What Is The Most Effective Type Of Therapy For Couples?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP and Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated July 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

According to Forbes, 49% of married couples attend couples counseling each year. For a couple, therapy may have many benefits, including improving communication and increasing intimacy. Although previously associated with marriage difficulties and divorce, couples therapy can be used by any couple, including those who are not married, those who haven't been together for a long time, and those in polyamorous relationships. With more couples than ever before attending counseling, it can be challenging to know which type of relationship therapy to pick. Researching each option in depth can help you and your partner make a decision.

Relationship therapy can help you resolve conflict and be happier

Popular forms of relationship therapy

There are many couples therapy modalities on the market available to help improve communication and connection in adult relationships. Researching each and understanding how they function can help you make an informed decision for the care of your relationship.

The Gottman Method 

The Gottman method, a type of couples therapy, is a therapeutic approach developed by John and Julie Gottman, psychologists and couples therapists with over three decades of experience in couples therapy. This method emphasizes affection, respect, and intimacy in relationships as strategies for healthy conflict resolution and managing relationship distress. It highlights the benefits of teamwork in resolution, noting that resolution may not always be the end goal.

The Gottman method involves an extensive assessment form and employs love maps, which are charts you create with your partner to map out your concerns, joys, stresses, history, and aspirations. Through this process, you can increase admiration and fondness by fostering respect and appreciation. The Gottman therapy demonstrates that marital conflict can be managed instead of solely resolved or treated.

If you're interested in trying this therapy method, many therapists, including marriage and family therapists, are trained to provide it. Additionally, John and Julie Gottman hold annual couples retreats for those seeking an immersive experience.

Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT) 

Emotionally focused couples therapy is a type of individual, family, and couples therapy developed by Dr. Susan Johnson, based on Gestalt psychology theory. Although initially designed for marriage counseling, it can also be applied to any adult relationship, including couples and family counseling.

EFT is commonly used in hospitals, exclusive practices, clinics, and training centers. While emotion-focused therapy can address various relationship issues, it often focuses on emotional sensitivity, vulnerable emotions, depression, anxiety, and unmet childhood needs. If one or both partners experience emotional concerns, EFT may be beneficial.

This form of treatment is often a short-term solution. If you're seeking a long-term option, other types of couples therapy might better suit you. There are three goals in an EFT therapy session, including:

  • The reorganization and expansion of your emotional responses
  • Safeguarding the bond you have with your partner
  • Repositioning the stance you have on interactions to create healthier interactions within the partnership

The International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT) asserts that EFT yields lasting results and helps improve relationship satisfaction. It is essential to note that emotionally focused therapy and emotion-focused therapy are not the same. Although both can be employed with couples and families, they have distinct approaches.

Positive psychology talk therapy 

Positive psychology is a school of thought often employed in talk therapy to emphasize positivity, whether through deeper emotions, strengths, or other sources, fostering the notion that happiness can be derived from multiple sources.

In these types of relationship therapy, therapists enable couples to explore happy moments as they occur instead of in retrospect. Couples can learn to appreciate their moments together and discover contentment in daily activities using mindfulness techniques. Positive psychology-based therapy may be beneficial for those seeking to avoid negative behaviors, blame, or distressing subjects. In this therapy approach, your couples therapist can offer compliments, optimistic remarks, and enjoyable exercises to help you and your partner connect and experience more moments of joy.

In relationship therapy, positive psychology might involve utilizing communication skills through beepers and pagers. These tools allow the therapist to press a button that leaves a beep on a client's pager. When the couple hears the beep, they're reminded to write down their experiences or partake in a mindfulness exercise and write about how it went. At their next session, they can bring their journal entry to therapy and discuss how it went. Being paged unexpectedly allows couples to practice mindfulness during actual daily tasks. 

You might benefit from positive psychology if you struggle to appreciate your partner, enjoy the happy moments, or focus on your daily life together. Anyone can partake in this therapy, regardless of diagnosis, symptoms, or relationship concerns. However, you might not benefit from positive psychology if you seek more structured guidance and in-depth conversations about challenging experiences or conflict resolution. 

