What you can expect

Marriage counseling typically brings couples or partners together for joint therapy sessions. Working with a therapist, you'll learn skills to solidify your relationship, such as:

  • Open communication
  • Problem-solving
  • How to discuss differences rationally

You'll talk about the good and bad parts of your relationship as you pinpoint and better understand the sources of your conflicts. Together you'll learn how to identify problems without blame and instead examine how things can be improved.

Here are some things to keep in mind when considering marriage counseling:

  • It might be hard to talk about your problems with the counselor. Sessions might pass in silence as you and your partner remain angry over perceived wrongs — or you might yell or argue during sessions. Both are OK. Your therapist can act as a referee and help you cope with the resulting emotions.
  • You can go by yourself. If your partner refuses to attend marriage counseling sessions, you can still attend. It's more challenging to mend a relationship this way, but you can benefit by learning more about your reactions and behavior.
  • Therapy is often short term. Some people need only a few sessions of marriage counseling, while others need it for several months. The specific treatment plan will depend on your situation. Sometimes, marriage counseling helps couples discover that their differences truly are irreconcilable and that it's best to end the relationship. Sessions can then focus on skills for ending the relationship on good terms.
  • You might have homework. Your counselor might suggest communication exercises at home to help you practice what you've learned during your session. For example, talking face-to-face to with your partner for a few minutes every day about nonstressful things — without any interruptions from TVs, phones or children.
  • You or your partner might need additional care. If one of you is coping with mental illness, substance abuse or other issues, your therapist might work with other health care providers to provide more complete treatment.

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. Sometimes taking the first step by admitting the relationship needs help is the hardest part. Most individuals find the experience to be insightful and empowering.

Nov. 04, 2017
References
  1. Marriage and family therapists: The friendly mental health professionals. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. http://www.aamft.org/imis15/content/Consumer_Updates/Marriage_and_Family_Therapists.aspx. Accessed Sept. 18, 2017.
  2. Marital distress. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/Content/Consumer_Updates/Marital_Distress.aspx. Accessed Sept. 18, 2017.
  3. Domestic violence. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/Content/Consumer_Updates/Domestic_Violence.aspx. Accessed Sept. 17, 2017.
  4. Marriage preparation. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/Content/Consumer_Updates/Marriage_Preparation.aspx. Accessed Sept. 17, 2017.
  5. Sadock BJ, et al., eds. Psychotherapies. In: Kaplan & Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Wolters Kluwer; 2017.
  6. Voigt BR (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 29, 2017.

Marriage counseling