Answers to Couples & Marriage Counseling Questions

Marriage Counseling TherapyMarriage counseling can be a much-needed lifeline for couples facing challenges in their relationship.

Whether it be conflicts over communication, intimacy, or compatibility, seeking the guidance of a trained professional can often provide invaluable insights and tools for improving and strengthening the bond between partners.

Having an objective third party to listen and mediate can be a great benefit for a married couple and, in fact, any partnership. Relationship and couples counseling can work for romantic partners, friends, roommates, family members, and even coworkers.

For those who are considering this type of therapy, we answer your most common questions and explain what to expect from marriage counseling therapy.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

What Is Marriage Counseling?

Marriage is a cultural institution that legally recognizes a relationship between two people. There are various reasons two people would enter into a marriage, including financial, tax, and property purposes. Still, importantly, the couple is making a verbal and legal commitment to love and care for each other until death.

Sometimes couples like to receive counseling before making this important decision. Premarital counseling aids couples who want to make sure they agree about important aspects of their relationship. What is explored in therapy depends on the individual needs of the couple; they might explore shared values and goals, intimacy, communication, and/or conflict resolution.

After marriage, a couple may struggle with relationship issues and decide to seek marriage counseling. Again, it depends on the specific needs of the couple. Some common issues dealt with in marriage counseling center around intimacy, communication, conflict resolution, finances, infidelity, and differences in parenting styles.

Finally, discernment counseling is a type of counseling designed to help a couple decide whether they would like to get a divorce or try to work on their marriage. Discernment counseling is usually short term. The couple meets with a specially trained divorce therapist who will help them explore their reasons for divorce or separation and identify underlying issues and readiness for change.

How Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Emotionally Focused TherapyIn individual therapy, the counselor focuses on the needs of the individual seeking treatment.

In marriage counseling, the counselor always keeps the relationship as their focus.

The overarching goal of marriage counseling is to strengthen and improve the marriage.

The course of treatment for the couple will depend largely on their individual needs and goals. Initially, the counselor will start with an assessment. This may involve a formal process like an intake interview or asking the couple to fill out paperwork.

Often, this portion of the work is to determine the couple’s history, communication styles, intimacy patterns, and conflict patterns. This portion of the work will generally take one session.

After the initial intake, the counselor will help the couple establish the goals they would like to work on. Some common goals include working on communication, resolving conflicts, or increasing intimacy.

Following goal setting, counseling sessions will begin, usually lasting about an hour. In general, couples will meet once a week with the counselor. The duration of counseling depends heavily on the goals and needs of the couple and may last a few months to a year.

During sessions, the counselor will help the couple identify major breakdowns in communication and identify areas for improvement. Homework can be assigned as worksheets, exercises, or counseling books that the couple can engage with outside of therapy.

Throughout the time together, the counselor will continue to follow up and make sure that the counseling process is meeting the couple’s needs. The work is collaborative, and the counselor is always making sure that it feels useful. If the couple feels that the work they are doing isn’t helping, the counselor can change tactics or goals.

Download 3 Free Positive Relationships Exercises (PDF)

These detailed, science-based exercises will equip you or your clients to build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

Does Couples Counseling Work?

Research supports the effectiveness of couples counseling in improving relationships. However, it depends on a variety of factors. Some of the key predictors of success in couples therapy include:

  1. Motivation and willingness of the couple to change
    Couples who are motivated to change and willing to engage in therapy tend to have better outcomes (Snyder & Mitchell, 1999).
  2. Emotional expressiveness
    Couples who have secure attachment styles and feel comfortable with vulnerability tend to respond well to therapy and have better outcomes than those who have insecure attachment styles (Johnson, 2004).
  3. Positive regard
    Couples who engage in positive behaviors, such as expressing affection and showing empathy, are more likely to have successful outcomes (Christensen et al., 2004).
  4. Communication skills
    Couples who can communicate effectively and resolve conflicts tend to have better outcomes (Baucom et al., 1998).
  5. Early intervention
    A relationship doesn’t need to be ready to break down before needing therapy. Couples who seek relationship counseling early on tend to have better outcomes than those who wait until their problems have become more severe (Halford et al., 2001).

These factors are not the only predictors of success, but they are some of the most commonly studied. Success will also depend on other factors, such as the skill and approach of the therapist, the duration of counseling, and the fit of the therapist with the couple.

Finding a relationship therapist that both individuals feel comfortable with may involve trial and error. Not all couples are alike, and what works for one couple may not work for another, so finding the right fit can be crucial.

