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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.