top of page

Marriage and Couples Counseling: What You Need to Know

Updated: Jul 3


Navigating the complexities of a relationship can be challenging, and sometimes, even the strongest partnerships need a little support. That's where marriage and couples counseling comes into play. Whether you're encountering communication hurdles, intimacy issues, or just need some guidance on managing day-to-day conflicts, marriage and couples counseling can provide the tools and insights needed to foster a healthier, more satisfying partnership.


What to Expect in Marriage and Couples Counseling

Initial Assessment:

Your counseling journey will typically begin with an initial assessment where the therapist gets to know you and your partner, understanding the unique dynamics of your relationship. This session is crucial as it sets the groundwork for future sessions and allows the therapist to tailor their approach to your specific needs.


Regular Sessions:

Counseling sessions are usually scheduled weekly and last about an hour. During these sessions, you and your partner will explore the roots of your conflicts, communicate openly in a mediated environment, goal setting, and start working on resolving issues with the guidance of your counselor.


Homework Assignments:

Many therapists give homework assignments that help couples apply what they've learned in therapy to their daily interactions. These might include communication exercises, reading materials, or reflective practices.


relationship session

What to Understand About Marriage and Couples Counseling

It’s a Commitment:

Engaging in marriage and couples counseling requires a commitment not just to attend the sessions but to actively participate and implement the strategies discussed. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and the success of counseling often depends on the dedication of both partners to the process.


It Can Be Uncomfortable:

Discussing intimate details of your relationship and confronting personal flaws can be uncomfortable and even painful. It’s important to understand that feeling vulnerable is part of the healing process in therapy.


Therapist’s Role:

A couples therapist acts as a mediator and guide but not a judge. Their role is to facilitate better communication and understanding between you and your partner, not to take sides or decide who is right or wrong.



What Works in Marriage and Couples Counseling

Communication Techniques:

Effective communication is often at the heart of successful couples counseling. Therapists frequently teach techniques such as active listening, expressing needs without accusations, and using "I" statements instead of "you" statements to reduce defensiveness.


Empathy Development:

Building empathy is another crucial aspect that works well in counseling. When partners begin to truly understand and empathize with each other’s feelings, it can transform their interactions and lead to deeper intimacy and connection.


Conflict Resolution Skills:

Counselors provide tools for managing and resolving conflicts in a constructive way. Learning how to approach disagreements without escalation can significantly improve relationship satisfaction.

                According to the Gottman’s Research, they found that 69% of problems that couples face are perpetual problems. A perpetual problem is one that recurs or is difficult to solve. Meaning the majority of relationship conflicts are not resolved. What matters is the affect of these unsolvable problems and how they are discussed. By creating a goal of acceptance from a place of understanding, not to be confused with agreement, to turn towards with affection and amusement to cope with the unsolvable problem, rather then falling back into the condition of gridlock and continuing the cycle. 


What Doesn’t Work in Marriage and Couples Counseling

Resistance to Change:

One of the biggest obstacles in any form of counseling is resistance from one or both partners. When individuals are unwilling to reflect on their behaviors and make changes, therapy is unlikely to be successful.


Lack of Transparency:

Withholding information or feelings from the therapist or from each other can hinder the effectiveness of counseling. Full transparency is needed to truly tackle the issues at hand.


Expecting Quick Fixes:

Some couples enter counseling with the expectation that the therapist will quickly solve their problems for them. However, real change requires time and effort from both partners.

Successful Couple


Key Strategies for Success in Marriage and Couples Counseling

Setting Clear Goals:

One of the key strategies for successful counseling is to have clear, achievable goals. These goals should be agreed upon by both partners and can include things like improving communication, rebuilding trust, or enhancing intimacy.


Consistency and Perseverance:

Being consistent with therapy sessions and persistently working on relationship issues outside of therapy are critical for success. Regularly reflecting on progress and setbacks with your therapist can help adjust the approach as needed.


