Couples Counseling: What You Should Expect from Couples Counseling (2022)

What’s the secret to making a relationship work? Putting in the work, of course. Sometimes, that can mean that you need to seek therapy or some relationship counseling to resolve certain relationship issues between you and your partner.

If the idea of couples therapy brings to mind a couch with a couple on the brink of divorce arguing back and forth while a therapist tries to mitigate communication issues, it’s worth noting that couples therapy is not just for couples who are ready to call it quits.

In fact, at its best, couples counseling is a way to start working on solutions to issues that arise in a romantic relationship before they become so far gone that divorce or separation is on the table.

There’s also no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to couples (or even family) therapy. Like with traditional therapy and counseling, methods and styles used in couples therapy run the gamut and cater to the varying needs of couples.

This article will cover what couples therapy is, the ideal time to go to couples therapy, what to expect in couples therapy, and the variety of types of therapy offered to couples today.

What is couples counseling?

Couples counseling or couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy. In this practice, a licensed therapist who has a history of working with couples, such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), works with clients to understand the dynamics of their relationship, identify the pain points the couple is experiencing, and guide the couple to find happiness and resolution leveraging a variety of different methods.

In couples therapy, the therapist typically works with the couple to identify a problem that they want to work on. Then, the therapist asks each person to participate in the conversation about the relationship. Couples therapy aims to work toward solutions and necessary changes – not to blame or identify who’s at fault or issue punishments.

Typically in couples therapy, the goals of couples counseling are stated and talked about in each session, keeping both participants focused on the result they’d like to achieve.

What to expect in couples therapy or marriage and family therapists

Not sure what to expect in couples therapy? The first therapy session with a marriage counselor or licensed therapist is usually used to gather information. The couples therapist may ask questions regarding each person’s upbringing, clarifying each person’s core values and learning more about their cultural backgrounds.

(Video) What to Expect in Couples Counseling

Next, the couples therapist will ask questions and learn more about the problem or problems the couple has been experiencing, then select a key issue to start working on in the following sessions. The couples therapist will work with both partners to outline a plan for treatment moving forward and goals the couple should be working toward to achieve relationship satisfaction in each session eventually.

While counseling styles and approaches vary by the type of couples counseling chosen, a typical course of treatment in couples therapy involves identifying the dynamics and behaviors within the relationship that contribute to the relationship issues the couple would like to resolve.

The marriage counselor helps both partners to see their contribution and role in the relationship issues that have persisted, then helps partners understand how they can each change those behaviors to lead to greater relationship satisfaction.

At the end of each therapy session, the couple’s therapist may assign homework, which helps the couple work on communication skills and shift behaviors.

Who should go to couples therapy?

When you think of couples therapy, marriage counseling may come to mind specifically. However, couples therapy can benefit a wide variety of different types of relationships and the needs that they come with.

For example, some couples counselors specialize in working with LGBTQ+ partners. These individuals may benefit from working with a counselor who understands relationship dynamics and the challenges and experiences of LGBTQ+ partners.

Couples in interracial relationships may seek a couples therapist who can help them understand cultural differences. Relationships where a significant age gap exists may also need a third party in the form of a mental health professional. Young couples navigating relationships can benefit from the guidance of a mental health counselor as well.

But in reality, couples of any age and relationship stage can benefit from relationship therapy.

“Is my relationship bad enough to warrant couples therapy?” This is a common question couples may ask themselves at the early signs of trouble. In an ideal scenario, couples would have a therapist in mind — someone who they’ve maybe seen for counseling before tying the knot or even early on in the relationship before any dire disagreements occur.

(Video) What Should I Expect At My First Couples Counseling Session

Couples counseling can be beneficial at any stage. However, the earlier you seek the help of a mental health professional as a couple, the more likely a couple will be able to work on the relationship and resolve issues together.

It’s also worth pointing out that finding a couples therapist that feels comfortable for both people in the relationship can take some time. In fact, some couples may need to set appointments with a few different options before deciding which couples therapist they want to continue seeing. So, it may be beneficial to seek out a couples therapist or couples counselor earlier than later.

How to find a couples therapist

For some couples, finding the right couples therapist to work with can be challenging. Once you and your partner have decided that you both want to find a couples counselor, make a list of the most important factors to you when finding a couples therapist to work with.

Maybe your partner wants to find a couples therapist who is from a similar cultural background. Or, perhaps finding a couples therapist of a particular gender is more preferable and essential to one or both of you.

