Everything a Couple Needs to Know
Have you ever been in the midst of a conflict with your significant other and thought, “Wow, this is going very, very badly”? You wish that you could rewind, start over, reset. You wish that you had taken a deep breath, counted to 10, chosen your words better. You don’t know why you reacted the way you did. You don’t know why your partner felt so triggered. And now you don’t know how to heal the emotional wounds that were inflicted in the heat of the moment.
Every couple fights blindly like this sometimes, carried away by instinctive feelings and learned patterns of behavior. You and your spouse may repeat the same argument a hundred times without ever finding resolution. You may butt heads over seemingly insignificant things. You may hurt each other unintentionally – or intentionally. Because for better or worse, great love and great pain often coexist in the most tender, sensitive regions of our selves. And sometimes an expert is required to help our love and pain renegotiate their living arrangements.
That’s the role of a Thriveworks marriage counselor. Our fully licensed, expert marriage counselors and couples therapists serve as objective, highly trained third parties who can help clarify relationship issues, build interpersonal skills, and solve painful problems. Their job is to help convert all those tight, constricted, distressing feelings into positive action.
But we understand that it might feel scary at first to talk to a stranger – even a highly qualified stranger! – about intimate partner issues. That’s why we wrote this guide to marriage counseling, so you’ll know what to expect from your very first, to your very last, therapy session, and how you and your partner might benefit from expert relationship guidance at Thriveworks.
What Is Marriage Counseling?
Marriage counseling, also called relationship counseling or couples therapy, helps significant others bridge their divides, work through their issues, and improve their relationships. This type of therapy can also help couples breathe new life into their romantic bonds and reinforce the reasons that brought them together in the first place.
Counselors who specialize in relationships, such as licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), lead this type of therapy. They are also called marriage counselors or couples therapists. At Thriveworks, these mental health professionals have the expert knowledge and training to help married couples achieve their goals.
Many different kinds of couples seek marriage counseling. Counselors can help intimate partners who have been married for a year or two, as well as those who have been married for 50 years. They can also facilitate pre-wedding discussions during premarital counseling sessions. In all cases, couples therapists will use therapy sessions to listen closely and try to distill complex issues that concern individuals and relationships. Then, they will collaborate with couples on a personalized, evidence-based course of action to help solve problems and maintain domestic harmony.
Couples Therapy vs. Marriage Counseling
What is the difference between marriage counseling and couples therapy? There’s no difference. These are just two terms for the kind of talk therapy that’s designed to benefit intimate partners. Couples don’t need rings on their fingers to book a therapy appointment at Thriveworks. Our mental health professionals meet with domestic partners, new couples, co-parents, couples with open marriages, and even long-term friends. We have therapists who specialize in LGBTQ+ couples, couples from different cultural backgrounds, and more. All relationships deserve care – and all relationships require work.
Is Marriage Counseling Really Worth It?
Naturally, it would be nice to know in advance that marriage counseling is going to “work” for you and your spouse or partner. Thriveworks can’t make any promises, but we do have data on our side.
What is the success rate of marriage counseling? The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) reports that after the completion of couples therapy, almost 90% of clients notice improvements in their emotional health, and over three quarters of romantic partners feel enhancements in their relationship. Numerous research studies on marriage counseling have also shown dramatic, positive outcomes.
What therapy is best for marriage counseling? One of the most effective forms of marriage counseling is emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT-C). According to the American Psychological Association (APA), this approach is based on the core belief that emotions play a key role in changing behavior. Extensive research demonstrates that EFT-C can lead to positive outcomes like improved relationship satisfaction even long after therapy sessions conclude.
So is marriage counseling really effective? The answer is yes, but certain variables can influence how well it works. For example, the overall efficacy of marriage counseling can be influenced by timing (early intervention is best), motivation to change, and openness to the process. Most couples only need about 12 sessions of in-person or online marriage counseling sessions to get the results they were looking for.
How do you measure the success of marriage counseling? Researchers can compare a couple’s pre-counseling complaints and post-counseling complaints using a questionnaire called the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS). According to this measure, relationship improvements are significant even several years after the completion of emotionally-focused couples therapy.
What Does a Marriage Counselor Do? What Don’t They Do?
