Should I Seek Marriage Counselors Near Me?

Updated June 14, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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Many couples worry about reaching out for marriage therapy “too soon,” but, according to John Gottman, Ph.D., the opposite is usually more acute. He found that, on average, couples wait six years in an unhappy relationship before they reach out for professional help. If you’re wondering if marriage therapy might be helpful for your marriage, chances are it would be.

Marriage therapy is often misunderstood—leading some couples to worry that trying therapy is reserved for those dealing with infidelity or on the brink of divorce—but research shows that most couples can benefit from couples or marriage therapy. 

This article will explain what marriage therapy is, and what common signs might indicate that it’s time to reach out for support.

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What does marriage counseling help with? 

Marriage therapy is a form of therapy that can help married couples un-learn unhealthy relationship dynamics, communicate more effectively, reconnect, build trust, and more. 

Some of the challenges commonly addressed in marriage therapy include: 

  • Mental health challenges 
  • Substance use disorders 
  • Harmful relationship patterns, such as the “pursuer-distancer” dynamic
  • Repetitive arguments/unresolved conflict
  • Difficulty problem solving together 
  • Viewing your spouse as your enemy instead of your partner
  • Blaming
  • Irritability or unpredictability
  • Resentment 
  • Emotional distance or loneliness 
  • Invalidation
  • Physical intimacy issues 
  • Excessive jealously and/or trust issues 
  • Infidelity 
  • Different lifestyles or goals, such as different parenting styles or financial goals

Though many marriages experience some ups and downs, you should generally feel supported, uplifted, and better by virtue of having each other in your lives. If your relationship has become draining or harmful for your wellbeing, it’s likely time to talk to a professional. 

The four horsemen of the apocalypse

Above all other challenges, Dr. John Gottman (a prominent relationship psychologist and researcher) identified four factors that are strong predictors of divorce in marriages: 

  • Criticism: The first horseman of the apocalypse is criticism. Unlike critiques, which address a specific behavior, criticism is about attacking your partner for who they are, and it’s often said with hurtful intent. 

    • How to correct criticism: When your partner does something that you don’t like, instead of attacking who they are, focus on the specific action. For example, if they leave their laundry on the floor, instead of saying, “You’re so lazy,” you might say, “When there’s laundry left on the floor, it hurts my feelings because I assume you want me to clean up after you.” 

  • Contempt: The second horsemen, contempt, is all about asserting moral superiority over one’s partner (criticism, in contrast, focuses on attacking their character). Contempt is an intentionally harmful way of attacking someone, and it over manifests as eye-rolling, name calling, ridicule, sarcasm, or anything else intended to make them feel worthless or despicable. Contempt can often be considered a type of emotional abuse. 

    • How to correct contempt: Contempt might include calling your partner lazy and pathetic for not preparing dinner while you were working hard all day (insinuating that you are better than them). While contempt may sound like terrible behavior, it often feels like a last-ditch justified effort to defend oneself (against one’s partner).  

Instead of expressing negative judgements, the antidote to contempt may be thinking deeper and expressing your true feelings, longings, and desires. By inviting your spouse in, you might find that they don’t always seem like the enemy. 

  • Defensiveness: The third horseman, defensiveness, often develops in response to critiques. It’s commonly present in relationships where one party feels blamed, unjustly accused, or used as a scapegoat. The defensive partner will often behave indignantly or create excuses, but while this may be an understandable response, it’s a form of returning blame to the other partner.

For example, if your partner asks why you didn’t do something you promised you’d do, you might respond defensively and say something like, “I was busy, and you knew I so busy, so why didn’t you do it?” Over time, this lack of accepting accountability may lead to problems like criticism and contempt. 

  • How to correct defensiveness: To correct defensiveness, accept responsibility instead of going on the counteroffensive. From the previous example, you might instead say, “I’m sorry, I forgot and should have asked you earlier if you had time to take care of that. Let me see what I can do now.” The goal of counteracting defensiveness is to accept responsibility and acknowledge how it affects your partner. 
  • Stonewalling: The final horseman is stonewalling, which can be thought of as walling yourself off from your partner. This withdrawal and shutdown during arguments or discussions often results from emotional overwhelm or flooding, which Gottman describes occurring when “the partner’s negative emotions are unexpected, unprovoked, intense, overwhelming, and disorganizing and that the [recipient] will do anything to terminate the interaction (e.g., run away).” 