Once you and your partner are on the same page about the qualifications that are important to both of you in a couples counselor, see if there’s someone who may be able to refer you to someone great who fits these qualifications. Your primary care physician or individual therapist may know of someone who would be the right fit.

Sites like Psychology Today are also great resources for finding couples therapists in your area. You can even search by insurance to see if you can find a provider in your network.

Types of couples therapy

Like individual therapy, couples therapy can be conducted using different methods and practices depending on what your mental health professional decides is the right approach for you and your partner.

Here’s a look at some of the common types of couples therapy, their foundational principles and what to expect when choosing a couples therapist who uses them.

The Gottman Method

If you’re interested in psychology, you may have heard of Dr. John Gottman before. In his noteworthy book The 7 Principles of Making Marriage Work, Gottman leverages his mathematical background to analyze the key predictors of divorce and uses these insights to resolve these issues through communication.

(Video) Reasons You Should Go to Couples Counseling

In order to combat what Gottman coined as “the four horsemen” of your relationship’s apocalypse (criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling), the Gottman Method works to foster friendship and closeness within the relationship.

During couples counseling sessions that employ the Gottman Method, your therapist may work with you to build “love maps” that help you better understand your partner’s thought process, day-to-day experiences and values, express fondness and admiration for one another, establish patterns of interest and respect, create shared meaning, solving problems that are solvable, managing conflict and other critical areas of communication.

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

In her book Hold Me Tight, psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson explores creating an attachment bond within a relationship. This type of therapy is typically used as a short-term method, focusing on first de-escalating the negative, harmful patterns of interaction within a relationship.

By identifying the emotions contributing to the issues in the relationship, a couples therapist can help each partner see how fear and insecurity impact the patterns within the relationship. Once these behaviors are realized, the couples counselor works to help restructure the patterns by helping each partner express their emotions and making each other feel accepted and cared for in the relationship.

This helps to establish a secure emotional bond within the relationship. In the final stage of EFT, the couples therapist helps the couple identify and practice communication strategies that work to prevent future conflict in the relationship to address issues before they become harmful or persistent.

Imago Relationship Therapy

In 1980 Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly, two doctors who married one another developed Imago Relationship Therapy. Outlined in the book Getting the Love You Want, the philosophy behind Imago Relationship Therapy is that in adulthood, we’re drawn to partners who resemble the caregivers we experienced early on in life.

While this may be beneficial for those raised in an emotionally healthy, stable environment, early childhood experiences inevitably shape and impact our romantic relationships later in life. Imago Relationship Therapy aims to help each partner identify and heal their own childhood wounds while learning how to react when triggers arise to help their partner feel understood and supported.

Suppose you’re working with a couples therapist who is using Imago Relationship Therapy. In that case, there’s a certain script they may have you use that repeats what’s being said by your partner when conflict occurs to show that they’re being understood and heard in the moment.

Online marriage counseling programs

Nowadays, there’s an app for just about everything — and couples counseling is no exception. While in-person therapy sessions may be the best thing for some couples, they can be costly and challenging to coordinate with conflicting schedules.

(Video) What should we expect from Couples Counseling? | Biltmore Psychology and Counseling

Here are a few online counseling programs that may be beneficial to your relationship.


Couples therapy is just one of many therapy options offered on Talkspace. Services provided on this app are HIPAA-compliant and can be used on their mobile app as well as on desktop based on what you and your partner prefer. Before signing up for the service, Talkspace suggests couples make a list of issues to address, then use this as a guide when completing the consultation process to find the best couples therapist for you and your partner.

Pricing for couples therapy on Talkspace varies. Live sessions are available for purchase, and plans include unlimited texting, video and audio messaging in case you and your partner need to contact your couples therapist outside of dedicated sessions for extra help.

E-Therapy Cafe

If you’re not interested in a subscription model but instead want to find a couples therapist to help you and your partner work on an issue in the short term, E-Therapy Cafe‘s pricing model allows you to purchase per session.

One online session starts at $50, and packages are available for purchase that bring down the cost per session. The therapists on E-Therapy Cafe hold licenses and are board-certified, with experience helping couples navigate common relationship conflicts.

Couples Therapy, Inc.

If you and your partner are looking for a couples therapist but need help identifying the best way to move forward and address the challenges you’re experiencing, Couples Therapy, Inc. offers a comprehensive assessment tool to help get you started. In this initial session, the couples therapist spends between 1.5-2 hours reviewing a detailed questionnaire, conducting interviews with each partner, and analyzing the couple’s fighting dynamic.

