Marriage counseling, also called couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy. Marriage counseling helps couples — married or not — recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Through marriage counseling, you can make thoughtful decisions about rebuilding your relationship or, in some cases, going your separate ways.
Marriage counseling is often short term. Marriage counseling typically includes both partners, but sometimes one partner chooses to work with a therapist alone. The specific treatment plan depends on the situation
Marriage counseling can help couples in all types of intimate relationships — heterosexual or homosexual, married or not. Some couples seek marriage counseling to strengthen their bonds and gain a better understanding of each other. Marriage counseling can also help couples who plan to get married. This pre-marriage counseling can help couples achieve a deeper understanding of each other and iron out differences before marriage.
In other cases, couples seek marriage counseling to improve a troubled relationship. You can use marriage counseling to address many specific issues, including:
- Communication problems
- Sexual difficulties
- Conflicts about child rearing or blended families
- Substance abuse
- Financial problems
Marriage counseling may also be helpful in cases of domestic abuse. If violence has escalated to the point that you’re afraid, however, counseling isn’t adequate. Contact the police or a local shelter or crisis center for emergency support.
The only preparation needed for marriage counseling is to find a therapist. You can ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a therapist. Family and friends may give recommendations based on their experiences. Your health insurer, employee assistance program, clergy, or state or local mental health agencies also may offer recommendations.
Marriage counseling typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. Working with a therapist, you’ll learn skills to solidify your relationship. These skills may include communicating openly, problem solving together and discussing differences rationally. You’ll analyze both the good and bad parts of your relationship as you pinpoint and better understand the sources of your conflicts.
Talking about your problems with a marriage counselor may not be easy. Sessions may pass in silence as you and your partner seethe over perceived wrongs — or you may bring your fights with you, yelling and arguing during sessions. Both are OK. Your therapist can act as mediator or referee and help you cope with the resulting emotions and turmoil.
If you or your partner is coping with mental illness, substance abuse or other issues, your therapist may work with other health care providers to provide a complete spectrum of treatment.
If your partner refuses to attend marriage counseling sessions, you can go by yourself. It’s more challenging to patch up a relationship when only one partner is willing to go to therapy, but you can still benefit by learning more about your reactions and behavior in the relationship.
Marriage counseling is often short term. You may need only a few sessions to help you weather a crisis — or you may need marriage counseling for several months, particularly if your relationship has greatly deteriorated. The specific treatment plan will depend on the situation. In some cases, marriage counseling helps couples discover that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it’s best to end the relationship.
Making the decision to go to marriage counseling can be tough. But marriage counseling can help you better cope with a troubled relationship — rather than trying to ignore it or hoping it gets better on its own.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with a marriage counselor, I recommend that you review the bio’s of the clinical staff on this website to assist you in choosing a marriage counselor. Good Luck!
Anne Aja, Ed.D.