Can DIY Marriage Counseling Work As Well As The Real Thing?

By: Dylan Buckley

Updated July 14, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC


Whether due to the cost involved, an unwillingness to invite a stranger into a relationship or because they don't believe that professional help is needed, many couples prefer to work on their relationship problems themselves. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it's important to understand how DIY marriage counseling compares to getting professional help before deciding to tackle the process of taking on their marriage problems on their own. If you are considering DIY marriage counsel but need more information before moving forward with your counseling techniques, here is some insight into whether or not DIY marriage counseling works as well as in-person counseling and whether or not it is right for you and your partner.

DIY Marriage Counseling Versus Counseling with a Qualified Therapist

To put things into perspective, let's imagine as if your choice of counseling were food. For the most part, individuals will choose to eat at home because it is more affordable and because they have all the resources there to reach their final goal of preparing a meal. However, not everyone has these resources available, and they may choose to eat out instead because they know that someone else will be able to prepare a meal for them.

Likewise, DIY marriage counseling only works if the couple in question has the resources, skills, and knowledge necessary to help patch their relationship together and can both cooperate to ensure that the outcome of their efforts is successful. However, not everyone who wants to try DIY marriage counseling will have what is needed to mend their relationship and attempting to do so properly can result in frustration and a lack of results. This is when it is better for a couple to go to someone who will be able to guide them in the process and serve as a mentor.

It's important to know what you and your partner are capable of and what you and your partner will struggle with before you try to mend your relationship. If you try to fix your relationship on your own and it becomes yet another issue between you and your partner, it will add more stress to the already strained relationship.

Does It Work?

The good news is, for those who can repair their relationship on their own and just need the advice and resources; DIY marriage counseling can be an effective way to tackle these relationship problems. That being said, doing your own counseling is only effective if it is properly conducted. In the following section, we will provide you with some tips and advice that will help guide you along the path of self-counseling and all of the challenges that may come with doing it yourself.

Communication Is Everything


Whether doing it by yourselves or paying someone else as much as $100 per hour, you can't expect to make any progress if you're not willing to talk respectfully and listen attentively to your partner. Both parties have to be able to speak their minds without the other getting offended, or judging their thoughts and feelings harshly.

A very simple technique that works wonders involves nothing more than each person paraphrasing their spouse's last statement before speaking themselves. It's also a good idea to set aside an hour or two each week to talk to each other about whatever may be bothering you. This can be done on a date night, lying in bed, or anywhere else where you both can feel relaxed and comfortable. When doing this, it's important to remember that complaints about someone's actions are acceptable, but criticisms aren't. It's also important to do this when you and your partner are not in the middle of the argument as the conflict is still relatively new and will only build. You must speak in a non-judgmental setting that allows for understanding and resolution rather than for more fighting.

Focus on Solutions, Not Problems

As someone who is in a potentially unstable relationship, you already know that spotting issues within a relationship can be rather simple. If you and your partner fight frequently, you both are already experts at seeing issues and calling them out, even if some of these issues are based on the bias feelings of you and your partner. The problem with simply focusing on issues, however, is that it doesn't lead to any resolution. It just builds upon the consistent cycle of arguing with your partner and blaming them for any conflicts that have arisen in the relationship. What you need to do as a couple is to recognize the problems (without the typical name-calling and blame-game, of course) and to then figure out an appropriate course of action that will eliminate those problems. Let's say, for example, that you are constantly fighting about money being spent on things that you shouldn't be spending them on. Rather than fighting each time this happens, sit down as a couple and create a budget that can better help you spend your income and determine where you have room for a little extra money for yourselves. A good couple focuses on solutions, not problems.

Sow the Seeds of Love and Nurture Them

When we are at odds with a partner, we can forget that we are in a relationship with them and instead view it as a forced friendship or roommate situation. However, you two are in a relationship, and it is just as important to focus on the positives as it is on the negatives. What were some of the initial things that drew you close to your partner? What were some of these things for your partner? What are some of your favorite memories with your significant other? What are some things that you enjoyed doing with your partner? Once you've identified some of the positives in your relationship, try to relive some of those moments and make sure that you are taking the necessary action to keep that love and affection going. Our strength in the relationship lies in our bond with each other, and without this, there is no relationship at all. Focusing on the positives will help to keep you going through all of the hard times.

There are a lot of materials out there covering relationships and how they can be improved. Every book and blog won't apply to your marriage, but reading up on the subject will often give you ideas on how you can do better. It's recommended that you both consult the same sources and talk about what you find to be of value. Doing this diligently is an excellent way of learning more about what works in a marriage and what doesn't, as well as allowing you and your partner to gain greater clarity about how the two of you view your relationship.

