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I. What’s it like to get marriage counseling?

All couples will experience some form of conflict. But when you and your partner cannot discuss and resolve these conflicts on your own, marriage counseling may provide space to work through them.

Couples may try counseling for any issue they feel they can’t resolve by themselves, but there are some common reasons why they might seek help. If you and your partner disagree on finances, sex, parenting, friends, lifestyle choices or any other issue that’s causing you stress, it might be time to try therapy. If you’ve recently experienced a tragedy, such as the death of a loved one, and you’re having trouble dealing with it, a trained therapist may help. Couples dealing with an extramarital affair, substance abuse, PTSD, mental health issues or a major life change may benefit from marriage counseling. When it seems like you can’t resolve problems on your own, it might be time to get help.

There aren’t any restrictions on why you might try marriage counseling. Even the best marriages have rocky patches and can benefit from some professional help. When communication with your partner is difficult, a marriage counselor can provide a neutral space to speak openly and honestly. If the discussions you’re having at home always become negative, counseling could help establish productive conversations. Marriage counselors employ numerous talk and behavioral therapies to help couples improve communication and overcome the problems hurting their relationship.

II. How to find a marriage counselor

Finding a helpful counselor near you is an important task, but don’t let the process daunt you. It’s beneficial to interview several therapists before deciding whose services to use. This can be as simple as a phone call or as in-depth as a trial session. It’s important to find a therapist that you and your partner will be comfortable talking to about highly sensitive, potentially intimate problems in your relationship.

Many couples feel more comfortable talking to someone their own age, while others prefer older therapists. If you’re in a same-sex relationship, you will want an affirming counselor who understands your identity. Some therapists focus on faith-based principles and value systems, which may or may not mesh with your personal beliefs. It’s vital to learn all about a potential therapist’s viewpoints to ensure you will feel at ease with them.

Every state requires marriage and family therapists to hold advanced degrees and an official license. Prospective therapists must pass a state-recognized exam to ensure they’re qualified to provide counseling services. Do your research to learn the specific licensing requirements in your state and turn to the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards to find a licensed marriage counselor near you.

Although you don’t want to use cost as your sole criteria, the counselor’s fee is often a factor you can’t ignore. Marriage counselors typically charge by the session, which usually lasts for sixty to ninety minutes. Session costs can fluctuate significantly based on a therapist’s education, experience and location. Prices can range anywhere from $75 to $250 or more. Some counselors offer a sliding fee scale. Most standard health insurance policies won’t cover marriage counseling, but some will under the mental health coverage section. However, this doesn’t mean every therapist accepts insurance from your provider. You should verify they do before moving forward.

III. What does a marriage counselor help with?

Couples who seek marriage counseling may do so for a wide variety of reasons and often have multiple relationship issues to address. Common marital or relationship problems include:

  • Trust issues: Losing trust puts a major strain on relationships, and trust issues can stem from all sorts of situations, such as lying, cheating, keeping secrets, etc.
  • Communication issues: Communication is key in a healthy relationship. Symptoms of poor communication might include constant arguments.
  • Money matters: Money is often the root of many arguments, especially if partners have different spending styles and/or different views on how to save for the future.
  • Infidelity: The breach of trust caused by infidelity can be difficult to overcome without a counselor’s help.
  • Children: Having children changes the dynamics of a relationship, and couples may disagree on how to raise them.

IV. How can you prepare for marriage counseling?

Before you begin marriage counseling, ensure you and your partner are ready to address your problems with honesty. Counseling can be challenging, uncomfortable and emotionally painful as you might discuss intimate issues you’ve never talked about before. In some cases, one or both of you may be revealing things you’ve never even shared with each other. You should be prepared for the time and emotion involved in each session. Take a moment to consider the issues causing you stress and be ready to discuss them openly.

V. What are marriage counseling treatments?

Marriage counselors utilize many different forms of therapy as treatment. Your counselor may employ one or more of these therapies based on the specific type(s) of relationship issues you and your partner face. Common forms of relationship therapy include:

Behavioral couples therapy

Behavioral couples therapy (BCT) works to form boundaries and rules to overcome relationship stress. BCT helps couples develop communication, problem-solving and emotional regulation skills to understand what’s mutually considered a fair relationship.

Emotionally-Focused couples therapy

Emotionally-focused couples therapy targets conflict resulting from individual insecurities. The goal is to help couples understand their insecurities and modify their emotional responses to promote a secure emotional bond.

Couple-Based cognitive-behavioral therapy

Couple-based cognitive-behavioral therapy promotes partner-assisted responses to issues like PTSD, OCD or other mental disorders. It teaches techniques to enhance communication, focus on positive experiences, set couple-specific goals and choose rewarding activities for both partners. The objective is to overcome issues related to trust, physical intimacy, and emotional closeness.

Hope and forgiveness-focused therapy

The goal of hope-focused therapy is to confront irrational beliefs and provide an optimistic view of change. This can strengthen your relationship and lead to emotional security. Forgiveness therapy directly focuses on relieving anger and feelings of resentment by targeting the cause of conflict and directly addressing the issue.

VI. What else can help?

To be successful, both partners must be willing and committed to the entire process, which doesn’t stop when their therapy sessions end. A large part of marriage counseling includes work couples must do at home. Your counselor may ask you to do things as a couple that you don’t do anymore, such as going out on dates or performing intimacy exercises. You might be asked to keep a journal of your arguments and/or emotions to help you discover underlying issues that should be addressed. Lifestyle changes may be necessary to relieve stress that results in arguments.

VII. Sources

For additional information about marriage counseling, check out the sources we used in this guide.