From there, results will be delivered to the couple that break down a plan of action on where to start. This analysis will include strengths and weaknesses, each partner’s attachment styles, and parts of your relationship that display vulnerabilities. Sessions range between $119-$200 dollars depending on the therapist and plan. Another key benefit of this platform is that partners can partake in sessions even if they’re not in the same place via video sessions.


ReGain prides itself on employing board-certified marriage and family therapists, psychologists and licensed professional counselors with at least three years of experience. These couples counselors are also equipped to help with more personal issues in a relationship, such as infidelity or improving sexual intimacy.

ReGain asks couples to complete an evaluation by answering relationship questions outlined in their questionnaire and matches couples with a counselor based on the needs and preferences outlined. Communication with your couples therapist ranges from video sessions to chats and calls. You and your partner can communicate individually with your therapist; however, your chat history will be visible for your partner to see. Plans range from $60-$80 weekly.

(Video) What We Might Learn in Couples Therapy


Going to couples therapy doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. You and your partner also don’t have to wait a certain amount of time or have issues escalate to a higher level for couples therapy to be something that’s warranted.

If you and your partner want to forge a deeper connection, work on improving your communication skills or explore and heal childhood wounds together that may be impacting your relationship in the present, finding a couples therapist who can employ positive psychology to help navigate these challenges can make a huge difference in your relationship.

As long as both you and your partner are willing to be active participants in the process, couples therapy can help grow and strengthen relationships and help fortify them so that you and your partner can face whatever challenges life may throw your way together.


What can I expect from a relationship counselor? ›

The therapist will want to know the main problems you are experiencing, and what causes most of your stress within the relationship. Some aspects of relationship stress that may be discussed include parenting conflicts, intimacy issues, and communication issues (or other types of distress).

What not to say during couples counseling? ›

3 things you should never tell your marriage counselor
  • "Don't tell my husband/wife this, but ..." Sorry, as marriage counselors we're not supposed to take sides and we can't keep important secrets from your partner. ...
  • 2. " No, I think you're wrong" ...
  • 3. " That's it; I want a divorce"
Feb 1, 2016

What is the gold standard for couples therapy? ›

As a therapist who wants to actually help couples, I searched for the best, most effective therapy model, and I found it. It is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), and it works so well that there is no comparison. No other therapy model has been researched and proven as much as EFT.

What are 4 questions you would ask in premarital counseling that you feel are important? ›

Premarital questions on marital roles
  • What role would you want to play in the marriage? ...
  • What role would you expect me to play? ...
  • How should we divide household chores?
  • Who will make the biggest decisions in the family? ...
  • What do you think is the most difficult thing or issue about marriage?
Oct 1, 2020

How do I prepare for my first couples counseling session? ›

How to Prepare for Couples Therapy
  1. Sort Through Your Issues. When you attend your first session, the therapist will ask what issues brought you there. ...
  2. Know Your Goals. ...
  3. Ensure You're Both Ready. ...
  4. Clear Your Schedule. ...
  5. Get Ready to Get Personal. ...
  6. Know That You Don't Have to Be Selfless.
Nov 30, 2020

How do you know if couples therapy is working? ›

5 Clear Signs Your Couples Therapy Is Working
  1. You're Not Dreading Each Week's Session. Some sessions will be tough. ...
  2. You Talk About the Process and Do Your “Homework” Weekly counseling is just one part of the journey. ...
  3. Acceptance and Gratitude. ...
  4. Working on Yourself. ...
  5. Both of You Are Clicking With the Therapist.
Oct 11, 2021

How do you make a relationship last 6 tips from a couples therapist? ›

Here is what couples therapists have to say about building a love that lasts.
  1. Communication Is Crucial. Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock. ...
  2. Work Together, Not Against Each Other. ...
  3. Lean On Each Other. ...
  4. Be Intentional About Connecting. ...
  5. Be Truthful. ...
  6. You Don't Always Have To Agree. ...
  7. Grow As An Individual. ...
  8. Keep Dating Each Other.
Jun 17, 2019

Will a marriage counselor suggest separation? ›

Even in an abusive relationship, a couples therapist will likely not suggest divorce. They will, however, help the victim find separation and seek help. Therapists will do everything they can to keep their clients safe.

What is the goal of couples therapy? ›

Couples seek therapy to achieve better communication, increase trust, and enhance intimacy, among other reasons. Surprisingly, almost half of couples who enter relationship therapy do so with the goal of determining if the relationship is viable enough to continue.

What is the goal of emotionally focused couples therapy? ›

Its goal is to create a more secure emotional attachment between two individuals. EFT has been demonstrated as helpful for couples with a variety of problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, frequent arguments, a history of infidelity, and chronic health conditions.