Another great way to make sure that you are getting the most out of your home-based therapy is to utilize resources that come with plenty of worksheets, planners, and other tools that you can fill in and reference as you continue with your therapeutic journey. While books and blogs are great, DIY marriage counseling is only useful if you can practice what you learn, and the knowledge base out there can be quite extensive. Tools will help you and your partner to summarize what you are learning, writing down what you and your partner need to do in terms of goals and actions, and will help you to schedule in important things when necessary. When you have a full system in place, all you need is motivation and drive on both sides, and you will be able to make the change!

When DIY Marriage Counseling Isn't Enough


If you can use some of the tactics mentioned above successfully and without conflict, you and your partner will be able to heal your relationship on your own and perform a marriage counselor's job on your own. It's quite common for other couples to go through this process and you may be able to find a host of these successful couples online who will be able to provide you with their testimony of how they managed to save their marriage and get back to the relationship that they used to have.

However, with this in mind, the majority of couples who try relationship therapy are those who've let the problems in their marriage to build up and go unacknowledged for years until what started as a minor irritation is threatening to drive them apart. At this point, they'll often be highly entrenched in their opinions, unwilling to compromise, and will most certainly have difficulty discussing things rationally. They'll typically have the same arguments again and again without making any progress towards a solution that allows them to move on.

This may mean that they need a kind of conversational referee to make sure things stay on track. In fact, this may indicate that communication between them is close to breaking down and that things will only get progressively worse rather than getting better. When this has happened, they may also need a talking coach to teach them how to keep to a topic and steer clear of belittling or insulting one another. When this occurs, the best course of action for the couple to pursue is to see a marriage counselor.

There's a huge difference between those in the former situation and those in the latter situation, and you will be able to clearly define your relationship based on these qualities when you ask yourself, what type of therapy should I be seeking?

The major advantages of seeing a professional counselor are twofold. In the first place, they provide a way for both individuals to express their feelings through a neutral party without having to worry about the typical communication problems getting the way. When two people can explain their problems and feelings in a way that a third party can understand, they're obligated to be a little more objective than usual and to be able to answer the therapist's specific questions. Secondly, due to long training and practice, counselors are better equipped to see problematic dynamics when looking at a relationship from the outside. Your marriage may be unique in certain ways, but a troubled couple can often be diagnosed by the typical patterns it exhibits. If you are unable to make progress with your partner on your own, you should consider a marriage counselor as the next step to start working on your relationship before it becomes too late.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I do marriage counseling at home?

If you want to receive couples therapy or couples counseling at home, the best way to do it is to go through an online therapy service or to work with a therapist who practices remotely. That way, you are receiving marriage counseling from a licensed mental health provider from the privacy of your own home. Additionally, it's often more affordable than traditional face-to-face counseling. If you are looking for a place to start and can't get into marriage therapy or couples therapy with a professional just yet, there are some things that you can do. You can read counseling books and relationship improvement books such as those on learning your and your partner's love language, attachment styles, and books about problem-solving techniques. You can also look for marriage counseling worksheets to use in the privacy of your own home with your spouse. To obtain counseling worksheets, you can look online or ask a counselor or therapist who works with couples in your local area to see what they can suggest. This will require talking to your partner and putting in work every day to improve the relationship. Remember that noo one is immune to relationship problems; not even the most experienced relationship expert. Every relationship has its ups and downs, so be patient with yourselves during this process. For more difficult relationships or more complex relationship issues, counseling will be the best way to go and is recommended over self-help.

How do I get marriage counseling if I can't afford it?

There are a variety of ways you can access marriage counseling if you can't afford it. First, check with your insurance company to see what they offer. If you are low income, you may be eligible for insurance that allows you to receive mental health services, including marriage therapy or couples counseling, for free or for a low cost. You can often get mental health services and see professionals such as a licensed marriage and family therapist or a licensed clinical social worker through religious institutions, educational institutions, and community centers. Some therapists or counselors work in a private practice setting and offer marriage therapy or other forms of counseling on a sliding scale, meaning that they will work with you to extend a rate that suits your financial needs. Another option is online therapy, which is a fraction of the price of traditional in-person counseling without insurance. You can get marriage therapy or couples counseling through a website like ReGain that will pair you with a licensed mental health provider who is adept at helping couples, making the process less daunting and more straightforward.

Is marriage counseling free?

Marriage counseling isn't free, but there are ways to get marriage counseling for free or for as low as around $20 per session. If you attend a religious institution such as a church, you may be able to get services that are free and faith-oriented. You can also see the free options that are available in your community. If you have insurance that covers counseling in full, you will be able to get marriage counseling for free, but you will have to check and see which couple's counselors your insurance provider works with. To find out who you can see that's covered by your insurance provider, call your insurance company, or check their website. Alternatively, you can browse the internet for online directories of couples counselors and see who takes your insurance and suits your needs. If you're low income and are struggling to find resources in your area, calling 211 or your local information hotline is a great way to learn more about what's available to you in terms of low-cost or free mental health support.

How do you know if you need marriage counseling?