A professional marriage counselor or couples therapist can play many roles, depending on what a relationship requires. For example, a therapist can act as facilitator, listener, teacher, arbiter, challenger, and much more in these sessions. A marriage counselor has extensive training in communication skills, emotional attachment, and relationship dynamics in general. They can help root out unspoken issues and strengthen existing bonds by earning the trust of both parties, asking the right questions, and offering compassionate insights.
Here’s a further rundown of what a marriage counselor does and doesn’t do:
- It’s not a counselor’s job to take sides, but it is their job to ensure that conversations are fair and that partners don’t bully, drown out, or dominate each other during therapy sessions.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to judge people and their actions, but it is their job to help clients understand why they might behave the way they do and who their behavior might be hurting.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to tell a couple they should get divorced, but it is their job to help partners achieve emotional clarity.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to tell clients what they should do, but it is their job to offer them more adaptive, healthy pathways to well-being.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to change people, but it is their job to suggest potential compromises and alternative behaviors.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to tell someone they’re wrong, but it is their job to teach couples what patterns might be contributing to their problems, and help them build more effective skills and responses.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to treat mental health disorders or give medical advice, but it is their job to refer clients to the proper resources if there’s a psychiatric issue (e.g., depression, anxiety, alcohol use disorder, or borderline personality disorder) contributing to the couple’s problems.
- It’s not a counselor’s job to prevent all conflicts, but it is their job to remind couples that ultimately they are a team.
What Should I Expect from Marriage Counseling?
Through marriage counseling at Thriveworks, you should expect to build a trusting relationship with your therapist. You should expect to be honest to a fault. And you should expect to have breakthroughs into the nature of your own feelings and behaviors. You can expect to learn valuable information about how you and your partner operate. The process may be painful at moments, but ultimately it will be enlightening.
What Type of Issues Can Relationship Counseling Help Solve?
Couples seek the skilled and compassionate guidance of Thriveworks marriage counselors for a wide variety of issues in the realms of life and love. You don’t need to have an acute problem to benefit from counseling, however. Many married couples come to therapy sessions in order to strengthen or maintain what’s already working for them.
That being said, direct problem-solving can be a major part of a typical LMFT’s job description. Couples may seek professional counseling to help with any of the following issues:
- Jealousy and possessiveness
- Opposing values
- Repeated conflicts
- Different visions for the future
- Life transitions (empty nest syndrome, new parenthood, etc.)
- Substance use
- Allocation of household responsibilities
- Mental health issues
- Emotional distance/detachment
- Emotional or physical abuse
- Trauma, grief, or loss
- Differences in parenting styles
- Lack of trust
- Financial distress or disagreements
- Sex or intimacy issues
- Internal or external boundaries
- Lifestyle differences
7 Common Marital Problems Discussed in Therapy
Every day, couples discover that marriage counseling at Thriveworks improves their relationships. Couples therapy is often a short-term, yet invaluable, process that can help define what really matters. If you and your spouse pursue marriage counseling, you can expect to work with your counselor on your specific issues. Thriveworks therapists are well-versed in helping couples resolve common marital challenges including:
1) Infidelity or trust issues
If someone has been unfaithful, your Thriveworks therapist can help you air your feelings and determine what you need from each other moving forward. They can also help you discuss trust issues resulting from infidelity.
2) Sex issues or lack of intimacy
Physical intimacy shouldn’t be neglected in long-term romantic relationships. Your Thriveworks marriage counselor might serve as an objective sounding board for sensitive sex issues. They can also help you become more intimate on an emotional level. This might involve having honest, empathetic conversations that help you reconnect with your spouse.
3) Opposing values or beliefs
Sometimes couples discover that they have opposing values or beliefs that feel too important to compromise. In these instances, a Thriveworks counselor can help partners talk productively about their differing views, and maybe find common ground.
4) Stress at home and work
When stress becomes overwhelming, it can damage relationships. Thriveworks marriage counselors can help partners identify their specific stressors and develop healthy ways to cope with them side-by-side. A counselor might determine a need for individual sessions with a spouse if the stress is especially prevalent in their life. Additionally, if the whole family is involved, then partners might benefit from both marriage and family therapy.
5) Communication problems
Learning how to speak to each other effectively is usually the first step in healing. A Thriveworks marriage counselor can help you and your partner improve your communication skills so you can actually make real progress and not just push each other’s buttons. For example, if you feel uncomfortable or reactive talking about certain topics, therapy can help you develop a specific plan for better navigating those conversations.
