What Is Marriage Counseling? Here Are All the Not-So-Scary Facts

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What Is Marriage Counseling
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Erin Celletti
Erin Celletti
Erin Celletti
Erin Celletti
The Knot Contributor
  • Erin is a freelance contributor to The Knot and loves creating lifestyle, travel, beauty, relationships and commerce content.
  • In addition to writing for The Knot, Erin contributes to a wide range of publications including The Everygirl, The Everymom, Scary Mommy, Romper, Bustle and Brides.
  • Erin lives just outside of New York City, has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and two Master’s degrees in Education and Administ...
Updated Nov 30, 2023

Okay, okay: So we know this is not an Internet search you want to do—but if you're wondering just what is marriage counseling, rest assured that you're not alone. And the thing is: Marriage counseling doesn't have to equate to a relationship in trouble. It can help you and your partner prevent problems and better your communication before issues even arise.

But how does marriage counseling work? And what is discussed in marriage counseling, anyway? Below, we explore what is marriage counseling along with licensed marriage and family therapist Julia Purcaro.

Here are all the not-so-scary facts and benefits of marriage counseling.

In this article:

What Is Marriage Counseling?

When you're not feeling well, you go to the doctor for an assessment and hopefully, a solution. When your car is acting up, you go to the mechanic—even your household appliances have repair programs and warranties. But what about your marriage?

Think of marriage counseling as professional intervention for when you're going through a rough patch, or have identified areas within your relationship that you'd like to strengthen or improve. (You can also seek out marriage counseling proactively and there doesn't have to be something wrong for there to be areas of improvement.)

Marriage and family therapy can be led by a licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselor with special training. They can be independently practicing, in a private practice, online or available through community centers and groups.

What Are the Different Types of Marriage Counseling?

Since there's no one-size-fits-all approach to relationships, "there are many different evidenced-based theoretical approaches utilized in marriage counseling," says Julia Purcaro.

Some of the most used approaches are:

  • The Gottman Method: An approach that includes nine research-based characteristics.
  • Imago: A form of couples counseling designed to help confront and problem-solve misunderstandings, conflict and communication deficits.
  • Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: Also known as EFT, this approach has a strong focus on the emotional bonds a couple shares.
  • Structural Couples Therapy: Aptly named, this form of marriage counseling focuses on the structure of a relationship, like an infrastructure's building blocks.

"Many marriage counselors utilize techniques from various approaches but there are also some who specialize in a specific theoretical model," Purcaro adds.

Who Is Marriage Counseling For?

You don't have to be in crisis or experiencing specific ups and downs to seek counseling: Marriage counseling can also help strengthen your relationship and bond, and provide you with the tools you need for any future hiccups or storms.

According to Purcaro, marriage counseling's various uses include the following:

  • Couples who are experiencing ongoing conflict or are feeling stuck in their relationship.
  • Couples who are going through a major life transition and want assistance to work as a team through difficult times.
  • Those who are co-parenting.
  • Those who are unsure if they want to remain in their relationship.

What Are the Benefits of Marriage Counseling?

There are so many benefits of marriage counseling, but there is no guaranteed outcome. Every couple goes into marriage counseling with different goals and hopes, along with different problems and areas they'd like to strengthen.

Generally, marriage counseling can result in:

  • Improved communication and communication techniques
  • Conflict resolution strategies
  • Revived intimacy
  • Breaking unhealthy patterns or tendencies
  • Learning more about your partner and discovering new things about your marriage
  • Repairing and rebuilding trust
  • How to best support one another through life's transitions

Does Marriage Counseling Have Any Cons?

Marriage counseling involves work on both sides. As Purcaro explains, "Marriage counseling can be extremely challenging or ineffective if one partner is unwilling to fully engage in the process." Additionally, if one or both partners are abusing substances or experiencing significant mental health symptoms, you may require further intervention.

Also of note: "If the couple is only seeking therapy to have a third party 'agree' with them or tell them the other partner is 'wrong'," then it isn't grounds for counseling to work," Purcaro adds.

What Is Discussed in Marriage Counseling?

Because it is so multifaceted, pretty much anything is open for discussion in marriage counseling. "During the initial sessions, the therapist will work with the couple to identify their goals for therapy," Purcaro explains. "From there, they will utilize therapeutic interventions to assist the couple in reaching their goals."

Some goals in marriage counseling might include improved emotional connection, sex and intimacy, co-parenting, unhealthy attachment issues and more.

How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor

Thanks to the good 'ole internet, finding a quality marriage counselor is easier than ever. But remember, finding the right fit for you and your partner might take a few sit-downs before finding someone you really click with.

To find a marriage counselor, Purcaro recommends starting your search online. She says you can visit sites like PsychologyToday.com and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, as well as your insurance company's database, to search for mental health professionals in your area. "If you see a therapist for individual therapy, they can also provide referrals to a couple's therapist," she also adds.

Though reaching out for help may be difficult and requires vulnerability, Purcaro reminds, "it can be extremely beneficial—especially when both partners are committed to be open and engaged during the process."

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