A couple will choose to get marriage counseling when they see something about their relationship that they can improve. Sometimes, people need marriage counseling because their relationship is on the rocks, or because their love or trust for one another has dissipated, and they aren't sure what to do. Other times, people pursue counseling to work through a concern they have despite maintaining an otherwise stable partnership, such as those related to decision-making or supporting one another effectively. Here are some of the common reasons that people seek marriage counseling:

  • Infidelity or cheating
  • Intimacy issues
  • Trouble understanding one another
  • Frequent arguments
  • Difficulty finding common ground on important issues that affect the relationship, such as family planning
  • Loss of love or the "spark" in a marriage
  • The desire to support a spouse through a difficult time
  • The desire to improve communication

There is no wrong reason to seek marriage counseling. If you think that you may benefit from marriage counseling or couple's therapy for any reason, there is no harm in trying it out.

What are the signs of a failing marriage?

Every relationship is just as unique as every person is. However, you will usually be able to determine when there is an issue that may indicate a failing marriage, and it will generally be that something has changed or feels off. Perhaps, your partner's body language around you has changed, and they seem to ignore you or face away from you. You may struggle to maintain intimacy with your partner, whether that is emotional or physical intimacy. Alternatively, your marriage may have been on the rocks for a long time. Maybe, you have always found that you butt heads with your partner. Either one or both of you may start arguments or raise your voice frequently. No matter how long you have noticed the signs of a declining marriage, marriage counseling exercises may help. In marriage counseling, you will work on effective communication and listening skills that'll help you understand each other and stop talking over one another if that's a concern. You might set goals or use marriage counseling worksheets to help you work through common issues that you find in your marriage. You may also work predominantly on emphasizing the love and affection in your relationship, especially if it feels like the spark is gone.

What is the difference between marriage counseling and couples therapy?

If someone says "marriage counseling," they're referring to couples counseling for married couples specifically. Couples counseling is an umbrella term that can relate to couples who are married or unmarried. If someone is seeking couples counseling or couples therapy, they might be seeking premarital counseling or couples therapy with no intention of getting married. Any couple can seek couples therapy. Every form of couples therapy is a process, so if you make a mistake in communication or in some other area that you are getting couples therapy or marriage counseling for at first, it doesn't mean that you're a bad person. Using therapy skills take practice, including those learned in marriage therapy or couples counseling, so go easy on yourself and embrace the learning opportunities you encounter during counseling or therapy.

Is marriage counseling covered by insurance?

Most insurance providers cover marriage counseling. If someone runs into an issue while seeking mental health care, the barrier is often finding a provider that takes their insurance. If you're not sure who to go to for marriage counseling or couples therapy, you can call your insurance company and see what they cover or check their website. Another option is to ask your general doctor for a referral to someone who takes your insurance or to contact a counselor you want to see directly and ask them what forms of insurance they take. Online therapy is an affordable option for those with or without insurance.

Is couples therapy more expensive than individual therapy?

The cost of couples therapy will vary so substantially from provider to provider that there is no single answer to this question. Often, couples therapy will be around the same price as individual counseling. In some cases, it could even be cheaper. If your health insurance provider or employee assistance program at work covers couples therapy in full, you might not have to pay anything. Additionally, if you see couples counseling online but see someone for individual counseling in person, couples counseling might cost less because the price of online therapy is often less than traditional in-person counseling.

Are marriage counselors worth it?

Research indicates that up to 98% of people who receive couples therapy feel that their treatment was of quality. Statistics on emotionally focused therapy in particular, which is a very popular evidence based form of therapy used in couples counseling and marriage counseling, indicate that 70 to 75% of couples experience significant improvement and healing in their relationship as a result of pursuing emotionally focused therapy or EFT. In marriage therapy or counseling, you will complete marriage counseling exercises that will help you day-to-day in your relationship moving forward as well as in the current moment. The research on evidence based marriage counseling or marriage therapy modalities indicates that marriage counseling can be extremely beneficial for couples and that it can help save relationships, so don't be afraid to pursue therapy with a mental health provider. It might just change your life. Remember that you don't need to stay in marriage therapy or counseling forever and that the goal is to find ways of communication and problem-solving that you can use with your partner long after therapy is over. You will also learn marriage counseling exercises that you can continue to use outside of therapy when you see a marriage therapist.

How can I fix my marriage?

Marriage counseling is a research and evidence based way to improve and mend a marriage or a romantic partnership. There are so many things that can impact the way that we function in relationships, from childhood memories to past relationships that hurt us. Marriage therapy allows you to dig deeper using marriage counseling exercises and communication techniques that'll help you and your partner fix the core issues affecting your relationship. Whether you're looking for new ways to show your partner you care or are dealing with more serious concerns, you can improve your marriage with the help of a marriage therapist or counselor. Search the online network of mental health providers at ReGain or look for a marriage therapist in your local area who can help you and your spouse have a healthy, happy partnership.

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