6) Parenting issues
You can’t seem to agree over how you’re raising your children. Sometimes these conflicts require a look back at how you and your spouse were raised, and what expectations you might have developed over the years. A Thriveworks marriage therapist can help bring context to those family dynamics.
7) Growing apart
You’ve changed since you first got together with your spouse, and you’re not sure you’re still compatible. Sometimes a Thriveworks couples counselor can remind you of what you have in common.
Who Can Marriage Counseling Help?
Many people are intimidated when they first start therapy. Will they have to air all their dirty laundry? Will they be judged for their flaws? Will they feel safe opening up? These sorts of worries are perfectly normal, especially if someone has never been in therapy before.
But Thriveworks marriage counseling isn’t an interrogation or a trial. It’s a compassionate resource to help you and your partner enhance your emotional health and your relationship. You get to determine the goals of therapy. You get to determine what direction the sessions will take. You and your spouse are the clients, and your therapist’s goal is to help you.
Counseling can help many different couples, including the following:
- Couples suffering from severe financial stress
- Couples struggling to have productive conversations
- Couple struggling with boundaries or codependency
- Couples lacking physical intimacy and connection
- Couples dealing with fertility issues or pregnancy stressors
- Couples dealing with separation anxiety, attachment issues, or abandonment issues
- Couples who feel overwhelmed by responsibilities at home or at work
- Couples who feel that their relationship has lost its spark
- Couples who can’t seem to agree on anything
- Couples who fight over extended family or in-laws
- Couples who argue about raising kids and parenting styles
How Does Marriage Counseling Work?
At your first couples therapy session, a Thriveworks marriage counselor will begin by establishing rapport and building mutual trust. In this early phase, you can all get to know each other better and determine if you’d work well together. Then your therapist will probably ask you and your spouse about your treatment goals. This is a good time to disclose any challenges or concerns you have about your marriage so your Thriveworks counselor can determine the best course of action.
As sessions continue, you can give your counselor ongoing feedback about the process. This will help your therapist refine your individual therapy experience so it meets your specific needs. A Thriveworks LMFT might utilize a variety of therapeutic approaches, including emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT-C), solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and/or the Gottman method.
Sometimes a marriage therapy session will include exercises meant to improve communication, build trust, or help you and your partner get to know each other better. A marriage therapist might even assign homework!
How Do I Know My Marriage Is Over?
Some couples don’t book a therapy session until their relationship is at a crisis point. Counseling is a last-ditch effort to save the marriage – or to hear someone else tell them it’s definitely over. But that’s not a call that a therapist can make. Counseling at Thriveworks is a resource to help you find the best outcome.
Can a marriage be saved with counseling? Only you and your partner can make decisions about your marriage. But a relationship counselor may help you see strengths that you were blind to, or identify fixes that hadn’t occurred to you. A counselor can give you clarity – and sometimes hope. And the truth is that marriage counseling is rarely a waste of time, even if a romantic relationship doesn’t endure forever. Through couples therapy, individuals often learn valuable information about themselves and how they function in relationships. They can harness this knowledge throughout their lives.
Do marriage counselors recommend divorce? Marriage counselors aren’t like friends and family members, who might say, “You’ve got to leave him!” or “You just got married! You can’t get a divorce!” These parties are often too close to the situation to be objective. A marriage counselor’s job is ultimately to help partners find the answers for themselves. What would make them happiest in the long-run? What’s best for their well-being? The process of marriage counseling at Thriveworks can often help resolve these difficult questions.
How do I convince my partner to go to marriage counseling? If it’s your idea to go to marriage counseling and you’re not sure that you can get your spouse on board, ask yourself what motivates your partner, or what has persuaded them in the past. There are countless ways in which marriage counseling might appeal to someone. Your significant other might like the fact that marriage therapy is so effective, or that it’s convenient and affordable at Thriveworks. They might like the fact that it’s objective, and a counselor’s job is to treat partners equally. They might like the fact that there’s virtually nothing to lose, and everything to gain. But in general, it can help to approach the subject in a loving way that doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive. And include your spouse in the decision-making, especially when choosing a counselor.