Couples Therapy vs. Marital Counseling

Common Marriage ProblemsMany therapists use the terms couples therapy and marriage therapy interchangeably.

In general, the main difference between the two lies in the needs of the couple.

In marriage therapy, the focus is on strengthening the marriage. The goal of the couple is usually to stay married and to find ways to be happy long term. The couple desires to work through problems that pertain to the marriage itself.

Couples therapy is a broader term that may encompass different types of relationships and work on different goals. Couples may be romantic in nature, but relationship challenges can also arise between family members, coworkers, friends, and even roommates, in which counseling may be sought out. Such partners may use therapy to address a wide range of issues that may not pertain to marriage.

Licensed counselors and therapists are trained in working with relationships of all kinds. Relational issues often have many of the same underlying issues. Whether married or not, couples often want to work on communication, for example. Intimacy and physical aspects of the relationship can also be common factors in seeking therapy.

How Much Does Marriage Therapy Cost?

The cost of therapy can vary greatly depending on the location of the individuals seeking counseling, whether the therapist takes insurance, and the duration of the counseling sessions.

In general, the average rate of a marriage therapy session will range from $75 to $250 (USD) at the date of publication, but it varies widely between different states. One factor that will determine this range includes whether the clients and therapist live in a metropolitan area versus a more rural location. The more competition and higher demand for therapists, the higher the cost of therapy.

Another factor may include whether the therapist takes insurance. Many therapists choose not to accept insurance, and the couples may pay for therapy out of pocket. If a therapist takes insurance, the cost of the session will depend on the individual’s plan and copay rate. Additionally, many insurance companies will not pay for couples or marriage therapy.

Finally, a session may last anywhere between 50 and 90 minutes, depending on the therapist and the goals of therapy. Longer sessions may be more expensive, but the extra time may provide enough time for in-depth processing of issues and may be helpful for couples with time constraints who cannot meet as often.

A word of caution: Don’t search for “cheap marriage counseling near me,” as that may indicate a lack of commitment, making therapy less likely to succeed. As mentioned before: Couples who are motivated to change and willing to engage in therapy tend to have better outcomes (Snyder & Mitchell, 1999).

What Is the Success Rate of Couples Counseling?

marriage counseling toolkitIt is difficult to state a definitive success rate for couples counseling because the outcomes vary widely depending on several factors.

As stated above, there are individual factors that the couple brings to counseling that will determine their success rate.

In general, studies have found that couples counseling is effective (Bradbury & Bodenmann, 2020). There are several therapy theories and tools that have been empirically proven to be effective in couples therapy.

  1. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
    Emotionally Focused Therapy is a structured approach to couples therapy, focusing on emotions and attachment. Research has shown that EFT is effective in reducing distress and improving relationship satisfaction for couples (Johnson, 2004).
  2. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
    CBT is goal oriented and focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Studies have shown that CBT can be effective in improving communication skills for couples and reducing relationship distress (Baucom et al., 2011; Halford et al., 2017).
  3. The Gottman method
    The Gottman method is a research-based approach to couples therapy that focuses on improving communication, building intimacy, and increasing positive interactions. Studies have shown that the Gottman method is effective at reducing relationship distress and improving relationship satisfaction for couples (Babcock et al., 2013).

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How to Find Online Marriage Counseling

Your insurance provider is a good place to start if you are looking for online or in-person marriage counseling. You will want to ensure that the counselor you choose takes your insurance if that is an option for you.

Online directories are the best way to find marriage counselors who offer virtual or in-person sessions. One of the best directories is Psychology Today. This option provides the ability to search by insurance, type of therapy, age, issues, and many other topics.

Another option for finding providers is through referrals. You can ask your primary care physician, friends, or family members for referrals to online marriage counselors.

How to Find Marriage Counseling Near Me

How to find marriage counseling near meOne of the biggest challenges that couples face is finding a qualified marriage counselor in their area.

If you are looking for marriage counseling near you, there are several steps you can take to find the right therapist for you and your partner.

As mentioned before, one of the best places to start is by asking for referrals from friends, family members, or your primary care physician. They may know of a reputable marriage counselor in your area who specializes in addressing the issues that you and your partner are facing.

Another option is to search online for marriage counselors near you. Use search engines like Google or Bing to search for local therapists. Be sure to include your location in the search criteria to get relevant results and be specific. Searching for “couples counseling New York” would be too broad a search to get actionable results.

Additionally, you can check online directories such as Psychology Today, GoodTherapy, or even websites like Yelp and Google Maps.

