Relationship wellness

Does marriage counseling really work?

  • Published Feb 13, 2024

    9 mins read
  • Written by:Chris Boutté
  • Reviewed by:Benu Lahiry, LMFT
Does marriage counseling really work?

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Not only is marriage counseling a great way to overcome challenges in a relationship, but it’s also a great way to proactively strengthen it. Together, couples learn to effectively communicate, become more compassionate to one another, and resolve issues in a healthy way.

There’s a common misconception that healthy marriages are ones where disagreements never occur and both partners are perpetually happy. John Gottman–one of the leading researchers on what makes for successful marriages–found that this isn’t the case at all. Part of a healthy relationship is the ability to disagree and overcome these challenges together. Gottman says that most relationships have “unsolvable problems.”

It takes work to have a healthy marriage, and sometimes, you may need the help of a marriage counselor to work through some of the tougher challenges. Before getting started, the primary question you may have is, “Does marriage counseling work?”. 

We’ll discuss what marriage counseling is, how it works, and some other details about the experience. Marriage counseling is a highly effective tool to resolve issues between partners and strengthen a relationship, but it helps to understand the process.

What is marriage counseling?

Marriage counseling is much like other forms of therapy, but the primary difference is that you attend with your partner rather than going to sessions as an individual. Some couples seek marriage counseling to resolve a rough patch in the relationship, and others use it as a way to build a strong foundation for their marriage.

One of the common misconceptions about couples seeking marriage counseling is that it’s a last resort before ending the relationship. Some couples may even avoid going to marriage counseling because they believe it’s the beginning of the end. The reality is that no relationship is perfect, and sometimes, you need the outside perspective of a compassionate, nonjudgmental marriage counselor to help you resolve disputes and improve your communication.

At the end of the day, a marriage therapist is there to listen and provide you with tools to repair or improve your relationship. They can help you have more compassionate communication with less fear of disagreement while also helping you learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy way.

Does marriage counseling work? 

Marriage counseling is one of the best tools you can turn to for your relationship, and the data backs it up. There is a wide variety of types of marriage counseling, but Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) has proven to be the most effective method. Tasha Seiter, MS, Ph.D., LMFT references a meta-analysis that shows that 90 percent of couples significantly improved their relationship by doing EFT, and 70 to 75 percent no longer had relationship distress.

Remember, the efficacy of marriage counseling heavily relies on the willingness of the person receiving therapy to participate and do the work. Therapy is like medicine. A doctor can prescribe the most helpful medicine around, but if you don’t take it, it can’t help.

If you really want help for your marriage, you’ll get the most out of counseling if both you and your partner are open to the experience.

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When should couples try marriage counseling?

Every relationship is different, so it’s difficult to say exactly when a couple should seek the assistance of a marriage or relationship counselor. For some newly married couples, it may be helpful to seek counseling early on. For others, maybe it’s after a difficult time when you’re struggling to find a resolution. 

While all are valid, there are some common reasons people seek marriage counseling:

  • Fear of trying to communicate
  • Difficulties with trust
  • Resentment
  • Trying to bring back intimacy
  • Inability to resolve arguments
  • Lying or keeping secrets

The above-listed situations may involve one or both people in the relationship. While these are some of the most common reasons,  you’ll need to decide if your situation needs the help of a marriage counselor.

What if one partner is resistant to marriage counseling?

In a perfect world, both people are ready when it’s time to go to marriage counseling, but that’s not always the case. You may believe you and your partner can benefit from counseling, but they’re unsure. Due to some of those marriage counseling myths from above, resistance is somewhat common. 

Here are some tips about having the conversation from Ours therapist Lauren Mollica, LMFT, MS:

  • Make sure you’re in control of your emotions before having the conversation.
  • Approach your partner when they’re emotionally regulated as well.
  • Try not to assume your partner’s response during the conversation.

Lauren also recommends remaining open and curious when having this conversation. Ask the following questions to better understand why your partner is reluctant to try couples therapy.

  • What would it mean to you if we tried couples therapy?
  • Do you know anyone who has had a positive experience with couples therapy?
  • What are your primary worries about us trying couples therapy?
  • Is there anything I could do that would make you more open and comfortable with going to marriage counseling?

It’s also important to remind your partner that you’re on the same team. This may help to shift the perspective and focus on your goals together.

What are the different types of marriage counseling? 

There are many types of marriage counseling, and it can be beneficial to understand them before going to counseling. If any of these therapeutic methods sound like they can benefit your relationship, consider finding a marriage counselor who specializes in that type of therapy.

  • Gottman Method: As mentioned, John Gottman is one of the leading researchers of what makes successful marriages and the creator of the Gottman Method. This highly structured approach involves managing conflict, having a positive perspective, building love maps, and more.
  • PACT: The Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy (PACT) uses attachment theory to help couples quickly get to the root of their problems. PACT includes looking at attachment styles, emotional regulation, and automatic responses.
  • CBT: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment method that’s often used in individual therapy, but it can also help couples. This form of therapy involves spotting faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking or behaviors and changing these patterns.
  • EFT: Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is one of the best and most researched therapies for couples, typically lasting between eight and 20 sessions. It helps couples identify rigid, negative interactions and uses principles to help build a more secure attachment within the relationship.
  • Solution-focused therapy: This form of therapy helps people separate what they can and can’t control and then focus on what’s within their power to change.

When working with a marriage counselor, they may use more than one of these therapies. During your counseling journey, there will be reassessments along the way, and sometimes therapists will switch therapeutic tools to help couples at different stages.

What are marriage counseling sessions like?

Marriage counseling sessions will change as you continue to go to sessions, which means your first session may be different than follow-up sessions. Your therapist might have you fill out a questionnaire to get a good idea of where you’re at and where to start. If not, the first session may involve getting to know both partners and what brings you to counseling.

During typical sessions, the marriage counselor may ask each partner to explore a specific issue while guiding them to find insights about the situation. They’re also there to shine a light on what one or both partners may not see about a situation and can help you work through it. If couples are having difficulties communicating, the therapist can intervene and provide the couple with tools to resolve conflict and listen to one another to resolve conflict.

What should couples do outside of marriage counseling?

A good marriage counselor will provide you with tools that you can use in between sessions to strengthen your relationship. They may also give you “homework,” which is also meant to help your relationship. This homework may be doing couples worksheets, practicing asking your partner how their day was and truly listening to them, or it may be assisting the other partner around the house with chores. The marriage counselor may even suggest that you have a date night to reconnect.

Some therapists even use technology to assist couples between sessions. Here at Ours, we have a variety of digital tools that you can use. These include decks of conversation facilitators as well as “Rose Bud Thorns” for weekly reflections.

Marriage counseling FAQ

Now that you know more about what marriage counseling is, its efficacy and how it works, we’ll answer some common questions.

How much does marriage counseling cost? 

The cost of marriage counseling can vary depending on your location as well as the credentials of the therapist. Some therapists charge upward of $300 to $500 per session. At Ours, we offer a $50 one-time session for new couples and discounts for multisession packages, or you can get a la carte sessions for $200 each.

How to find a marriage counselor

It’s helpful to research marriage counselors and see if they specialize in what you’re looking for. It may be helpful to interview them as well. Here at Ours, we hand-match you with the therapist who is right for you. You can also check out our lists of local therapists.

Is Marriage Counseling Right for You?

Marriage counseling is a great way for couples to reconnect and gain new tools to strengthen their relationship and rekindle their love. If you think marriage counseling is right for you, Ours has a team of credentialed therapists who are here to help. After filling out a brief questionnaire, we’ll take the time to find the therapist who is right for you. Join the rest of our happy couples and sign up today.

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