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Does Marriage Counselling Work & Is It Worth It

Many people feel skeptical about attending marriage counselling or couple therapy. After all, why would you even consider sharing your intimate romantic life with a strange therapist?

  • What if the therapist takes a side and makes an alliance with your partner?
  • What if the therapist is divorced and advocates to end your relationship?
  • What if the therapist has not ever been married?
  • Are you supposed to trust that an outsider is going “to fix” your relationship?

All of these are valid questions. Unfortunately, for decades, marriage counselling has received a lousy reputation, especially in communities with many taboos surrounding mental health. Many people out there believe that couples who attend therapy are weaker, dysfunctional, or immature. But let me tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth.

Often, those assumptions only arise out of ignorance about what marriage counselling or couple therapy truly is and the real benefit behind this professional practice.

If the reason that brought you here is to understand a little bit more how marriage counselling works and how it may help your relationship, this article is for you! We hope to clarify some of your most pressing questions and help you and your partner make the best decision for you as a couple.

Why Marriage Counselling?

happy couple holding hands reconciling after marriage counselling

First of all, before talking about whether marriage counselling works, let’s think about why this practice even exists.

If you are reading this, you are probably married or involved in a long-term romantic relationship. By now, you have realized that the idea of “living a happy married ever after” does not exist. But were you expecting things with your partner to become so painfully hard? Why, all of a sudden, has everything turned into arguments, conflict, apathy, and tension?

Whether you have been in a committed relationship for six months, ten years, or 20, every couple goes through transitions, stages, and many life bumps. Some of them are easier to handle, but some can create a lot of harm in the relationship.

Although the term “marriage counselling” suggests that this practice targets “married” couples, nowadays, this type of counselling embraces all kinds of relationships present in our modern society. That includes issues specific to same-sex couples, trans couples, unmarried couples living together, among others.

But what is the primary goal of couple therapy or marriage counselling? Just like the goal of psychotherapy is to enhance an individual’s mental health, couple therapy seeks to strengthen the quality of a couple’s relationship. This is done by uncovering and addressing the issues that may be affecting the dynamics of the relationship. Some of the most common problems that drive couples to seek help are the following:

  • Lack of communication skills: ongoing arguments, yelling, indifference, secrets.
  • Infidelity.
  • Responsibilities and expectations: difficulties agreeing on the couple’s roles in the relationship.
  • Financial problems.
  • Couple’s Goals: difficulties in agreeing on the short or long-term future of the relationship, especially when it comes to big decisions (i.e., having children, adoption, moving to another city, saving money, etc.)
  • Sex life.
  • Managing the divorce process.
  • Discrimination for being a same-sex or interracial couple.
  • Managing differences in cultural and religious values.
  • Life’s transitions: the birth of children, children moving away, ageing.
  • Life’s challenges: death of a child, one partner receiving a critical diagnosis, one partner becoming disabled, one partner losing a job.

Every couple’s situation is different. As a result, the list of potential challenges a couple can face may still be longer. But, of course, this only proves that there is not “a right time” or “a more pressing problem” that needs to happen before seeking professional help. Any situation, regardless of how small or big it may seem in the eyes of others, may unstabilize a marriage or a long-term relationship.

Does Marriage Counselling Work?

Now, let’s review one of the most important questions you may have, “Will marriage counselling work for me?”

In a study conducted in 2017 by MidAmerica Nazarene University, 1,000 engaged, married, and divorced couples were interview about whether they have attended marriage counselling and whether it has been beneficial.

Among the 1,000 participants, 49% of the couples affirmed that they had attended counselling. This percentage increased to 51% among Millenial partners. But the question is, did they feel it was worth investing time and money in couple therapy?

The good news is that “71% of those who have attended say that their experiences have ranged from helpful to very helpful. And of those who haven’t attended marriage counselling with a spouse, 52% are interested in trying it out.” (Blogs & Ideas | MidAmerica Nazarene University, 2017)

Many couples attending marriage counselling have found the experience illuminating and satisfactory. But there is something to keep in mind. Counsellors or therapists do not have a magic wound with superpowers. In other words, it is unrealistic to assume that in one or two sessions, you and your partner are going “to fix” a problem you have been dragging on for months, years, or decades.

Instead, couples therapy works as long as two conditions are met:

  1. Both people need to be committed to working in their relationship for the long run.
  2. The couple needs to find a therapist that is right for them. Part of therapy’s success lies in connecting with your therapist. That is, finding a person that you makes you feel safe, comfortable, heard, and supported. When this connection does not happen, it does not matter how much your therapist knows. As a result, there will be an ongoing barrier preventing progress.

When these two conditions are met, the ground will be clear to start working on whatever issue may be affecting your life, even if that issue is to decide whether both of you are better together or apart.

The Benefits Of Marriage Counselling

Whether it is to improve communication style, become closer as a couple, or overcome the loss of a child, counselling can be a safe space to work things out.

One of the most valuable benefits that marriage counselling can offer is to become aware of hidden challenges affecting the relationship. We are mentioning this because often, couples go to therapy intending to address their “perceived problem.” But once they start to have more sessions, it turns out that the “perceived problem” was not the “real problem.