Once you have a list of potential therapists, it’s important to research them before making an appointment. Look at their website, read their reviews, and check their credentials. Make sure they are licensed and have experience working with couples.

When you have narrowed down your list, contact each therapist and ask about their approach to marriage counseling. You can also ask about their fees, availability, and any questions you may have. This can help you determine if the therapist is a good fit for you and your partner.

Keep in mind that finding the right marriage counselor may take time and patience. It may take a few sessions with a therapist before you can determine if they are the right match for you and your partner. However, with persistence and dedication, you and your partner can find a qualified and experienced marriage counselor to help you work through your issues and build a stronger relationship.

How to Fix a Marriage Without Counseling

Although counseling can benefit any relationship, there are several ways to improve a relationship outside of counseling.

Books to improve communication

One of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship is open and honest communication. This means expressing thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and respectfully and actively listening to your partner in return. Couples that are interested in improving their communication might enjoy these workbooks.

1. Relationship Workbook for Couples – Christian Silverman

Relationship Workbook for Couples

In Relationship Workbook for Couples, couples are given tools to build a deeper connection, improve communication skills, and boost emotional intimacy in their marriage.

The book outlines habits and counseling therapy techniques to help rebuild trust and repair relationships that may have suffered. The workbook provides practical exercises that can be done alone or with a partner.

Focusing on identifying and breaking negative patterns, the author encourages couples to work together toward creating a healthier and more satisfying relationship. This book is a valuable resource for anyone looking to improve their partnership and create a more fulfilling life with their significant other.

Find the book on Amazon.

2. Couples Communication Workbook – Monica Travis

Couples Communication Workbook

Monica Travis has worked with many couples over the years and has distilled her knowledge, experience, and counseling skills into an easy-to-read workbook that offers simple tips and tools for couples, helping them overcome communication obstacles and resolve conflicts.

Using evidence-based techniques, couples can increase intimacy, learn how to communicate better, share dreams and goals both physically and emotionally, and discover common interests.

Additionally, they learn how to remove gender stereotypes holding their relationship back and create goals together to fix their relationship.

Find the book on Amazon.

Books to build trust

Trust is a crucial component of any healthy relationship. It means you have confidence in your partner’s honesty, reliability, and commitment to the relationship. Some workbooks that may help couples work through broken trust include the following.

1. Infidelity Recovery Workbook for Couples: Tools and Exercises to Rebuild Your Relationship – Monique Thompson

Infidelity Recovery Workbook for Couples

The book offers a step-by-step process to help couples deal with the complex emotions that arise from cheating, overcome trust issues, and rebuild their relationship.

The workbook encourages couples to communicate effectively, take responsibility, and establish new relationship norms that will help them move forward together.

This book serves as a valuable resource for anyone who has experienced infidelity in their relationship and wants to heal and rebuild a stronger and healthier partnership.

Find the book on Amazon.

2. Rebuilding Trust: Guided Therapy Techniques and Activities to Restore Love, Trust, and Intimacy in Your Relationship – Morgan Johnson

Rebuilding Trust

An essential guide that helps couples rebuild trust and intimacy in their relationship. Through guided therapy techniques and counseling activities, the author helps partners uncover the root of trust issues, communicate effectively, and learn practical skills to rebuild their relationship.

This book offers proven exercises that can help partners communicate better, build stronger emotional connections, and recreate the magic in their relationship.

It is an insightful and helpful resource for anyone seeking to restore their love, trust, and intimacy in their relationship.

Find the book on Amazon.

Relationship therapy resources

The Gottman Institute has provided tools for couples and therapists to build healthy relationships for decades. The institute has many resources for couples looking to improve their relationship, including courses, books, quizzes, and coaching.

How to Stay Happily Married

A healthy marriage is built on several important foundations. In their influential book, The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work, Gottman and Silver (2019) outlined these factors:

1. Share love maps

A love map is a deep understanding of your partner and knowledge about how they feel loved and appreciated.

2. Nurture your fondness and admiration

Often, couples that split up cite a lack of respect from their partner as a telltale sign that the relationship would not work. Nurturing and demonstrating admiration for your partner can help create a lasting bond.

3. Turn toward each other instead of away

Intimacy and trust are very important in creating a strong relationship bond. If you feel safe turning toward your partner in times of vulnerability or stress, the relationship will flourish.

4. Let your partner influence you

An equal partnership is a crucial aspect of a thriving marriage. It is important for both members of the relationship to feel heard and that their opinions matter. A willingness to compromise on both sides will be a factor in creating lasting harmony.

