What is Couples Counseling, and Does it Actually Work?
In a world of Instagram-perfect power couples and Disney fairytales, it might feel easier to ignore relationship problems and hope for the best.
But when communication breaks down and trust is broken, sometimes the best thing you can do is speak to a couple’s counselor.
Also known as a couples therapist or marriage counselor, couples counselors act as unbiased third parties, guiding couples through whatever issues they may be facing—often with satisfactory results.
According to the American Psychological Association, couples counseling boasts an effectiveness rating of 75%.
Another report by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) documents positive results: Over 98% of clients who attended therapy described their experience as “good” or “excellent” with overall improvements to their work, home, and romantic lives.
Given the right counselor and a willing partner, the same is possible for you.
Here’s everything you need to know about couples counseling, why you might need it, and how to get help.
How to Tell If You Need Couples or Marriage Counseling
As mental health professionals, licensed marriage counselors and couples therapists can tackle a variety of issues.
Although no client is the same, most clients share difficulties your counselor can provide insight on.
Whether this is through emotionally-focused couples therapy (also called EFT, a popular branch of psychotherapy) or the Gottman Method, a trained professional can employ skills and exercises to pinpoint the root of your problems.
Some common reasons for couples counseling include:
- You’ve grown apart.
Many healthy relationships slow down and fall into a routine, but this can sometimes lead to an emotional and/or physical distance. This may be due to work, kids, or other priorities.
- One of you is considering divorce.
Many married couples turn to couples counseling after reaching a crossroads in their marriage. One of you may be considering divorce, while the other wants to work things out.
- Someone or both of you have been unfaithful.
Infidelity is understandably difficult to move on from. If one or both of you have been unfaithful, counseling may be the only way to heal old and new wounds.
- There are financial issues that strain your relationship.
According to research, married couples tend to fight more about money than any other marital issue. This can also apply to unmarried couples who either share a home or depend on each other financially.
- You can never seem to agree and always argue.
Can Couples Counseling Ever Fail?
Couples counseling isn’t a magical cure.
Like any form of psychotherapy, couples counseling is an applied science that yields different results for different couples. Multiple factors will determine its overall effectiveness.
In other words, while one method may not work for you and your partner, another might.
Just as in your relationship, there will be a reasonable amount of trial and error. And while counseling may not “fail,” certain challenges will make it harder to be effective.
Some of these challenges include:
If one person is unwilling or completely closed off to the idea of counseling:
Marriage counseling works best if both participants are willing. If one person is emotionally closed off or against any kind of conflict resolution during counseling, it’ll be harder to improve your relationship.
This also applies to unmarried couples. Research shows that couples who attend premarital counseling and iron out their issues before tying the knot have a higher chance of a successful marriage than those who do not.
If there is an ongoing affair or infidelity:
Positive changes are more likely to happen if one or both participants is completely invested in the relationship. An ongoing affair will only impede this.
If there is addiction or substance abuse involved:
Addiction is a serious problem that requires dedicated care. If one or both partners are not receiving treatment for their substance abuse, it may be better to focus on your respective mental and physical wellness before your relationship.
If there is physical abuse involved:
Abuse is never okay. If your partner is physically abusive, couples counseling may not be the method to rehabilitate them. This is a change they must make on their own, and your safety should be your number one priority.
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, you can reach out to the helplines listed here.
If there is crime involved:
Psychotherapy is confidential, with some exceptions. If criminal activity is involved, there is no excuse for actively endangering you or your partner’s well-being. Serious criminal activity may be outside the bounds of what can be simply fixed or resolved in a counseling session.
What to Expect in Couples Counseling
The point of couples counseling is not to repair your relationship in a single session but to lay down the foundation for new methods of learning and communication between you and your partner. To be as effective as possible, counseling sessions tend to have an overarching objective in mind.
To help you prepare, here is a general outline of what you can expect while in counseling:
Your first session will be all about you and your partner: where you met, how long you’ve been together, and what you hope to gain from counseling. Your counselor may also outline their methods and what you can expect from their expertise.
Reveal basic information about the relationship:
After introductions have been made, you will be asked basic information about your relationship. This may seem unimportant, but your counselor will gain a clearer understanding of your relationship, personalities, and why you two clash on certain subjects.
Get to the root of problems:
Once your counselor has basic insight into your relationship, they will begin asking deeper questions such as when you started having problems and how you’ve dealt with them so far.
If you’re having intimacy issues, they may ask questions about your sex life. Though this might initially be uncomfortable, remember counseling is a safe space, and your counselor isn’t here to judge you or your partner.
Determine specific goals:
Early into and throughout your therapy sessions, you and your counselor will chart out goals for your relationship. Together, you may work on improved problem-solving, empathetic listening, and how to self-soothe after arguments.
Learn new communication skills and resolution strategies:
During counseling, you will learn new skills and practice exercises. It may take several sessions to sink in, but by applying what you’ve learned at home, you and your partner will communicate better than before.
Regain balance in the relationship:
As you develop a greater understanding of each other’s needs and learn how to resolve conflict, you may begin to feel like you’re “back on track.” The balance will have been restored in your relationship and you’ll feel more like equals.
Effective Online Couples Counseling with Emote
For counseling to be effective, both you and your partner need to be committed—but between missed appointments, scheduling conflicts, and months-long waitlists, counseling isn’t practical for everyone.
At Emote, we offer a convenient and effective solution.
No need to drive downtown for an appointment when you and your partner can hop on a video chat session in your living room. For immediate assistance, text your therapist and get input as soon as conflicts arise, rather than days or weeks later.
With Emote, you’re not alone.
Get started today, and your first week with us will only cost $35. After that, you’re free to select any one of our affordable subscriptions for you and your partner.