Mode of Therapy – Marriage Counseling

A vital form of therapy, marriage, or couples, counseling helps couples both identify and resolve conflicts and other issues that are contributing to problems in their relationship. Therapists teach the couples how to better communicate their feelings and work together to develop coping strategies. Marriage counseling often helps couples renew their initial commitment to each other and rebuild their relationship. However, marriage counselors also can help couples define the reasons why they need to separate or even end the marriage.

A short-term solution, marriage counseling usually includes both partners, but only one partner may attend some sessions.

What Are the Different Types of Relationship Counseling?

Approaches to relationship therapy are varied and many, and this kind of therapy can help a variety of different types of relationships — not just marriages. Whether the couple involves straight, LGBTQ, young, elderly, or mixed race individuals, couples therapy can often help.

Premarital Counseling

Premarital therapy, another type of couples counseling, helps engaged couples address relationship issues — before the couple marries — that may arise during the union.

Family Therapy

Family counseling or therapy addresses issues within the entire family rather than just between couples. This type of counseling sometimes occurs concurrently with other types of treatment, including couples counseling, or it may be the primary mode of therapy.

Couples Counseling

Although marriage therapy is sometimes called “couples counseling,” couples counseling can benefit couples of all types, including gay and lesbian couples. Same-sex couples share many of the same issues that heterosexual issues face, including infidelity, jealousy, and communication concerns. However, they also might encounter additional problems, such as discrimination, which can lead to stress. Couples counseling can help same-sex couples deal with these and other issues.

What Types of Counselors Provide Marriage Therapy?

Most marriage counselors are licensed therapists. Many have degrees in marriage and family therapy, although other types of therapists can provide couples counseling as well. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, master’s degree, at minimum, and have two years’ of clinical experience under the supervision of a licensed therapist.

Learn more about online MFT degrees.

What Does Marriage Therapy Include?

Marriage or couples therapy usually encompasses the following modes of treatment:

  • Identification ―Along with the couple, the therapist identifies a specific problem in the relationship, such as jealousy, control issues, or sexual concerns.
  • Development of treatment objectives — The therapist works with the couple to develop treatment goals and to establish the overall objectives for therapy.
  • Focuses on a solution — Couples therapy is a solution-based type of treatment that helps couples begin to modify their relationship upon the first appointment.

What Issues Does a Marriage Counselor Address?

Couples therapy can treat a wide variety of marital issues, and the therapist even can help prevent the potential for problems developing. Marriage counselors are trained to assist with the most common relationship concerns, including:

  • Communication ties for number one as the primary reason that couples seek counseling, according to Sean M. Horan, Ph.D., writing for “Psychology Today.” “Emotional affection” — an inclusive term for problems, not only with affection, but also with intimacy or the sexual relationship — ranks equally with communication issues as a top reason for going to a therapist.
  • “Tied for second place were ‘divorce/separation concerns’ and also ‘to improve the relationship,’” Dr. Horan adds.
  • Differences in expectations — Unmet expectations may lead one partner to feel as if individual needs are not being met. Counseling can help a couple discover ways to reconcile their differences.
  • Jealousy issues — Jealousy makes a relationship untenable for both partners.
  • Chronic health problems — Serious health concerns can cause stress in a relationship. Therapy can help couples learn ways to cope with poor health in one or both partners.
  • Mental health concerns — If one person in the relationship suffers from depression, anxiety, psychosis, or other mental health problems, it also affects their partner — and the relationship.
  • Substance abuse — Unresolved drug or alcohol issues can harm a relationship.
  • Conflict and anger problems — An acrimonious, antagonistic relationship is one of the biggest motivators for divorce. Therapy helps couples learn to more effectively manage their tempers and cope with dissent.
  • Improving relations with in-laws — Outside parties (including, not only in-laws, but friends, other relatives, and former spouses) who inflict their demands on the couple or their opinions about the relationship can exert stress on the relationship.
  • Money problems — Relationships can underscore a couple’s different approaches to handling money. One partner may blame the other, which may result in feelings of discord and resentment. Counseling can help the couple better cope with stress related to money issues and find ways to work together to solve financial difficulties.
  • Parenting — Many couples do not agree on the best way to parent their children. Parenting issues lead to disagreements and contention.
  • Job loss — Loss of a job can make the partner experience guilt, anxiety, and depression, all of which affect the relationship. In addition, the other partner, as the sole provider, may feel resentment, anger, and stress.

What to Expect From Marriage Counseling: Goals and Expectations

Couples usually begin their first counseling session by completing paperwork and answering questions about their relationship. Sometimes called the “intake” session, at this time, the counselor will typically discuss privacy practices, sessions’ fees or insurance information, and rights and responsibilities. The counselor may request that the couples complete an assessment or ask questions about their relationship and their expectations or goals for therapy. Some of the common areas explored during the first session include:

  • History of the relationship
  • Nature of the problems
  • Cultural background or family-of-origin information
  • Values

In addition, if the couple is currently experiencing a crisis, the counselor may provide immediate crisis intervention to help stabilize the situation.

After the initial assessment, the therapist assists the couple in identifying their goals for therapy and detailing the structure of the sessions. The therapist may also explain the theoretical or therapeutic process. Then, the actual treatment phase of therapy will begin.

During the active treatment phase of therapy, the couple works on the problem areas that they have identified as their focus. The therapist will help the couple understand their roles in their maladaptive interactions and find a healthier way to interact with each other. Many therapists assign therapeutic “homework” for the couples to complete outside of the therapy sessions. Working on these assignments helps the couple learn to apply and practice the skills they have learned at therapy during their day-to-day interactions with each other.

Is Marriage Counseling Effective?

Marriage and couples counseling is effective. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, couples therapy enjoys a high rate of satisfaction. Data compiled from actual couples who have participated in marriage counseling support this rating: More than 98 percent report they were extremely satisfied with the experience.

The degree to which the therapy is successful depends on many factors. Sometimes, a partner has already mentally and emotionally abandoned the relationship and decided to end the marriage. Some of the factors that can influence the effectiveness of couples’ therapy include:

  • Each partner’s dedication to therapy and motivation to change ― To achieve success, both partners must be motivated to change.
  • The degree to which the maladaptive patterns are ingrained into the relationship ― The couple must be able to change their deeply ingrained patterns of interacting with each other. Some couples simply cannot or will not change.
  • Ongoing substance abuse and mental illness ― If one of the partners has untreated substance abuse or mental illness issues, then that partner must adhere to a treatment plan to resolve relationship issues successfully.
  • Domestic violence —Domestic violence issues between the partners must be treated for marital therapy to be useful.

As is evident, marriage or couples counseling is an effective way for couples of all kinds to reduce or resolve conflict in their relationship and, at the same time, learn new skills to help them interact with each other in positive, adaptive ways. Completing marriage counseling often helps couples strengthen their relationship and build a solid foundation for their future together.