What is Marriage Counseling & Couples Therapy?
Well, marriage counseling, also called couples therapy and marriage and family therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on improving your communication and conflict-resolution skills.
The truth is personal and family relationships can be both fulfilling and challenging. Therefore, the more you understand yourself – your emotions and behaviors – the better you can communicate with loved ones (including your spouse), manage your stress, and effectively function in your daily life.
Truth-be-told, marriage is one of the most monumental relationships you will ever have in your life. But, it’s important to be realistic. Every marriage will have its “ups and downs” and “highs and lows.” That is normal.
During the “highs,” you and your partner will feel connected, in love, and passionate about each other. However, during the “lows,” one or both of you may feel cold, indifferent, distant, and/or hostile towards the other. You may argue so much that you contemplate separating – or divorcing. For some, this stage only lasts a few weeks, but for others, it can last for years.
Here are answers to common questions about Marriage Counseling:
Do We Have to Attend Marriage Counseling Together? It depends. Typically both spouses attend the counseling sessions together, however, your therapist may request to see you and your partner separately sometimes too.
Will Marriage Counseling Help Me? Yes, more than likely marriage counseling will help improve your relationship, however, both partners must be fully committed to the therapy process for it to work. Keep in mind that your specific treatment plan will depend on your unique situation. The good news is that marriage counseling encompasses a wide range of issues, in addition to marital problems like the death of a loved one, a tragedy in the family, and/or a chronic illness (i.e. substance abuse and depression).
What is the Purpose of Marriage Counseling? The purpose of marriage counseling is to help you learn the tools you need to strengthen your marriage.
Is Marriage and Family Therapy a Type of Marriage Counseling? Yes, marriage and family therapy is a type of marriage counseling. This form of psychotherapy tends to be more involved then marriage counseling, per se. More specifically, marriage and family therapy takes a more holistic approach to marital and family problems. What does that mean? It means that it includes all family members in the therapy process.
What Happens During a Typically Marriage and Family Therapy Session? During a typically marriage and family therapy session, the family may be given roleplay tasks and assignments to work on at home. You will also be encouraged to share your true feelings with your counselor and spouse. Communication and conflict-resolution skills are big focuses on marriage and family therapy. Your therapist will expect you to complete all tasks and assignments. For example, during a session, you and your spouse may be given communication exercises to practice at home with the expectation that you will share your experiences during the next session.
What are the Different Stages of a Relationship?
First, relationships are not stagnant. Most, if not all, relationships go through various phases. Moreover, most couples move through these stages at different times. However, “issues” can pop up during any of these stages. The good news is that if you understand them, you can combat issues when they arise.
Listed below are the different stages of being in a relationship:
Stage #1: Passion
The first stage of a relationship typically involves passion. This when you meet your partner and fall in love. Stage #1 is also referred to as the “honeymoon stage,” because it involves infatuation and romance.
At the beginning of a relationship, sparks fly and the world is brighter…better. During this time, you begin to establish, respect, intimacy, and a genuine admiration for each other. Keep in mind that this stage is only temporary – for most. Eventually, the passion dwindles and familiarity creeps in. When this occurs, it’s important to reignite the passion by changing things up and trying something new.
Stage #2: Realization
Once the initial passion starts to fade, you are “forced” to accept a more realistic vision of what your life could be like as a long-term couple. This is also the time in which you and your partner decide if marriage may be in your future. During this stage, both you and your partner begin to see each other as human beings – complete with flaws and faults.
But, as you begin to really see one another, probably for the first time, you also begin to respect each other on a deeper level. You are more comfortable revealing aspects of yourself and your personality – aspects that you kept hidden during the “honeymoon stage.”
It’s important to note that this stage comes with challenges. You may experience disappointment, frustration, and a difference of opinion on several topics during Stage #2. However, if you have good communication and conflict-resolution skills, you can successfully navigate any troubled waters together.
Stage #3: Rebellion
During this stage, the focus returns to your own self-interests. This is a hurdle many couples face during the rebellion stage. It becomes “all about me” instead of “all about us.” As a result, conflict can ensue – if you and your partner don’t know how to deal with conflict in a healthy way.
Honestly, these conflicts are bound to happen during Stage #3. Why? Well, because a power struggle typically occurs at this stage. Both you and your partner believe that your way is the best way and that you are always (or most of the time) right.
When this occurs it is important that you and your partner argue the right way. If you blame one another, talk over one another, and/or allow resentment, anger, and frustration to take over, it will cause a rift between you that may be irreparable.