Openness to Feedback:

Being open to feedback, both from your-partner and your therapist, can facilitate personal growth and relationship improvements. It’s essential for both partners to be receptive to constructive criticism.


Client Example: John and Lisa’s Story

John and Lisa entered counseling after five years of marriage due to escalating conflicts and a breakdown in communication. Initially, Lisa was hesitant about therapy, fearing it was a sign of their marriage failing. However, after a few sessions focused on enhancing their communication skills and understanding each other's perspectives, they started to notice improvements.

Their therapist worked with them on active listening exercises and taught them how to express their feelings without blaming each name calling, utilizing principles from Dr. John Gottman's methods of building a "Sound Relationship House," which emphasizes mutual respect and understanding (Gottman & Silver, 1999). Homework assignments included date nights designed to rebuild intimacy and weekly sessions to openly discuss grievances in a structured manner.

As they practiced these new skills, John and Lisa found that they were not only arguing less, but they were also feeling closer and more connected than they had in years. The therapy provided them with the tools they needed to navigate their relationship's complexities more effectively.


Theoretical Contributions to Couples Counseling

Gottman’s Research:

Dr. John Gottman's research on relationship stability and divorce prediction has been pivotal in shaping modern approaches to couples therapy. His concept of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" describes communication styles that, according to his studies, can predict the end of a relationship: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (Gottman & Silver, 1999).


Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)

Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

With Gottman Therapy some areas there may be focus on is the Four horsemen (as mentioned above), identifying patterns, use of antidotes, turning towards, Bids for connection, how to communicate in a soft way, and better understanding of inner realities.


Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) by Sue Johnson:

Sue Johnson's development of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) has also significantly influenced couples counseling. EFT is based on attachment theory and focuses on creating and strengthening emotional bonds between partners by addressing patterns that lead to distress and disconnection (Johnson, 2004).

                Some examples of this are: Understanding negative patterns, uncovering deeper emotions that underly their reactions, discussing fears and needs with understanding, and effective communication in softer ways.

Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT) by Andrew Christensen and Neil S. Jacobson:

This approach has demonstrated effectiveness in helping couples significantly improve their relationships by encouraging acceptance of one another's differences (Christensen & Jacobson, 2000).

                Some things to work through would be understanding and accepting differences, role play response exercise, and respecting perspectives with a common goal.


New Monogamy Approach by Dr. Tammy Nelson:

Dr. Tammy Nelson introduces a groundbreaking perspective on relationship dynamics with her New Monogamy approach, which redefines traditional views on monogamous relationships, especially after infidelity. Her methodology emphasizes the importance of creating explicit agreements between partners about what monogamy means to them, allowing for greater clarity, transparency, and adaptability in the relationship. This approach addresses modern relationship issues by acknowledging and structuring the flexibility that partners might need to rebuild trust and redefine their connection post-crisis (Nelson, 2008).

                Key areas for infidelity would include: explicitly defining their expectations and boundaries, exploring beliefs and assumptions, transparency and communication, accountability, and rebuilding trust with new agreements.


These foundational approaches and methodologies provide diverse tools and perspectives that can be tailored to meet the unique needs of couples, facilitating deeper understanding, improved communication, and stronger emotional connections in relationships.


Let’s face it, this day and age we have to deal with even more in life, which adds to life stressors, marriage and couples counseling can be a transformative experience for partners willing to invest in their relationship's growth. By understanding what to expect, embracing the counseling process, and utilizing effective communication and empathy-building strategies, couples can enhance their connection and resolve conflicts. Therapies grounded in the work of researchers like Gottman, Johnson, and Christensen provide a strong foundation for couples looking to deepen their relationship in a meaningful way.



- Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Crown Publishing Group.

- Johnson, S. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy: Creating Connection. Brunner-Routledge.

- Christensen, A., & Jacobson, N. S. (2000). Reconcilable Differences. Guilford Press.

- Nelson, T. (2008). The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. New Harbinger Publications.

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page