How Can Marriage Counseling Help Me?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Although there can be stigmas about reaching out for support from a licensed marriage therapist, any couple may choose to take advantage of their services. Marriage therapy and relationship therapy is not only for those struggling, arguing, or considering divorce. Couples might also attend marriage therapy as a tool to help them communicate, learn more about each other, and deepen their connection. 

Marriage therapy often focuses on communication, as studies show it to be one of the most essential aspects of a marriage. If you and your partner struggle to have conversations, talk about emotions, resolve conflicts, or discuss challenging topics, marriage therapy may benefit both you and your partner. However, even if you communicate well, there can be other areas in which marital and family therapy can serve married couples.
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Couples counseling can enhance relationships

Gaining a new perspective with a therapist

If you’re looking to vent, discuss outside factors, or gain insight into why your relationship patterns might occur, seeking professional help by talking to a therapist, such as a marriage and family therapist or a marriage therapist, could be beneficial. Marriage and family therapists are neutral third persons without connection to the couple, meaning they can offer non-judgmental and unbiased advice and solution-oriented support to a married couple. Having a new perspective on a challenge in your relationship or partnership could help you further understand it in a way you haven’t considered. 

Couples might also reach out for support to their family and friends. However, there can be relationship problems which a couple might not want to talk about with those they know, like sex, intimacy, or personal challenges like infertility. A couples therapist can offer support to these subjects in a discreet manner. In general, marriage and family therapists have a secrecy policy in that they do not divulge the information discussed in couples therapy or therapy sessions with others.

Why do couples seek marriage counseling?

Couples may decide to pursue marriage counseling for a variety of reasons. Although some may be considered marital problems, it should be noted that marriage counseling works to help couples achieve a variety of goals in a relationship. Some of these reasons may include:
  • Improving poor communication
  • Learning active listening skills
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Differing parenting styles
  • Blending families
  • Building or rebuilding trust
  • Navigating mental or physical health concerns as a couple
  • Working through intimacy troubles
  • Infidelity or an extramarital affair
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What happens during a marriage therapy session?

When an individual or couple sees a marriage therapist, the therapist may ask questions during the initial session to learn more about the client’s goals and the couple’s relationship. If it’s a couple, they may ask both partners to come in individually and then together to discuss their concerns. After the first session, the therapist might start implementing a treatment plan and can continue to open discussions with the couple through talk therapy to learn more about their therapy needs regarding mental health and their relationship. 

Suppose a couple comes in with concerns about breaking up or considering divorce. In that case, the therapist may mediate as both partners set boundaries and discuss their feelings about the situation. Therapists aren’t necessarily going to offer a solution or tell you to break up. However, they can guide you through discernment counseling and marriage counseling sessions as you make your own decisions and offer tools to support your relationship if you want to do so. If they notice the same argument coming up without a resolution, they may provide guidance to work through the conflict. If you have decided the relationship is over, a relationship therapist may also be a supportive option during the divorce or separation process, which can be challenging for many couples and families. 

The therapist can also ensure that both partners have a turn to speak, are respected, and feel safe in therapy as they are receiving treatment. They are often skilled at helping couples communicate and cope with emotions like frustration that might come out during a session.

What does a couples therapist do? 

It’s common to wonder what couple’s counselors do during therapy sessions. As you potentially seek marriage counseling, it can be helpful to understand the role of the therapist.

The role of relationship and family therapists

A relationship therapist is typically a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who helps individuals and couples overcome relationship issues and deepen their bond through solution-focused therapy, emotionally-focused therapy, or a combination. This may involve facilitating conversation between partners and working with one partner at a time. Relationship therapists may observe the situation as a neutral third person and make suggestions based on those observations. For example, if a someone is experiencing conflict within their partnership, the therapist might offer communication strategies to help the individuals work through their difficulties and find areas where they can agree with each other. 

However, a relationship therapist’s focus tends to be on the relationship as a unit instead of individual concerns. They typically work within the context of relationships and family systems rather than offering one-on-one therapy services. If you are worried that your mental or emotional health is affecting your relationship, you might also consider seeing an individual therapist outside of your therapy sessions. 

While they are mental health professionals, relationship therapists are not typically psychiatrists and may not hold a doctoral degree. Thus, your marriage therapist likely cannot diagnose mental health conditions such as depression or prescribe medication for either partner. If a therapist believes their client might benefit from individual therapy, diagnostic testing, or medication, they may make a referral to another provider, such as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. 