One of the most common examples of this case is infidelity. Most of the time, cheating is not the cause but the effect of underlying issues that have not been addressed in a relationship. Once couples become aware of those unaddressed issues, it becomes easier to overcome them and heal their emotional wounds.

Other benefits that couples may gain from attending marriage counselling include:

  • Increase healthy problem-solving skills without the need to engage in conflict or arguments.
  • Enhance communication skills to share emotional, mental, and physical needs.
  • Increase sense of intimacy, especially in couples with children.
  • Increase acceptance and love towards the other person.
  • Navigate challenges with other family members as a couple.
  • Overcome life’s hardships and tragedies.
  • Gain a new perspective about the future of the relationship (i.e., preventing divorce).

Types of Approaches Used by Couples Counsellors

Let’s say you and your couple decide to attend marriage counselling. What happens next?

Probably you’ll take some time researching types of therapists and the theories they used to inform their practice. But often, it happens that once people start browsing for a therapist, it becomes confusing to understand the approaches they in their references.

For example, what is the difference between EFT and CBT? What about solution-focused therapy and the Gottman method? Before you start feeling overwhelmed with all these methods, let’s take some time to review them.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT)

This approach was developed in 1980 by two Canadian psychologists, Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg.

According to Sue Johnson, the goal of EFT is “to create a more secure emotional bond.” In other words, this type of approach looks for hidden and negative emotional patterns that are affecting the whole relationship.
Sometimes, couples express their anger, longing, insecurities, resentment, or fears by arguing over tiny things.

EFT affirms that most of the time, those heated fights about who did the dishes or took out the garbage last night have nothing to do with the actual chores but with deeper unmet emotional needs.

EFT looks for that deeper layer. Its goal is to restore in the couple the sense of healthy attachments, safety, and love.

Lots of research have backed up EFT’s effectiveness. For example, it has been beneficial to help depressed couples, couples who have endured trauma or face a child’s illness.

The Gottman Method

Gottman Method was developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, after studying thousands of couples over decades. Like EFT, the Gottmans paid close attention to superficial arguments couples had and the things they were not verbally expressing in their conflicts.

After their studies, they developed a method to enhance a couple’s relationships: closeness and intimacy, conflict management, and the creation of shared meaning.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is probably one of the most studied and used methods in individual and couple’s therapy. Its principle is that thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are all interconnected.

CBT aims to target distorted thoughts (i.e., catastrophizing, all-or-nothing thinking, labelling) and help the couple replace them with healthier ones.This “reframing” of distorted thinking is done by engaging in practical exercises at home and in sessions.

CBT is an excellent method to enhance people’s coping skills to manage conflict, improve communication, emotional regulation, and deal with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Who Should Not Go to Marriage Counselling?

Marriage counselling may be a great alternative to save your relationship. However, there are a few cases when this form of therapy is NOT recommended. First, when one of the partners is highly reluctant to attend counselling. Even the most empathetic therapist cannot make a person stay in a room if that person does not want to.

Second, couple therapy IS NOT for people involved in an abusive relationship. If you are a victim of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, YOUR SAFETY comes first. We encourage you to seek individual counselling and immediate help if you are at risk.

Important Key Takeaways

  • How to prepare for a marriage counselling session:
    • Set aside time for the session
    • Come prepared with specific issues to address
    • Have an open mind and willingness to work on the relationship
  • How to make the most of marriage counselling sessions:
    • Be open and honest with the therapist
    • Take responsibility for your actions
    • Be willing to make changes in the relationship
    • Listen actively and be open to feedback
    • Practice skills and strategies learned in therapy sessions
    • Communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what is being learned and how you are feeling
  • How to set goals and expectations for marriage counselling:
    • Discuss specific issues to address with the therapist
    • Have realistic expectations about the process
    • Set short-term and long-term goals for the therapy
    • Discuss any concerns or reservations about the therapy with the therapist
  • How to determine if marriage counselling is right for you and your partner:
    • Consider specific issues in the relationship
    • Determine if therapy will help address them
    • Consider time and financial commitment
    • Consider if both partners are willing to participate and work on the relationship
  • How to deal with resistance from your partner to attend marriage counselling:
    • Express concerns about the relationship
    • Express willingness to work on the relationship
    • Explain the benefits of therapy
    • Discuss any reservations or concerns of your partner
    • Consider seeking individual therapy or couples therapy with a different therapist if your partner is unwilling to participate.

Seeking Help Earlier is the Key to Success

If you think your marriage or relationship is in trouble, do not wait to seek help! Think about it in this way: relational or mental health issues are similar to physical problems. In the sense that the sooner you seek help, the higher chances you have of a quick recovery. Research has shown that seeking help earlier significantly increases the probability of saving your relationship.

Once again, choose a therapist that you both agree to work with. Then, if you want more information about the excellent counsellors and therapists that are part of our team, go ahead and check out our website.

You can also book a free 15-mins phone consultation with us to let us know more about what issues are currently affecting you and learn which type of services may best fit your needs.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.

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