5. Solve your solvable problems

According to the Gottman method, there are two types of problems that couple’s face: solvable and perpetual. The solvable problems can be overcome if the couple is willing to compromise, soften, and tolerate imperfections in one another.

6. Overcome gridlock

This refers to the perpetual problems the couple continues to face. Often this may be an unsolvable problem that the couple may have to learn to accept. With patience, understanding, mutual respect, and compromise, the couple may accept the unsolvable and find common ground.

7. Create shared meaning

Creating meaning for yourselves is a critical determiner of long-term happiness. For a couple, creating a life that is shared and meaningful together can be life affirming.

“Marriage isn’t about just raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together–a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be part of the family you have become.”

Gottman and Silver, 2019, p. 261

17 Exercises for Positive, Fulfilling Relationships

Empower others with the skills to cultivate fulfilling, rewarding relationships and enhance their social wellbeing with these 17 Positive Relationships Exercises [PDF].

Created by experts. 100% Science-based.

Helpful PositivePsychology.com Resources

PositivePsychology.com has some wonderful resources for couples who want to work on their relationships. Here are five worksheets that couples can use together to deepen their bond.

Things I Love

This worksheet invites the couple to create a list of favorites, using prompts like favorite food, place, people, animals, etc. You can get as detailed as you like. The couple can work separately and come together after to discuss or work through the questions together as a conversation.

Active Listening Reflection

Active listening is a skill that will help couples communicate more effectively. Through active listening, you can help your partner feel heard and understood. This worksheet explains the skill and then takes you through a list of questions regarding your skill set.

Create a Connection Ritual

When we first start dating, it’s easy to find time to connect and have quality time together. But in long-term relationships, it is important to continue to find time to deeply connect as a couple. This worksheet helps you design that time.

How to set boundaries

The Saying No and the State What You Want worksheets help maintain relationship harmony by teaching couples how to hold better boundaries. Boundaries are a key in healthy relationships, and learning how to state those boundaries kindly and effectively will be a lifelong skill.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others build healthy relationships, check out this collection of 17 validated positive relationships tools for practitioners. Use them to help others form healthier, more nurturing, and life-enriching relationships.

A Take-Home Message

Marriage and intimate relationships are a vital and joyful part of life. But sometimes life gives us challenges, and couples that previously had a close bond can experience distance.

Choosing to work on our relationships and not just give up requires bravery and a commitment to growth.

Choosing to grow together, while challenging, can also be an opportunity to create an even deeper and more profound connection.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free.

Ed: Updated May 2023

  • Babcock, J. C., Gottman, J. M., Ryan, K. D., & Gottman, J. S. (2013). A component analysis of a brief psycho-educational couples’ workshop: One-year follow-up results. Journal of Family Therapy35, 252–280.
  • Baucom, D. H., Shoham, V., Mueser, K. T., Daiuto, A. D., & Stickle, T. R. (1998). Empirically supported couple and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66(1), 53–88.
  • Baucom, D. H., Shoham, V., Mueser, K. T., Daiuto, A. D., & Stickle, T. R. (2011). Empirically supported couple and family interventions for marital distress and adult mental health problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 79(2), 141–153.
  • Bradbury, T. N., & Bodenmann, G. (2020). Interventions for couples. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 16, 99–123.
  • Christensen, A., Atkins, D. C., Berns, S., Wheeler, J., Baucom, D. H., & Simpson, L. E. (2004). Traditional versus integrative behavioral couple therapy for significantly and chronically distressed married couples. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(2), 176–191.
  • Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2019). The seven principles for making marriage work. National Geographic Books.
  • Halford, W. K., Sanders, M. R., & Behrens, B. C. (2001). Can skills training prevent relationship problems in at-risk couples? Four-year effects of a behavioral relationship education program. Journal of Family Psychology, 15(4), 750–768.
  • Halford, W. K., Bodenmann, G., Harris, M. G., & Wilson, K. L. (2017). The lasting impact of couple therapy: A 2-year follow-up. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 43(3), 383–396.
  • Johnson, S. M. (2004). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection (2nd ed.). Brunner-Routledge.
  • Snyder, D. K., & Mitchell, E. W. (1999). The utility of brief couples therapy: A review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 25(4), 407–420.

What our readers think

  1. Amanda Gasa

    Hi…my name is Amanda….

  2. Claire Masters

    My husband and I are in a very difficult situation since the lockdown started. So, before we decide anything rash, we are planning to try marriage counseling. I really hope that we could meet a therapist that was mentioned here; a person who can provide us with insight and a safe space to talk about our problems.

  3. Carlos Ferreira

    A very intersting article!


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