Marriage counseling, or couples counseling, is a form of psychotherapy. Marriage counseling focuses on exploring and resolving conflicts that are negatively affecting a relationship.

In this article, we describe what marriage counseling is, including the different types and the cost. We also outline how marriage counseling could help couples and what to consider when choosing a service.

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Online marriage counseling may help improve trust issues in a relationship.

Marriage counseling is a type of psychotherapy that helps people overcome issues or behaviors that may be jeopardizing their relationship.

Couples may wish to try marriage counseling to help with the following:

  • trust issues
  • infidelity
  • poor communication
  • inability to resolve conflict
  • infertility
  • sexual issues
  • addiction
  • individual problems that may be damaging the relationship

Online marriage counseling aims to tackle the same issues as in-person marriage counseling. The difference is that the therapist provides the session over the internet rather than face-to-face.

An online therapist can observe interactions between couples and provide advice and tools to help couples resolve conflict.

As with traditional marriage counseling, there are certain issues and situations with which online marriage counseling cannot help.

For example, marriage counseling will not help people who are in a physically abusive relationship. According to the Office on Women’s Health, if a person is in such a relationship, they should confide in one of the following people:

  • a family member or friend
  • a doctor or nurse
  • a teacher, counselor, or principal who works at their child’s school
  • someone who works in the human resources department of their workplace

Alternatively, people can phone 1-800-799-7233 to talk to a trained advocate at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

A 2020 study investigated the expectations and experiences of 15 couples receiving online marriage counseling via videoconferencing software. Although the couples initially expressed concern about receiving therapy online, the majority found the experience to be positive and beneficial.

Some couples reported that the physical distance between themselves and the therapist made them feel more at ease and in control of matters regarding their relationship.

When seeking marriage counseling, a couple will need to consider where they would like the counseling to take place. Some therapists are able to visit their clients’ homes. Alternatively, couples can attend counseling within an office setting or via videoconference.

There are also different types of couples counseling from which to choose. Each uses a unique approach to addressing relationship issues. Some examples include those below.

Gottman method

The Gottman approach to marriage counseling stems from the ideas of Dr. John Gottman, who has 40 years of experience in researching couples.

The goal of the Gottman method is to address conflict in a constructive way and develop behavioral changes that lead to closeness and intimacy.

A 2018 study suggests that the Gottman method can have a positive effect on relationships. Specifically, it may lead to improvements in the following areas:

  • problem-solving
  • emotional stability
  • intimacy

Emotion-focused therapy

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) encourages people to develop healthy techniques for expressing and discussing their emotions. In this way, EFT helps couples resolve issues, such as poor communication and conflict.

Solution-focused therapy

Solution-focused therapy (SFT) focuses on solutions rather than problems. In SFT, each person uses their individual strengths to implement positive changes in the relationship.

One study found that a brief course of SFT led to an improvement in marital satisfaction among incarcerated men and their wives.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns that may influence behaviors.

A therapist who practices couples CBT will use CBT techniques that help couples:

  • identify and express their emotions
  • communicate more effectively
  • resolve conflict
  • develop acceptance and tolerance
  • express affection

Imago relationship therapy (IRT)

IRT attempts to teach conflict as an opportunity for growth and healing. It is based on the premise that conflict between partners is due to situational factors rather than underlying hostility.

Although the evidence to support the benefits of IRT is mainly anecdotal, a 2017 study suggests that IRT may increase levels of marital satisfaction.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy state that some marriage therapists may accept insurance plans. However, most insurance plans do not cover couples counseling.

Some people may belong to an employee assistance program that provides couples counseling. It is worth getting in contact with those managing this scheme to see whether couples counseling is available through the policy.

Medicare Part B includes couples counseling in instances where a medical professional, such as a psychiatrist or physician, is carrying out the therapy. Medicare will not cover counseling from a licensed marriage or family therapist unless they are an employee at a clinical facility.

A private marriage counselor can charge any amount that they deem suitable for their skills. Prices are, therefore, likely to vary according to the following factors:

  • the therapist’s qualifications
  • the type of therapy that the therapist provides
  • the number of sessions that the couple attend

A 2019 study of EFT suggests that for couples to engage fully with the therapy, they must work with a therapist who is genuine and trustworthy. Therapy can bring up painful discussions that can leave a person feeling vulnerable, so it is important that people feel comfortable with their therapist.

There are a few other tips to consider when choosing a marriage counseling service. These include:

  • asking friends or family whether they are able to recommend a therapist
  • seeing whether a primary care provider can provide resources or guidance in finding a marriage counselor
  • doing some research into the type of therapy that may be most beneficial
  • checking to see whether a particular insurance policy covers marriage counseling
  • ensuring that the therapist is either a medical professional or a professionally licensed therapist
  • checking the credentials of the therapist to establish whether they specialize in any particular areas

Marriage counseling focuses on helping married couples overcome and resolve conflict. Couples may attend counseling for help with various issues, such as poor communication, sexual issues, or infidelity.

Many different types of marriage counseling are available, and couples will need to determine which type is best suited to their needs. A couple will also need to choose a therapist whom they feel they can trust. As such, it may help to conduct some research into the therapist’s credentials and reputation.

Some couples may be able to recover part or all of the costs of marriage counseling. People should check whether they belong to an employee assistance program that provides marriage counseling or have an insurance policy that will cover the costs.