How Online Marriage Counseling Can Benefit You

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 14, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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Marriage counseling is a collaborative, nonjudgmental process scientifically supported to help partners improve their relationship. It is supported by a rich history of research and scientific investigation, and today's techniques are known to increase marital satisfaction. Most spouses report that marriage counseling has significantly improved their lives. One study found that 70% of spouses who attended couples therapy reported increased satisfaction with their relationship after counseling.

Marriage counseling focuses on problem-solving, skill-building, and increasing intimacy. It does not focus on assigning blame or judgment. The counselor acts as a neutral guide and facilitator, helping the couple develop new skills, communicate about complex issues, and address concerns within themselves that impact the relationship. Spouses can pursue marriage counseling at any time, but experts suggest that the best results come to couples who attend counseling early before problems become overwhelming.

Does your marriage need counseling?

Reasons for marriage counseling

Couples and marriage therapy are expected to be among the fastest-growing psychotherapeutic fields over the next decade. Both married and unmarried couples are recognizing the benefits and overcoming the stigma associated with couples counseling.

Reasons for attending therapy vary; almost any concern, disruption, or problem that affects the relationship can be addressed through marriage counseling. Some couples also attend marriage counseling proactively, before problems are apparent, to gain skills that will allow them to avoid or navigate problems that occur in the future.

In the past, marriage counseling has been subject to several myths and misconceptions. One prominent myth is that marriage therapy is only useful when marital problems have become so overwhelming and severe that the spouses cannot possibly address their concerns without help. Another common myth is that once a marriage needs the help of a counselor, it is doomed to fail, but neither of these myths is supported by evidence.

Contrary to popular belief, the best time to see a marriage counselor is earlier, not later. Many spouses avoid addressing problems in their relationship until they have become severe, but the earlier a couple sees a therapist, the more likely they are to see significant improvement. Seeing a therapist about marital problems is helpful for over 70% of couples, defying the notion that those who attend marriage counseling are more likely to divorce.

There is general agreement about when to see a marriage counselor (earlier rather than later), but why spouses seek marriage counseling is much broader. Couples can see a marriage counselor for almost any reason related to relationship harmony and cohesion. Couples can also visit with a counselor to address individual concerns as a team, such as when one spouse is challenged by a substance use disorder.  

Here are some other common reasons that spouses seek marriage counseling:

  • A lack of consistent, kind, empathetic communication.

  • Feelings of emotional distance or "falling out of love."

  • Difficulties associated with trust or trustworthy behavior.

  • Unequal division of labor between spouses.

  • Financial disagreements.

  • Concerns related to parenting and childrearing.

Getty/MoMo Productions

When to avoid marriage counseling

While marriage counseling is a good option for almost any marital problem, there is a specific circumstance where it should be avoided: abusive relationships. The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends that marriage counseling should be avoided if either spouse displays any 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 with whom you socialize, how you dress, how you spend money, or other factors in your life.

If you suspect that your relationship may be abusive, strongly consider meeting with a counselor independently or contacting an appropriate resource before initiating marriage counseling. Couples therapy is often ineffective in abusive relationships. In some instances, the therapeutic process can worsen abusive behavior. 

The benefits of marriage counseling

Modern approaches to marriage counseling are evidence-based and supported by years of empirical research. It is considered effective in helping spouses move past many marital concerns and has been demonstrated to improve communication, intimacy, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Partners learn how to navigate pre-existing problems as well as avoid new ones, and couples often come away from the process with the tools necessary to ensure that they do not need to return to counseling in the future.

Overall, 70% of couples report a significant increase in relationship satisfaction following marriage counseling. Not only do spouses gain skills and learn how to apply them to their marriage, but they also likely gain insight into themselves. Marriage counselors often uncover long-standing individual concerns that impact a relationship, often without the person being aware of how significantly the relationship is affected.

Marriage counseling also has the benefit of providing an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere for free discussion. While in a counseling session, many couples find it significantly easier to speak about relationship issues. Things that are avoided in day-to-day marital conversation are expected to be brought up in counseling, giving spouses "permission" to speak freely.

Does your marriage need counseling?

The marriage counseling process

Marriage counseling is designed to be free from judgment and negativity. The focus of counseling isn't to assign blame or act as a "marriage court" where both spouses present their cases and the therapist decides who is at fault. The therapist acts as a neutral guide and facilitator, helping spouses understand themselves and their partners. Empathy is essential in any romantic relationship, and the therapist will work to help the couple create an open, empathetic atmosphere for discussion and skill development.

In some cases, spouses disagree on whether they should attend counseling. "Mixed agenda" couples are relationships where one person has decided – or is leaning towards – ending the marriage, and the other partner wants to address problems through therapy. If a mixed-agenda couple visits with a marriage counselor, they will likely begin the process by initiating discernment counseling.

Discernment counseling is an empirically supported approach for helping spouses mutually decide the future of their marriage. It follows the same marriage counseling principles but is focused solely on determining whether the relationship will continue. At the end of the process, the couple will choose one of three options: to continue the marriage as-is, to end the marriage, or to work on marital problems in therapy.

If both spouses decide to pursue therapy and work on their marriage, the therapist will continue to assess the relationship and help the couple establish goals for therapy. Every couple has a different experience in marriage counseling; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The therapist uses their expertise and experience to determine the best course of action, then selects an evidence-based approach that will likely have the greatest effect. The therapist may use one technique or multiple, and they might combine them to optimize the effect.

As the couple proceeds through therapy, they will regularly update their goals and report to the therapist how well the interventions are working. Marriage counseling often involves homework and activities for the couple to complete outside of the therapy session. The process is continually updated and adapted. As the therapist gains a sense of how well the couple is doing, they will make changes to the course of therapy and work with the couple to help them keep their goals updated.

As the couple progresses, the therapist will help them decide when to terminate therapy. Marriage counseling is not designed to be a long or never-ending process; most couples are ready to end their counseling journey after only 12 sessions.

Is marriage counseling still effective if done online?

Marriage counseling is supported by years of empirical research and is known to be an effective way to address several relationship concerns. However, that research was based almost entirely on in-person counseling, and the recent boom in online therapy has raised understandable questions about whether therapy is just as effective online as in person.

Research into the effectiveness of online marriage counseling has increased substantially over the last several years. Multiple studies have confirmed that online marriage counseling is a viable path forward for the field of couples therapy. Couples receive the same evidence-based care they would receive in an office, and the therapist uses the same techniques. Spouses can also avoid some of the barriers to therapy, such as traveling to an office or being restricted to local therapists only.


Marriage counseling is an effective, evidence-based approach to help partners overcome problems in their marriage. While it cannot save everyone's marriage, it is more likely to be helpful than harmful. Around 70% of couples report a significant increase in their relationship satisfaction following counseling. The counseling process is nonjudgmental and constructive. The therapist works with each spouse to help them decide on an appropriate course for therapy and helps them develop skills that will allow them to meet their goals. Blame and judgment are not the focuses of marriage counseling, but rather calm, empathetic, kind communication and problem-solving.

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