What is contempt in a relationship? ›

Treating others with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm and condescension are forms of contempt. So are hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, and body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.

What are the top 3 things that couples should discuss during premarital counseling and why? ›

Consider the following 7 vital premarital discussions:
  • The meaning of the marriage commitment. ...
  • Your individual and combined goals and aspirations. ...
  • Your relationship expectations. ...
  • Your ideas regarding family planning or family blending. ...
  • Your perceptions and expectations regarding money matters.
Aug 23, 2017

What do you talk about in pre marriage counseling? ›

'" Regardless of which category you fit into, there are some topics you should expect to cover in premarital counseling: how you interact with each other's family and friends; money; sex; careers; parenting; how you will handle holidays and special events; and spirituality or faith.

What do you expect from marriage? ›

There are many things you should expect from your marriage such as commitment, trust, honesty, and love. There are also things you should not expect, like mind-reading or never having a disagreement. Having a realistic expectation of your life as a couple will help you have a healthier and stronger bond in the future.

What is the success rate of couples counseling? ›

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists reports an overall success rate of 98%. The success of couples therapy and other factors contributes to a decreasing divorce rate in the United States.

How do you win marriage counseling? ›

The key to “winning” at couples therapy is not just to explain your side, but to explain why your side is your side. You have to speak the language of psychotherapy, which means honestly articulating your emotions and, even more importantly, your emotional needs.

How long does marriage counseling take to work? ›

Marriage counselling, also known as couples' counselling, is a short-term focused treatment (1 – 12 sessions) with a professional counsellor. The purpose of marriage counselling is to focus on understanding issues and effectively resolving the conflicts within the couples' married life.

What does couples therapy look like? ›

Couples therapy allows couples to discuss their issues in a safe environment without reverting to old negative patterns of interacting. The therapist helps the couple to discover how those patterns happen and what they need to do in order to change them.

Is marriage Counselling worth it? ›

In fact, research shows that couples therapy positively impacts 70% of those receiving treatment. And for many couples, seeking out professional help can be the difference between making the long haul or becoming a divorce statistic.

Can a therapist tell you to leave your partner? ›

Should a Therapist Advise Divorce? As a general rule, it is considered unethical for mental health professionals to give advice at all. Our job is to help you learn to make those decisions yourself, not to tell you how to make them.

Can a toxic marriage be saved? ›

It is possible to save a toxic marriage, and they can also be worth saving but not without a lot of effort and commitment from both spouses! The amount of efforts required to save a toxic marriage is huge but, if you've decided that your marriage is worth saving then it's definitely worthwhile.

How do you know if your compatible with a marriage? ›

To be in a compatible relationship, you and your partner must agree, adapt to each other's lifestyles, cooperate in your goals, and be attuned to one another's personality. If you disagree with your partner's ideas, suggestions or perspective, then it is a sign that both of you are not compatible.

What is the key to successful relationships? ›

To help better understand, we have condensed the keys into five main topics – positivity, empathy, commitment, acceptance, and mutual love and respect. These five topics are further emphasized by proper and continuous communication.

What is the secret to a long lasting relationship? ›

The four Cs (communication, compromise, connection, and commitment) are important, but there are many other factors that contribute to the health of an enduring romantic bond. Consider these additional secrets to a long-lasting relationship: Focus on having fun and making good memories together.

What shouldn't you say to a therapist? ›

Never tell your therapist that you think they're attractive, or that you'd like to take them out. It's just not okay, and your therapist will be incredibly uncomfortable with the situation. They may even have to stop seeing you if you profess your love for them.

How do I know it's time to divorce? ›

You know it's time to get a divorce when your spouse is neither that partner, nor a friend. Disconnect within a marriage can lead to feelings of loneliness. This loneliness only decays the marriage bond faster. Stay too long, and you'll feel trapped – leading to a messier, more expensive divorce.

Can counselling change me? ›

' They can accept that counselling may help individuals make changes to their behaviour and to how they relate to other people. And actually, these changes are allowing someone to develop a new and healthier way of being in the world and being in relationships.

Can couples counseling save a relationship? ›

Relationship or marriage counselling is a relatively new branch of the counselling profession. It has grown in popularity over the last so years as more people seek help for their relationship. Many couples report that therapy saved their relationship from separation or divorce.

Is counseling good for relationships? ›

Happy couples find regular therapy sessions help them maintain and enhance their healthy relationships. Together, they learn how to work through disagreements and other relationship issues, improve their emotional and physical intimacy, and understand one another on a deeper level.