Stage #4: Cooperation
With demanding careers, children, household duties, and monthly mortgages, it’s normal for couples, especially married ones, to find themselves having to cooperate with one another. Truth-be-told, this stage can feel a lot like a business arrangement – one that is devoid of passion, romance, and intimacy.
Many couples put these “essential elements” on the backburner to “deal” with life and it’s many responsibilities. Be prepared though, this stage can last for 20-years or more, especially if you have children.
Stage #5: Reunion
Once your children have flown the coop aka grown up, you and your partner can get reacquainted with each other. In other words, you have an opportunity to enjoy the “quietness,” security, and stability that comes with fewer responsibilities. This is the time to become friends and lovers again. During the reunion stage, you rediscover just how much you like one another and why you got married in the first place and/or chose to stay together so long.
Stage #6: Explosion
Stage #6 is the explosion stage. During this time, you’ll probably experience a host of serious life situations – situations that may be challenging to deal with as a couple. For instance, you may experience a death in the family, the loss of a job, financial issues, and/or a life-altering health condition.
But, at the same time, you’ll most likely grow closer together, because you are “forced” to tackle these challenges together. In other words, you seek comfort from one another.
On the flip side, this stage could push you farther apart – especially if you have poor communication and conflict-resolution skills. In fact, it could spark resentment, anger, despair, and frustration – ingredients that can destroy a relationship.
Note: The explosion stage can occur at any time in the relationship, causing a major disruption in the current status of your relationship.
Stage #7: Completion
The last stage is the completion stage. During this stage, you have adult children and are preparing to enter retirement. This is the time to focus on you and your partner and begin exploring your new life together. Couples in this stage are normally extremely close, knowing each other inside-and-out.
After having “weathered” the storms of being in a long-term relationship or decades of marriage, the completion stage can feel relaxed and peaceful. The goal of this stage is simply to enjoy each other’s company.
Why Might I Need Couples Counseling?
Well, as marriages move through the various stages and experience challenges together, conflict can occur. And, although some minor arguments are to be expected, more complex and deeper ones can drive a wedge between you and your partner. In fact, the more troubling conflicts can cause you to question if a resolution is even possible – or if you really want one.
As a start to drift apart, you may realize that you and your partner want different things in life. In addition, infidelity may enter the mix or you or your partner may feel “stuck” in a relationship with no way out. Well, before seeking couples counseling, you and/or your partner must acknowledge that your marriage is in trouble. Then, you must decide together, if you want to try to “fix” your broken relationship.
In this scenario, marriage and family therapy may be extremely beneficial. In fact, marriage and family therapists can help improve the communication between all of your family members, thus, resolving deep-seated emotional hurt.
Therefore, the decision to seek marriage counseling is an important first step in “saving” your marriage. When you and your partner admit that your marriage is failing, you give it a chance of being repaired.
What are the Various Types of Marriage Counseling?
The truth is, marriage counseling is not just for unhappy or struggling couples. Rather, it also involves couples therapy for non-married couples. Regardless of your relationship status, marriage counseling aka couples counseling can be used to strengthen bonds and gain a better understanding of one another.
It can also be used to help couples, who are about to be married and those, who are thinking of getting married. This is called premarital counseling. The goal of this type of counseling is to help couples learn how to communicate and resolve issues more effectively and to “iron out differences” before the wedding day.
But, if you are interested in marriage counseling because you are having relationship issues, some of the issues that can be addressed during sessions include:
- Poor Communication – Arguing, Belting, Criticizing, Misunderstanding, etc.
- Financial Problems – Debt, Poor Budgeting, and Overspending
- Sexual Differences & Dysfunctions – i.e. Erectile Dysfunction, Different Sexual Preferences, Low Libido, Premature Ejaculation, etc.
- Parenting Challenges – Defiance, Learning Disabilities, Behavioral Problems, Childhood Mental, and Physical Health Issues
- Substance Abuse – i.e. Addiction
- Anger & Rage
*If you are experiencing domestic abuse and/or violence, please contact the police, a local shelter, and/or a crisis center for emergency support – Click here for a list of hotlines that can help!
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy can teach family members how to handle adversity – before it begins. For instance, newly blended families that include children from previous marriages may benefit from family therapy. Why? Well, because family therapists can help them (all of the members of the newly blended family) learn how to respect one another and live peacefully together.
Because “family” is an important part of a person’s social support network, family therapy can be crucial for families dysfunction or chronic illness. Keep in mind that the better your family functions, the lower the stress level and the better the health for the entire family. In addition, adults, who grew up in dysfunctional families, could also benefit from individual therapy (instead of family or in addition to it) with a focus on family therapy concepts.