Narrative therapy

Narrative therapy can be engaging for those who enjoy roleplaying, acting, or storytelling. Initially developed as a family therapy technique, narrative therapy involves externalizing the conflicts within a relationship, allowing couples to manage conflict effectively. Your therapist may have patients perform exercises and may prompt you to talk about the problem as a story with characters, seeing it from an outside perspective. As you tell the story, you might be asked to rewrite aspects and form a new and healthier narrative.

Rewriting past experiences can help couples acknowledge that a problem isn't what defines a person and can be worked through as a team. If you see yourself and your partner as writers of a story (your life together), you may be able to develop problem-solving skills together instead of individually. In addition, you might notice that your problems do not define your personality or how your future will look.

By implementing these strategies in couples counseling, couples can feel in control of their conflicts. Narrative therapy offers a neutral outlook to the story told and provides partners the chance to explore the past and discuss how they might act differently in the future. Many couples also enjoy the creative couples therapy techniques used in this type of therapy. 

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Communication analysis

Communication analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on how couples interact and communicate. Studies have found that other aspects of a healthy relationship, like commitment and romantic partners bonding behavior, may not lead to marital satisfaction without the existence of healthy communication. Research-backed communication strategies can help you and your partner feel heard and offer empathy to each other during difficult conversations.

Communication requires conscious effort. In many cases, what is clear to one partner might be unclear to the other partner. Couples may expect their partner to understand their feelings based on body language or cues. However, learning to communicate directly can decrease the chances of misunderstandings and negative behavior patterns. In addition, people can have different communication styles, so understanding how your styles match up can help you structure your conversations.

Relationship or family therapists can help you develop practical means of communication to target misunderstandings. Although communication-based therapy may be most beneficial, most therapists incorporate this method in various forms of couples therapy.

Imago relationship therapy

Imago therapy combines any spiritual and behavioral concerns that couples may have, addressing childhood experiences that influence their relationships. The techniques are often combined with traditional therapy like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to examine the unconscious reasons behind choosing your partner. In this type of therapy, couples can examine how they relate to one another in caring, positive ways while the therapist looks at any conflicts as a means to a solution rather than a problem.

Imago relationship therapy posits that directly targeting a relationship's most painful or distressing wounds, including those linked to substance abuse or eating disorders, is the most effective way to treat them. Similar to CBT therapy, partners can learn to discuss their past, identify negative thoughts, evoke deeper emotions, and problem-solving difficulties. The therapist can then offer support and help the couples develop solutions based on the lessons they learn from their conflict, employing solution-focused therapy techniques to increase and strengthen intimacy and improve communication.

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.

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Relationship therapy can help you resolve conflict and be happier

Counseling options 

Perhaps you are wondering whether you and your partner should seek therapy. With many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to make a choice. Many couples struggle to afford therapy or find a counselor that provides their method of choice in their city. In these cases, online couples therapy may be valuable. 

Peer-reviewed studies show that online relationship counseling services are an effective method of helping couples improve communication and relationship functioning. In one wide-ranging review published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, researchers examined the effects of online couples counseling interventions for satisfied couples in healthy relationships and couples in distress. The report begins by listing the adverse effects of relationship dissatisfaction, including increased risk of individual mental illness, poor physical health, and impairments in work and social life. According to researchers, online couples counseling provides several benefits, including decreased cost and reduced barriers to care. These findings are similar to several recent studies suggesting that online couples counseling is a cost-effective option.

If you're not ready to discuss these issues face-to-face, platforms like BetterHelp for individuals or Regain for couples can allow you to seek discernment counseling one-on-one from the comfort of your home. With online therapy, you may not face worries about seeing someone you know or having to work around two schedules. Partners can attend couples therapy under nicknames through phone, video, or live chat sessions from separate locations.  


The best type of relationship therapy is the one that works for you. Ask yourself questions before reaching out to a provider, and research each type of therapy you're interested in. If you and your partner don't both like a provider, it might be beneficial to schedule a consultation with others until you find a match.  

Couples seek therapy for many reasons; you do not have to have a mental illness to see a therapist. No matter the modality you choose, your therapist can help you outline a unique treatment plan personalized to your goals. Consider reaching out to a therapist to get started.

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