship patterns.

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 partake in emotionally-focused couples therapy (EFT), which often uses adult attachment and bonding knowledge to guide clients. EFT 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 (in marriage or relationships) increase their overall closeness, respect, and affection through “love maps.” 

Narrative Therapy: Couples might identify and name their internalized concerns, which may be viewed from multiple angles and worked with constructively. 

Positive Psychology: Therapists often use this method to emphasize the positive aspects of relationships. Optimism practices might be utilized. 

Imago Therapy: This method can combine behavioral and spiritual techniques, posing questions to couples 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 find benefits

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 reasons?
  • 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 say a piece of information. You can tell your own information but try to check with your partner before saying their individual details with 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 counselors. 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 struggling with or working on. However, you can also keep details of your therapy sessions if you wish.

Alternative Solutions To Couples Counseling

Maybe you and your partner have been considering couples therapy but aren’t 100% sure it’s right for you. Before committing to relationship therapy, you might try a few alternatives.

Are You And Your Partner Having Constant Disagreements?

Create A Date Night Jar

You may find yourself caught up in your busy life and forgetting to make time with your partner. To try to remedy this, pick a weekly date night that you and your partner can devote to agreed quality time.

Cut out 100 slips of paper and write down a date idea on each one. Create a mix of free, budget, and expensive date options. If you run out of inspiration, consider looking up tourist spots, parks, and fun things to do in your area. You might also write down date activities that can be done from home, such as a movie and snack night.

Add each slip of paper to a date night jar. When it’s date night, each of you can pull a slip. Then, decide together which activity you’d rather do. It may allow you to be more spontaneous and could put some fun into planning your date.

You might do the same with your outfits. For example, you can write colors, styles, or certain types of clothing on paper and pull out an outfit combination or roll a die to choose.

Increase Intimacy

A lack of physical intimacy may lead to partners feeling stressed and less connected. Studies show that having sex may lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve mental and relational health. Consider spicing up your sex life or investing in a new adult toy. Or you might make time each week to have sex.

However, don’t have sex if you’re not ready or comfortable doing so. Consent is paramount to a healthy sexual experience. Consent means ongoing and enthusiastic agreement and enjoyment.

Consider If It’s Time To Take A Break

If issues between you and your partner become too overwhelming, it might be time to spend some time apart to process your emotions. A break can mean whatever you want it to mean. You don’t have to break up or see other people officially. You may spend time alone or go on a short trip with friends.

How A Couples Therapist May Benefit You

Wherever you live, a licensed therapist may help you solve immediate relationship issues and work to create long-lasting solutions for communication, interaction, and displays of love throughout your relationship.

According to research, couples therapy is effective in reducing relationship distress. However, it is often used by less than one-third of divorcing couples. Online couples therapy was proposed as a solution. 300 couples participated in the relationship 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 associates. The couples that received treatment had significant improvements compared to the waitlist group in relationship satisfaction, relationship confidence, and negative relationship quality. 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.

Online couples therapy can be a valuable option for couples wanting to improve their relationships. It may also work around your schedule, allowing you to set your appointment availability. In addition, online couples therapy offers lower pricing than in-person couples therapy in many cases.

If you’re ready to try counseling, consider signing up for a platform such as BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples.


A couples therapist may benefit you if you’re experiencing arguments, life stressors, trauma, or another relationship concern. If you’re ready to try counseling, consider reaching out to a therapist to get started.

Online Counselor & 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%!”

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