What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Marriage counseling typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. Working with a therapist, you'll learn skills to solidify your relationship. These skills might include communicating openly, solving problems together and discussing differences rationally. You'll analyze both the good and bad parts of your relationship as you pinpoint and better understand the sources of your conflicts.

Talking about your problems with a marriage counselor might not be easy. Sessions might pass in silence as you and your partner seethe over perceived wrongs — or you might bring your fights with you, perhaps even yelling or arguing during sessions. Both are OK. Your therapist can act as mediator or referee and help you cope with the resulting emotions and turmoil.

If you or your partner is coping with mental illness, substance abuse or other issues, your therapist might work with other health care providers to provide a complete spectrum of treatment.

If your partner refuses to attend marriage counseling sessions, you can go by yourself. It's more challenging to mend a relationship when only one partner is willing to go to therapy, but you can still benefit by learning more about your reactions and behavior in the relationship.

Marriage counseling is often short term. You might need only a few sessions to help you weather a crisis — or you might need marriage counseling for several months, particularly if your relationship has greatly deteriorated. The specific treatment plan will depend on the situation. In some cases, marriage counseling helps couples discover that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it's best to end the relationship.

Making the decision to go to marriage counseling can be tough. If you have a troubled relationship, however, seeking help is more effective than ignoring your problems or hoping they get better on their own.

Nov. 19, 2011