Seeing a therapist to support your relationship

Offering suggestions instead of orders 

Many couples may worry that their therapist will tell them to break up or place blame on one individual. However, therapists in the field of psychology today are trained to remain professional and the right therapist will offer suggestions instead of orders, as well as  not impose their own, personal beliefs or values onto their clients. Additionally, therapists do not often recommend divorce or separation to couples. Rather, they guide conversations about a couple’s connection and help them make their own decisions. If a couple does not want to break up, unhappy marriage therapy can be a tool to improve the relationship. Studies show that 70% of couples find couples therapy effective and believe the results last for years after treatment. 

One way a therapist might offer suggestions is through activities and worksheets. If a couple struggles to communicate, the therapist can give them a homework assignment to try a new type of conversation, for use in both general communication and especially if an argument arises over the week. The couple can leave themselves reminders around the house or on their phone if they struggle to remember to practice the new skills. 

Offering reason and logic 

It can be challenging to work on relationship in the face of everyday responsibilities. You may put each other last if you are focusing on children, work, school, or other responsibilities, or you might sense that you and your partner spend too much time together or struggle to be alone.

A therapist can offer room for logic and reason and help couples understand why these dynamics might occur. For example, they could teach couples about their attachment styles. Using research, the therapist can help couples understand how their patterns might work and let them know they’re not alone in their experiences. 

Giving healthy reminders 

The therapist may remind partners of their connection, love, intimacy, and care. They may remind them to consider why they fell in love and encourage them to engage in activities that rekindle the feeling of love they may have felt at the beginning of their relationship. Often, team-building or problem-solving activities help individuals feel less alienated from each other. As they work together to solve problems and see each other as equals, they might feel closer to each other once more. 

For example, a relationship therapist might recommend that people in a relationship complete a fun activity like an escape room to connect with one another. Using suggestions from their therapist, they can try to solve a puzzle to get out of the room. If they want to practice therapeutic skills during the activity, they can practice forms of communication they learned from their therapist if arguments or power struggles arise.  

How to find a therapist for relationships

Relationship therapists are trained professionals with many hours of clinical experience. Licensed marriage and family therapists typically have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field such as psychology. Before beginning their clinical practice, they likely also received additional training through an accredited program, such as those offered by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. It can be wise to seek out a therapist who has been certified by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

While the majority of LMFTs are qualified to help you and your partner, it can still be challenging to find a good fit. Feeling comfortable with your therapist is typically an essential part of relationship therapy. Screening therapists before you decide on a match may help you find a suitable option. If you or your partner are uncomfortable with someone, consider consulting with other providers.

When consulting with a provider to find a marriage therapist who meets your needs, you can ask the following questions: 

  • What are your licensing, experience, and qualifications for couples counseling? Are you affiliated with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy?
  • Are you experienced in the topic my partner and I hope to discuss?  
  • What is your approach to couples therapy? 
  • Do you practice a specific form of therapy? 
  • Do you prefer to be in control of the session? 
  • Do you want to meet with us individually before we have couples sessions? 
  • What is your approach to conflict? 
  • How much do sessions cost? Are there any late or cancellation fees? 
  • Do we pay one sum or two separate fees for counseling? 

If you and your partner are parents and experiencing challenges related to parenthood, it may also be worth considering whether a family therapist could benefit you. Family therapists specialize in helping parents support their children in each stage of life. They may have relevant clinical experience in social work, family systems, or child psychology that could be helpful for those experiencing issues related to parenthood.

Whichever therapist you choose, it may be worth establishing whether the therapist offers affordable payment plans or takes your insurance. You can also ask about their availability. If they are not available often, it may be beneficial to find a therapist with a more open schedule. 

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Couples counseling can enhance relationships

Many couples experiencing relationship concerns may be hesitant to seek support in person due to cost, availability, trouble with an insurance company, or distance barriers. Some people in relationships might be unable to take time off work or other responsibilities to meet during the day. In these cases, online therapy can be a more flexible choice. You can meet your therapist at home, and you and your partner can attend sessions from two separate locations as long as you have an internet connection. Additionally, with online therapy, scheduling can be done after regular business hours or on the weekends for some providers.  

In recent studies on internet-based counseling, individuals undergoing online couples therapy reported satisfaction with the experience. The study participants reported feeling comfortable with their therapist over a videoconferencing therapy method and found it on par with in-person treatment. If you’re experiencing relationship concerns or hope to strengthen your partnership, consider signing up for an online platform like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples. Both platforms offer connections to a growing database of over 30,000 therapists, many specializing in marriage and family therapy. 

Takeaway

While individual therapy is a powerful tool used to improve men and women’s health individually, marriage therapy can be beneficial for couples looking to strengthen their bond, learn therapeutic skills, or discuss relationship conflicts. Marriage can be complex, and therapists are trained to help couples with various concerns, including intimacy, love, communication, commitment, and unique dynamics. If you’re interested in trying this form of therapy, consider reaching out to a marriage counselor for further guidance and support.

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