When disengaging becomes a habit, the other partner will likely become very frustrated or angry, and communication often further degrades. 

  • How to correct stonewalling: Someone who responds with stonewalling can learn to recognize the signs of emotional overwhelm (ex: heightened heartrate, stress, or difficulty thinking clearly). When these signs appear, the person should hit the “pause button” to deescalate the situation. 

For example, you might create neutral language together to indicate you need a break. For example, you might say “let’s hit pause for a minute,” or “I’m getting overwhelmed. I’m going to go on a 20-minute walk, and then let’s return to this conversation.” You could even use body language (like raising your hand to a stop position), or any other agreed-upon indicator that means you need a break from the conversation. 

If you or your spouse is not willing or ready to try marriage therapy, recognizing the signs of the four horsemen can still be helpful. With this knowledge, you can try to make some positive changes in your marriage without professional help, those it is not considered an adequate substitute for therapy sessions with a licensed professional. 

Types of marriage counseling 

There are many different types of marriage therapy you may want to explore. These include: 

  • Emotionally focused therapy
  • The Gottman method
  • Cognitive behavioral couple therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic couples therapy
  • Ellen Wachtel’s approach
  • Narrative therapy
  • Psychobiological approach to couple’s therapy (PACT)
  • Imago relationship therapy 
  • Reflective listening
  • Solution-focused therapy
  • Positive psychology therapy 
  • Internal family systems

The most evidence-based types of couple’s therapy for relationship distress are cognitive behavioral couple therapy, integrative behavioral couple therapy, and emotionally focused couple therapy. However, according to a 2020 meta-analysis, many more types of couple’s therapy can be equally effective at improving relationship satisfaction. 

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Is marriage counseling effective? 

Nearly half of all married couples wind up attending marriage counseling at some point. With this many people attending counseling, it’s common to wonder how many of these couples benefit from it. 

On average, a couple receiving couple’s therapy is better off than 70-80% of couples who don’t go to therapy. This statistic indicates that couple’s therapy is often as effective—if not more effective—than individual talk therapy. In many cases, marriage counseling can help spouses recover their relationship and avoid divorce.

Online marriage therapy: A convenient solution? 

While couples therapy can be a very effective tool for improving relationship satisfaction and mental health, there are several barriers that prevent people from attending in-person therapy. These barriers include stigma, financial hardship, and difficulty scheduling. In part, these barriers explain why couples wait an average of six years in an unhappy relationship before trying couples’ therapy

Online couples therapy—which is available through platforms like Regain—can be a good solution for many couples. The safeness and comfort of attending sessions from home can reduce stigma, sessions are often less expensive and more cost-effective than in-person sessions, and couples can schedule sessions outside of normal business hours. Furthermore, a 2021 study of 30 couples found that online couples therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy, with both significantly improving relationship satisfaction and mental health.

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Is your marriage struggling?

Regain counselor reviews

"My wife and I decided to give online couples counseling a go after finding traditional methods weren't all that suited to our busy working and parenting lifestyle. Our counselor Donna Kemp has been amazing! We both feel she's listened to us and given us the confidence to step out of our comfort zone to deal with problems that are easy to avoid. She is encouraging without being pushy. We've both responded very well to her and her methods and look forward to continuing with Donna. Highly recommend!"

"Cris Roman saved my marriage. His approach to therapy taught my husband and I the skills we needed to change the way we communicated and the way we understood each other. He is very non-judgmental and helps each person make sense of the others' feelings and actions without taking sides or placing blame. His ability to make you feel heard while helping you to see and understand why your significant other is acting a certain way is phenomenal."


If your marriage is showing signs of the four horsemen of the apocalypse—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling—or even if you just want to improve an already-healthy relationship, it can be a good idea to consider couple’s therapy. Most couples who try it find that it was helpful for their relationship, and research supports the effectiveness of multiple types of couple’s therapy.

While lots of couples can benefit from couples’ therapy, many only view it as a last resort due to barriers like stigma, the cost, and scheduling challenges. Online couples therapy can reduce these barriers and make it easier for couples to access effective, evidence-based couples’ therapy.

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