Another rarely spoken about aspect of family therapy is parenting counseling. Let’s be honest, parenting is hard work and it can involve a host of confusing and conflicting emotions, along with changes within the family. Many of these changes are positive and fulfilling, but some may be trying and difficult to manage. The great thing about a marriage and family therapist is he/she can help you talk through important parenting issues while learning the necessary skills to develop a healthy supportive relationship, as a parent and spouse.
What are the Goals of Marriage Counseling?
For many couples, the primary goal of marriage counseling is to save the marriage and stay together. For others, seeking therapy may be attributed to unresolved issues in the marriage. It’s important to understand that marriage counseling isn’t a quick fix. Rather, it takes dedication and effort to accomplish goals and repair the relationship.
A marriage counselor can help you in the following ways:
Infidelity & Adultery
If either you or your partner is unfaithful, it can seem like your relationship is doomed. However, if both you and your partner are committed to the relationship and willing to try to work it out, there is a chance your relationship can be repaired. The good thing about marriage counselors is they can help rebuild trust in your relationship. This relationship specialist can also help you understand why the infidelity or adultery occurred.
It’s common for couples to have different ways of communicating. It’s also common for them to have poor communication skills, especially when it comes to voicing how they feel. You may assume your partner should know what you’re thinking or feeling – but he/she may not. Regardless, if your partner is not a mind reader, it can hurt your feelings when he/she does not react like you think he/she should.
Moreover, poor communication can cause one or both of you to feel abandoned, ignored, or dismissed. You may even mistake poor communication for a sign that your partner no longer loves you or is attracted to you.
This happens because you assume your partner knows what you need and want, when he/she may have no clue – unless you tell him/her. So, when you remain silent about how you feel, it can cause a breakdown in communication and a disconnect between you and your spouse.
Substance Abuse & Addiction
Sometimes one or both partners have a substance abuse problem or full-blown addiction. Addiction comes in many forms – i.e. drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, overeating, and even shopping. This is a serious issue that must be addressed as soon as possible. But, first the abuser or addict has to admit there is a problem and he/she needs help. The good thing about couples counselors is that they can help you address these challenges individually and within your relationship.
Raising children can be hard – really hard. There is no instruction manual on how to raise children or how to combat child-rearing problems when they arise. Most of us simply have to “wing it.” Still, children can put a strain on a relationship, especially when the child has behavioral problems, learning difficulties, a chronic illness or disability, and/or mental health issues. Unfortunately, however, when child-rearing issues pop up, the focus usually goes towards the child, leaving the relationship to flounder.
Passion & Romance
Every couple wants passion and romance in their relationship, especially if they have been together for a long time. So, it is common for couples to seek marriage counseling as a way to become closer to one another. A benefit of marriage counseling is that it can help you and your partner see the value in reconnecting with one another. The end result? More passion, romance, and a re-emergence of the “honeymoon stage.”
Conflicts & Resentment
It’s normal to have conflicts and even resentment from time-to-time in a relationship. You are human after all. A good thing about marriage therapists is that they are trained to teach you important conflict-resolution skills that you can use in your relationship. In other words, they teach you how to “fight fair.”
The truth is, when you are unable to or refuse to “fight fair,” it can cause deep-seated wounds that are hard to heal. And, when conflicts and resentment are left to simmer, it can do irreparable damage to your relationship.
This is especially true when you and/or your partner are unable to effectively communicate how you feel. As a result, anger, bitterness, and hostility fester, and problems deepen. If you don’t take steps to address issues in your relationship and reaffirm your commitment to resolving conflicts and making your marriage work, it will die.
How Can I Find a Marriage Counselor?
You can seek marriage counseling from a trained and licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), clinical social worker, or marriage/couples counselor. If you feel that you and your partner could benefit from family or couples therapy, check out the TherapyTribe Directory. Here you can connect with qualified therapists near you and receive the support you need. Remember, select a counselor that you are both satisfied with.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019). Marriage counseling. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/marriage-counseling/about/pac-20385249
- White, D. M. (2019). 7 reasons to seek marriage counseling. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/7-reasons-to-seek-marriage-counseling/
- Schofield, M. J., Mumford, N., Jurkovic, D., Jurkovic, I., & Bickerdike, A. (2012). Short and long-term effectiveness of couple counselling: a study protocol. BMC public health, 12, 735. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3490822/
- Whitbourne, S. K. (2012). 5 principles of effective couples therapy: Make your relationship work by following these 5 basic principles. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201203/5-principles-effective-couples-therapy
- Totero, A. C. (2013). Marriage and family therapy. Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/members/apssc/undergraduate_update/undergraduate-update-summer-2013/marriage-and-family-therapy