Revitalizing Your Relationship: How Marriage Counseling Can Help

Updated September 19, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

Marriage counseling, also known as marital counseling, couples counseling, and relationship counseling, is one of the most effective ways to improve marital satisfaction. Marriage counseling is evidence-based, meaning that it is conducted using techniques proven to be effective over time. The majority of spouses report improvement in their marriages after attending marriage counseling. In one study, 70% of couples reported a substantial increase in their relationship satisfaction.

Marriage therapy is a non-confrontational process focused on finding solutions to marital problems and helping spouses move forward together. The therapist acts as a neutral guide and helps spouses avoid blame, recrimination, and judgment. The focus isn't on assigning fault to one spouse or another; most marriage counseling sessions focus on solutions rather than blame. A couple can see a marriage counselor for any reason, but it's best to go when problems are still minor. Experts suggest that the earlier spouses attend marriage counseling, the more success they are likely to have.

Getty/AnnaStills
Does Your Marriage Need Help?

Reasons to Attend Marriage Counseling

You and your spouse can attend marriage counseling for almost any reason, whether or not you have already identified a specific problem to address. Maybe the "spark" has gone from your marriage, or you're having trouble communicating like you used to. Partners seek marriage counseling for various reasons; there are no set criteria you need to meet before attending counseling. However, evidence suggests that those who attend therapy early, while problems are still small, do better overall than couples who wait until problems become severe.

Many couples struggle to overcome the stigma associated with marriage counseling. Myths and misconceptions surrounding marriage and couples therapy are still prominent. One of the most common myths suggests that marriage counseling is only for those with critical, practically unsolvable marital problems. Another suggests that once a marriage needs the help of a therapist, it is already too late to save the relationship.

Evidence suggests that neither myth is true. Marriage counseling is appropriate regardless of how long a problem has been present. The idea that marriage counseling is not warranted until issues become severe is not supported by marriage therapists. Similarly, attending marital therapy does not mean that a relationship is doomed. Evidence suggests that nearly 70% of couples report improvement in their relationships following therapy.

You and your partner can attend therapy for almost any reason. Ideally, you want to visit a therapist early while the problems are still small. More significant problems can also be successfully resolved by marriage counseling. Here are a few of the common reasons people choose to attend marital therapy:

  • Difficulty trusting a partner or recovering trust after it has been broken.

  • A feeling of emotional distance or "falling out of love."

  • Difficulty communicating in a kind, empathetic manner.

  • Imbalance in decision-making or other mutual relationship tasks.

  • An inability of one or both partners to function alone.

  • Difficulties with sexual or non-sexual intimacy.

You don't need a specific reason to visit a therapist. Simply saying, "Our marriage needs to be improved." is a valid place to start. However, there are a few situations where marriage counseling should be avoided, such as abusive relationships. Abusive relationships usually contain one or more of the following:

  • Violence against you, other people, or property.

  • Aggressive behavior, including shouting, throwing objects, or other forms of intimidation.

  • Controlling behavior, including monitoring who you socialize with, how you dress, how you spend money, or other factors in your life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing dangerous or abusive behavior at the hands of their partner, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also seek assistance through the hotline's online chat.

Getty/AnnaStills

What Happens in Marriage Counseling?

Marriage counseling is designed to be collaborative, with both spouses working together to achieve a happier relationship. The therapist acts as a neutral facilitator and guide; they do not side with one spouse over the other. The goal is to avoid conflict and move towards a peaceful resolution, not to arbitrate or judge problems in the relationship. The therapist will work with the couple to determine an evidence-based approach that best fits the needs of their marriage.

One of the first goals in marriage counseling is usually to determine how committed each partner is to the marriage. In some cases, especially when problems have grown overwhelming, only one spouse wants to proceed with counseling. If two spouses are unsure if they want to repair the marriage, the therapist may recommend discernment counseling. Discernment counseling is a method to help couples peacefully determine if the marriage should continue. It is frequently used with "mixed-agenda" couples or marriages where one partner wants the relationship to continue, and the other does not.

If spouses pursue discernment counseling, they will commit to one of three options: to continue the marriage as it stands, pursue marriage therapy together, or end the marriage. Marriage counseling requires both spouses to be willing to commit to the process, and discernment counseling can help ensure that both partners are ready to move forward.

If both spouses are committed to restoring their marriage, the therapist will work with them to select a therapeutic approach that meets their needs. There is no standardized approach to marriage counseling; every couple has a unique journey as they improve their marriage. However, the therapist leverages their expertise to select evidence-based techniques that are likely to be effective. They may use one or multiple methods or combine them for increased effect.  

Here are a few common empirically supported techniques frequently used in marriage counseling:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has an extensive history and evidence base supporting its effectiveness. It has been used extensively in both individual and couples therapy and is well-known to be effective. CBT focuses on the interaction between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Each domain interacts with the other; changing thought processes can change feelings or behaviors, and changing behaviors can affect feelings and thought processes. In marriage counseling, a therapist works with both spouses to determine which thoughts, behaviors, or feelings should be targeted for change.

Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy (SFT) is often employed when a couple and their therapist can identify a distinct problem affecting the marriage. SFT is often used to address practical problems, such as issues related to time management or finances. The therapist guides the couple through a problem-solving process that involves finding exceptions or valid solutions to the problem. SFT does not dissect the problem itself in much detail; the focus is mainly on the impact the problem causes and what solutions can lessen its impact.

Emotion-Focused Therapy

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) pays special attention to the emotional components of spouses and their marriage. Other therapeutic approaches often focus heavily on behaviors and cognitive thought processes, believing feelings will change as thoughts and behaviors improve. EFT helps both spouses understand and explore the emotions surrounding their marriage in a non-judgmental atmosphere.  

The Gottman Method

The Gottman Method was created by John Gottman, a psychologist, relationship expert, and founder of the Gottman Institute, an organization that promotes the skills necessary for happy relationships. The Gottman Method focuses on avoiding unhealthy communication and offers antidotes for common problems in a relationship. As with many approaches to marriage counseling, the Gottman Method focuses heavily on improving communication, intimacy, and problem-solving.

Getty/MoMo Productions
Does Your Marriage Need Help?

Does Marriage Counseling Work?

Most couples will likely benefit from marriage counseling. Research suggests that 70% of couples see improvement in their relationship after attending counseling. The best chances of success are achieved when spouses attend therapy early, at the first sign of problems – even before they have a noticeable impact on the marriage.

Despite misconceptions and myths surrounding marriage counseling, modern approaches are based on decades of scientific research. Today's therapists have access to robust evidence-based tools to help spouses revitalize their marriage. Marriage counseling won't work for everyone, but if a therapist is consulted early and both partners are willing to commit to the therapy process, there is a good chance of success.

How Can Online Therapy Help?

Online therapy is a practical way for you and your spouse to access marriage counseling without leaving home. Visiting a therapist online removes some barriers that are present when accessing traditional therapy, like traveling to an office or being restricted to nearby therapists only. Therapists who provide counseling online use the same evidence-based techniques as traditional therapists, and marriage counseling is no exception. Research indicates that online marriage counseling is likely just as effective as traditional in-person counseling.

Takeaway

Marriage counseling is an effective, evidence-based approach to addressing marital concerns. Therapists work with spouses to create an atmosphere free from judgment and conflict wherein each partner can address concerns in the marriage. The process is rooted in mutual growth and problem-solving, not in placing blame. The therapist works with the married couple to select an appropriate therapeutic intervention to address their concern. Couples often practice skills at home and bring problems or concerns to weekly marriage counseling sessions. Overall, nearly three-quarters of those who attend marriage counseling report a significant improvement.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.