We include products that we think are useful to our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here is our process.

If your relationship has hit a bump in the road, rest assured that it happens to almost every couple.

There is no doubt that you can fix some of those potholes on your own. But sometimes things get out of control and you just can’t find your way forward.

That’s where marriage counseling, also known as couples counseling, can help.

Yes, marriage counseling works. That’s not to say that it can save every relationship. Whether it will work for you depends on several factors. The most important thing is that both of you are fully involved in the process.

Let’s look at some signs that marriage counseling might work for you, what the process is like, and how to get started.

couple in marriage or couples counselingShare on Pinterest
Ivan Gener/Stocksy United

Not everyone in a relationship is married, which is why marriage counseling is also called couples counseling or relationship counseling. Whatever you call it, the goal is to work together to improve the relationship. In some cases, it also serves to clarify that the relationship is over.

Couples therapy can help with:

  • building trust
  • communication skills
  • conflict resolution
  • Anger control
  • problem solving strategies
  • exploring relationship goals
  • define the responsibilities of the relationship
  • work through specific life changes and challenges

Couples counseling can also be done before marriage or if you are separated.

Other psychological issues may also need to be addressed. Depending on the situation, this could involve separate individual sessions.

nikki young is a licensed marriage and family therapist and executive director of Catalyst Advice Inc. in Modesto, Calif.

Young told Healthline that when you combine a skilled professional, engaged participants, new skills, a fresh perspective, and a safe environment to explore sensitive topics, over time you’ll be able to:

  • create positive change in relational dynamics
  • rekindle passion and romance
  • heal traumas and wounds
  • equip for the future

Positive changes can occur when each partner is:

  • invested in the treatment process
  • willing to push yourself outside of the therapy office
  • able to take ownership of their own role in the problem

“It absolutely can be effective,” Young said.

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), marital therapy may be more effective than individual treatments for marital distress and conflict.

Young noted two important signs that counseling could work:

  • Both parties are willing to compromise.
  • Both are committed to the therapy process.

Participation in the therapy process works best when the couple has a good connection with their therapist, Young advised.

Signs that it might not work include:

  • When a member of the relationship is having an ongoing affair.
  • When one of the members of the couple demonstrates a pattern of controlling, dominant, violent or coercive behavior towards the other.
  • One or both partners have a significant mental health or substance use problem for which they are not receiving treatment.

There is no single approach to couples counseling. And there are sure to be awkward moments along the way.

Young explained that it depends on the theoretical approach of the therapist, as well as the concerns that the couple presents. One thing that needs to happen is the creation of a safe and accepting environment for each member of the relationship.

Partners may have very different views of the problem.

“A good therapist will help each person feel heard and understood. They will facilitate a safe experience for both of us,” Young said. This involves:

  • actively listen to both partners
  • reflect on and summarize the experiences of each individual
  • interrupt disruptive communication patterns that occur during a session

“Factors such as sexuality, gender or marital status often lead to hesitation in seeking couples therapy for fear of being judged. For those who are gay, transgender, single, or simply ‘different’ in the eyes of society, it is critical that therapists convey acceptance and openness,” Young said.

To get the most out of therapy, it’s also important to let your therapist know if you have a condition such as:

  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The timeline varies from couple to couple. It may take a few sessions for the therapist to fully assess the issues. On average, most couples need about 12 sessions, although some need more and others need less.

“We can teach you all the skills in the world. But you have to be willing to enact this in your everyday life to see the change,” Young said. “There is no magic formula to determine how many sessions will be most effective in addressing the problem at hand. Every association is different.

Some things to consider are:

  • relational cultures
  • communication styles
  • specific areas of concern
  • investment levels
  • individual stories

After a thorough evaluation, your therapist should be able to give you an idea of ​​what to expect. A typical session lasts about 50 minutes.

The cost varies depending on where you live and the level of education and experience of the therapist. Prices range from $75 to $250 or more per session.

Many insurance policies may not cover marriage or couples counseling.

According to Young, therapists can incorporate aspects of various types of therapy for different problems.

Here are some examples of therapeutic approaches to couples counseling:

gotman couples therapy

The Gottman Method is a structured, goal-oriented approach based on 40 years of research. Studies suggest that the Gottman approach may be an effective treatment for improving:

  • marital relations
  • adjustment
  • privacy

It all starts with each of you completing an in-depth assessment. This will help the therapist to choose specific interventions.

Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)

EFT is intended to be a short-term therapy with a focus on the present. It helps you learn to express emotions and resolve conflicts in a healthy way. Investigate shows that it is an effective treatment that can improve marital satisfaction.

Bader-Pearson developmental model of couple therapy

This model analyzes the stages of development of each partner, as well as the stage of development of the relationship. The stage of the relationship points the way to specific interventions.

behavior therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has earned a reputation for being the “gold standard” of psychotherapy. There is a large body of research on its effectiveness.

CBT is based on the premise that there is a link between thoughts and emotions, and between emotions and actions. Your therapist will help you replace negative patterns with positive ones. CBT versions include:

  • behavioral couples therapy (BCT)
  • traditional behavioral couples therapy (TBCT)
  • integrative behavioral couple therapy (IBCT)

discernment counseling

Counseling doesn’t work unless you both want the relationship to continue. Discernment counseling is for couples with mixed agendas or when neither party is sure what they want. Your therapist can help you work through your true feelings.

Online counseling works the same way as in-person therapy.

in a 2008 revision, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of online psychotherapeutic interventions. They concluded that online therapy can treat various problems differently, but effectively.

and in a studio 2020 of online couples therapy, most clients expressed satisfaction and felt comfortable with online therapy. It may be that some people feel more comfortable in their own home than in a therapist’s office. Some couples reported that after a while, they stopped thinking about the camera. Others felt that it created distance between them and the therapist.

You may have privacy concerns during online sessions. You can request information about the platform and its security measures. You have the right to ensure that your privacy expectations are met.

Here are some resources to help you find the right therapist for you and your partner.

  • The AAMFT Therapist Locator includes professionals in the United States, Canada and other countries.
  • Find a therapist who practices Gottmann method.
  • Use the National Registry of Friendly Marriage Therapists database.
  • Check out Conversation Space online therapy for the LGBT community.
  • Try an app called Ayana to be matched with a culturally sensitive counselor.
  • Find African American Therapists directory.
  • Therapy for Latinx provides a directory of therapists who understand the needs of intersectional communities and those who feel marginalized.
  • Look through the National Network of Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Mental Health Practitioner directory.
  • find online couple therapy via Talkspace.
  • Find licensed professionals at Recover online relationship counseling platform.

Marriage/couples counseling can help you resolve conflicts and strengthen your bond. You are more likely to be successful when both partners are willing and committed to the process. And online therapy can be just as effective as in-person counseling.

Sessions typically last about 50 minutes and the average number of sessions is 12. Finding a qualified therapist you both feel comfortable with is crucial to your success.

If you want to change the dynamics of your relationship or simply build intimacy with the person you love, couples therapy could be your way forward.