Who can I talk to about relationship problems? ›

To start talking about your relationship issues, a therapist or counselor is the best person to help you work and improve your mental health. However, if you don't have access to a licensed therapist or counselor to begin talking about your relationship, you can always check for social work projects near you.

What is the best relationship advice? ›

The Most Important Factor in a Relationship Is Not Communication, But Respect. What I can tell you is the #1 thing . . . is respect. It's not sexual attraction, looks, shared goals, religion or lack of, nor is it love. There are times when you won't feel love for your partner.

What is the success rate of couples counseling? ›

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists reports an overall success rate of 98%. The success of couples therapy and other factors contributes to a decreasing divorce rate in the United States.

How successful is marriage counselling? ›

Currently, couples counseling has a success rate of roughly 70 percent. About 80 percent of therapists in private practice offer couples therapy. Nearly 50 percent of married couples have gone to marriage counseling.

How do you make a relationship last 6 tips from a couples therapist? ›

Here is what couples therapists have to say about building a love that lasts.
  1. Communication Is Crucial. Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock. ...
  2. Work Together, Not Against Each Other. ...
  3. Lean On Each Other. ...
  4. Be Intentional About Connecting. ...
  5. Be Truthful. ...
  6. You Don't Always Have To Agree. ...
  7. Grow As An Individual. ...
  8. Keep Dating Each Other.
Jun 17, 2019

What is the goal of marriage counseling? ›

The focus of marriage counseling is to help a couple build and maintain an intimate relationship. Some partners go to therapy to strengthen their bond and understand each other on a deeper level.

What is the purpose of relationship Counselling? ›

The goal of couples counselling is to guide the couple to improve how to interact in their relationship. Couples counselling will provide a safe environment for the couple to identify problems in their relationship and work together to change things.

Does couples therapy work after a breakup? ›

In fact, living apart while attending relationship counseling can be beneficial for some couples as they can continue working on their relationship while distancing themselves from unhealthy patterns they engaged in while living together.

How do you fix a relationship in trouble? ›

Problem-solving strategies:
  1. Be consistent.
  2. Be on time.
  3. Do what you say you will do.
  4. Don't lie -- not even little white lies to your partner or to others.
  5. Be fair, even in an argument.
  6. Be sensitive to the other's feelings. ...
  7. Call when you say you will.
  8. Call to say you'll be home late.
Sep 26, 2013

How do you counsel a couple? ›

Couples therapy exercises and activities
  1. Get crafty. ...
  2. Find deeper topics to engage with. ...
  3. Express appreciation. ...
  4. Identify your partner's love language. ...
  5. Schedule important conversations. ...
  6. Pencil in one-on-one time. ...
  7. Fill your intimacy bucket. ...
  8. Practice partner yoga.

How do you bring up the concern in a relationship? ›

These tips can help ease tough talks.
  1. Give up the need to be right. ...
  2. Choose the right time to talk. ...
  3. Start the conversation positively. ...
  4. Stay focused on the problem at hand. ...
  5. While your partner is talking, just listen. ...
  6. Reflect what you hear even if you don't agree. ...
  7. Fight fair. ...
  8. Try to find something you agree with.

What are the three C's in a healthy relationship? ›

A strong and healthy relationship is built on the three C's: Communication, Compromise and Commitment.

What are the 3 most important things in a marriage? ›

What Are the Three Most Important Things in a Relationship?
  1. Intimacy. You may think of the sexual aspect of relationship when you hear the word intimacy, but this relational building block covers so much more. ...
  2. Commitment. ...
  3. Communication.
May 28, 2021

What are the 5 most important things in a relationship between? ›

5 essentials for a healthy relationship
  • 1: Open communication. One hallmark of a healthy relationship is the ability to communicate openly. ...
  • 2: Listening and feeling heard. Having someone listen to us and feeling heard is important. ...
  • 3: Working through disagreements. ...
  • 4: Mutual intimacy. ...
  • 5: Trust.


1. Secrets of a Couples Counselor: 3 Steps to Happier Relationships | Susan L. Adler | TEDxOakParkWomen
(TEDx Talks)
2. What to Expect From Couples Counseling
(Evergreen Counseling and Wellness)
3. What to Expect in Couples Counseling
4. 4 Signs You Should Try Couples Therapy
(Biltmore Psychology and Counseling)
5. What to expect during your first couples therapy session?
(Irina Baechle, LCSW)
6. Make It or Break It: Couples Counseling
(The Doctors)

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