How Does Marriage Counseling Actually Work? 6 Things Couples Needs To Know Before They Go

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husband and wife in marriage counseling
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All married couples make a lifelong vow to each other without truly knowing what the future holds.

Most people are never taught how to be in a healthy relationship let alone raise a family or grow side by side with another person for decades while also managing to stay in love.

This is probably why more and more couples are asking themselves “does marriage counseling work and how can it help us?”

Behavioral-neuroscience research shows us that you will get better at whatever you practice. Play the piano, you will improve over time. If you argue a lot, you and your partner will become experts at discord.

Conversely, if you and your spouse work on your relationship and marriage in positive ways, you can live a fulfilling and peaceful life together for years to come. Let’s discuss some of the most common questions that people ask about couples’ therapy.

RELATED: 20 Reasons You May Need Marriage Counseling

How does marriage counseling work for struggling couples?

First, let’s define Marriage Counseling. Marriage therapy or counseling is a process that you and your partner engage in to determine how to improve your relationship, enhance family dynamics, or determine if the marriage should continue.

Most licensed marriage and family therapy providers assess the relationship and then teach the couple new skills. This can be done over the course of weeks or as an intensive retreat experience.

Couples who begin marriage counseling should expect to learn ways to improve their relationship and be prepared to discuss topics of sex, race, communication, and trauma or stress. This means that you will have difficult conversations, but the therapist is there to help mediate and monitor the emotions during sessions.

6 common questions about whether marriage counseling can work for you

1. What is the success rate of couples counseling?

On average, 70% of couples that go to marriage therapy report improvements in their marriage. Some styles of therapy such as emotion-focused therapy, Gottman therapy, or imago offer slightly different statistics, but the average falls within this range.

This begs the question about what happens to the other 30%. There are some couples that end up getting divorced after trying couples counseling, but this might also be considered a success in certain cases.

If a couple gets married for the wrong reasons or they drift apart from each other for the right reasons, then it might actually be beneficial for each individual to separate. 

2. Is it worth going to marriage counseling?

Probably. Many people enter marriage counseling to improve their relationship or determine if their marriage should continue (known as discernment counseling). In either scenario, if you are motivated and open to the process, marriage counseling can be very helpful.

If both spouses are not open to change, then therapy is less likely to help. It's also important to consider that any couple can use therapy. Preventative, reparative, or explorative couples work can help almost every relationship grow stronger.

Consider writing down a list of goals or dreams for your marriage, and ask yourself if those are worth spending a few hours to achieve?

3. How long does it take for marriage counseling to work?

The truth is it depends on many factors including the skill of the therapist, the trust both spouses have in that professional, and whether or not the couple is open to change.

Some couples report seeing significant improvements in a single weekend intensive, while others require weeks of ongoing therapy.

As a general rule, if you are not satisfied with your therapy experience after 3-5 sessions, you should discuss that with your provider in order to assess the future therapy plan. Consider finding a counselor that is a better fit or who has different training such as those affiliated with the American Association For Marriage and Family Therapy.

RELATED: What Makes A Great Marriage Therapist? 9 Traits Of A Great Counselor

4. Can marriage counselors make things worse?

Contrary to some opinions, absolutely. Unfortunately, some couples report feeling more distant after a session or experience more arguments and disconnection between therapy visits. This is often because either the therapist is not well trained, or the couple is sabotaging their therapy.

It's important to evaluate the progress in couples therapy every few visits to make sure everyone agrees on the goals and has a common vision of where the treatment is heading.

5. How do I know if couples therapy is working? 

The best way to assess the effectiveness of couples therapy is using a classic pre and post-analysis. Think of a goal for your marriage. Write it down. Describe the situation before therapy with as much detail as possible.

Then describe the situation and experience after a few therapy sessions. Some goals will take more time than others, but there should be a general sense of improvement as therapy continues.

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If you feel stuck, it might be an indication the goal is too vague, too large, or that the therapy or therapist is not working well. It might also be an indication of your personal level of engagement in the process.

6. How much does marriage therapy cost?

There is a wide range of costs in the field of couples therapy. Many therapists take insurance, so your fee might be as little as a copay. However, more and more well-trained couples therapists are opting for private pay only.

The fees for these sessions range on average between $100 and $300 for a weekly in-person or online therapy session with the more expensive services generally being in larger cities.

If you are looking for a couples retreat, there are just as many varieties. You could spend as little as $500 or as much as $15,000 for a well-trained couple's therapist. Ultimately, you and your spouse should determine how much money you can afford, and what your marriage is worth to both of you.

The average cost of a wedding in the US is about $30,000. Divorce often costs tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the therapy bills for children afterward and the emotional distress for all involved. The long-term investment in your marriage is likely worth the short-term cost.

Marriage counseling can help many couples prevent or repair stress in their relationships. However not all therapy or therapists are equally able to provide this service, nor is every couple ready to enter therapy and reap the reward.

If you are thinking of engaging in couples therapy, start by making a list of your goals. Discuss those with your partner, and share with them if you want professional guidance as you work to make positive changes.

Keep in mind that it can take some time to find the right person to help you both, and remind yourself that a few hours of your time is well worth a lifetime of peace and fulfillment.

RELATED: How To Be Married For 50 Truly Happy Years

Dr. David Helfand is the Owner & Founder of LifeWise, LLC as well as a Relaxation and Relationship Psychologist. For more information on his services, visit his website.