6 Things You MUST Know To Make Marriage Counseling Work

marriage counseling

Many people consider going to marriage or couples counseling at some point during the course of their relationship. Sadly, marriage counseling has a questionable success rate. This is for a variety of reasons that can be mitigated when you understand the following facts about this type of therapy. 

1. Marriage counseling is quite different than individual counseling.
This is because marriage counseling deals with problems within the "system" and dynamic of the couple. The focus is more on the interaction or "process" between the two people, not just the problem or issue (known as "content").

Some therapists are highly trained in marriage and family systems, particularly Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT). Therapists in essence, are "process consultants" helping couples restructure their relationship.

It is important to choose a therapist who is well-trained in this specialty as opposed to a "generalist." Most therapists will take a neutral and unbiased stance toward each of you and in essence, the relationship itself becomes the client.  

2. Couples don't always realize that they really need professional intervention to help them.
So many of us try the same solution over and over to try to solve a problem or simply go on ignoring it. However, in relationships, people should seek counseling if they find that there is a high degree of distress, difficulty communicating, general dissatisfaction or a lack of connection.

Some issues creating problems are often around mistrust, betrayal, infidelity, sexual dissatisfaction, parenting disagreements, finances, or difficulties with in-laws or other extended family members.

It may be needed for any number of reasons! Sometimes it is long-standing negative patterns of interaction or a particular issue that becomes too hard to tackle between the two of you. 

3. Most couples are reluctant to try marriage counseling. 
This may be for a range of reasons, including stigma, shame, embarrassment or difficulty taking responsibility for the problems in the relationship.

Many partners blame the other person for the problems they are experiencing together, but, with rare exceptions (i.e. abuse), most therapists completely stay out of the "blame game" or "who started it" and look at the interface between the two people.

Some people may also have misconceptions about what is involved in couple's therapy and anticipate a negative experience when often times it is just the opposite.

Frequently, it is one individual in the relationship who is unwilling to come in for couple's therapy, which, regrettably, puts the kibosh on pursuing this opportunity for growth. 

4. Marriage counseling can help couples grow, thrive and communicate better.

Therapy can help the couple view their relationship from a different perspective, change dysfunctional behavior, develop a more secure connection and romantic bond, acknowledge their strengths (not just their problems) and improve communication.

When couples learn how to de-escalate conflict and find their way out of a toxic pattern of interaction, they can heal, grow and communicate with each other regardless of the subject matter. 

5. Certain factors help marriage counseling have a better outcome.

Marriage counseling works best when the couple comes in early when problems are beginning to arise and not waiting too long.

It's also most successful when there is still a lot of love, hope for the relationship and motivation for treatment, despite the distress they may be experiencing.

It's also works best when each partner remains open to other's point of view in session and doesn't get defensive.

The couple should also be willing to follow the guidance the therapist is providing. Both should be in agreement on the choice of therapist that you feel comfortable with.    

6. Some couples should NOT try marriage counseling.

Marriage counseling is not advised when there is violence or abuse in the relationship.

A history of abuse is counterproductive to the process of building trust during sessions. It is also not advised when one partner is coerced or threatened in some way to attend treatment.

You'll end up just spinning your wheels if both people aren't motivated to work on the marriage. There are other therapeutic options for these circumstances that frequently do not involve working with the couple together.

I would encourage any couple in distress to give therapy an honest and whole-hearted try. It may not work for everyone, and sometimes the best solution is for the couple to part ways. Regardless, you will be better off knowing that you truly did everything possible to save your marriage.

Is your marriage in trouble? Marni Feuerman is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) and highly trained in couples counseling. Learn more at