How Marriage Counseling Works

Marriage CounselingMarriage counseling is a form of therapy that can help all types of couples in all different types of intimate relationships, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, married or not.

Unfortunately, most marriage counselors report that the majority of couples wait to come to therapy until the point where the relationship is on the verge of ending. However, other couples come much earlier, hoping to strengthen their bonds and gain a better understanding what it takes to make their relationship work.

Marriage counseling can also help couples who plan to get married. This type of premarital counseling can help couples resolve any differences they might have before they become a larger issue.

In most cases, couples seek marriage counseling to improve one or more specific problems they are experiencing in their relationship. Marriage counseling is typically used to address the following issues:

  • Communication problems
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Conflicts about child rearing or blended families
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental health such as anxiety or depression
  • Financial problems
  • Anger
  • Verbal abuse
  • Infidelity

What To Expect From Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling typically involves having couples attend joint therapy sessions together with the marriage therapist. Working with the counselor, you can learn skills to improve your relationship. Acquired skills include communicating openly and compassionately, talking about solving problems together and looking at differences rationally. With the marriage counselor, you can examine both the good and problematic aspects of your relationship and better understand the exact sources of conflict.

Of course, talking openly about your problems with a marriage counselor is not always easy. A certain amount of discomfort may arise if harsh things are said. The therapist is supposed to act as mediator of sorts and help you to develop more satisfying ways of communicating.

Most of us have personal issues that can interfere with our relationships from time to time. If you or your partner is struggling with mental illness, substance abuse or other problems, the couples counselor therapist might recommend that you or your partner see another therapist for individual psychotherapy sessions.

What if Your Partner Refuses Counseling?

If your partner refuses to go to marriage counseling, you can go by yourself. While it is considerably more challenging to mend a relationship when only one partner is willing to go to therapy, you can still benefit by learning how your reactions and behavior affect the relationship.

Compared to individual psychotherapy, marriage counseling is much more short term. Couples typically only need a few sessions to help, although it sometimes can take several months. It usually takes longer if your relationship has deteriorated to the point where you are thinking about separation. As with any type of therapy, a specific marriage counseling treatment plan will depend on your situation. In some cases, marriage counseling assists couples in finding out that their differences are irreconcilable and that it is best to end the relationship.

Making the decision to go to marriage counseling can be difficult and frightening. However, if you have a troubled relationship, it is usually more helpful to seek help sooner than later because ignoring your problems often only makes things worse.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

References

Atkinson, B., Atkinson, L., Kutz, P., et al. (2005). Rewiring Neural States in Couples Therapy: Advances from Affective Neuroscience.Journal of Systemic Therapies. 24 (3): 3-16.

Benson, L. A., McGinn, M. M., & Christensen, A. (2012). Common principles of couple therapy. Behavior Therapy43(1), 25-35.

Christensen, A., Atkins, D.C., Baucom, B., & Yi, J. (2010). Marital status and satisfaction five years following a randomized clinical trial comparing traditional versus integrative behavioral couple therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78, 225-235.

Moore AM, et al. (2011). The influence of professional license type on the outcome of family therapy. The American Journal of Family Therapy. 39:149.

Sadock BJ, et al. Kaplan & Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer Health Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009.