There’s no sugar-coating it—successful relationships sometimes require genuinely hard work. In some cases, adding the pressures of married life (not to mention kids, a lost job, family tragedy, and so on) to the mix can create new challenges for an otherwise healthy-enough seeming couple, or exacerbate those that already exist. The good news is that help is available in the form of marriage counseling. But how do you know if marriage counseling is really worth it? How much time and effort does the process require? And can you expect to find a better, healthier relationship on the other side, or is there a chance you’ll find yourselves just spinning your wheels without seeing real progress?
At Well Marriage Center, we understand these anxieties and want to help couples of all types to rediscover the joys of a healthy relationship. We’ve put this particular blog together to help you answer some of the most common questions we hear from couples considering counseling who want to make sure they get their money’s worth and, more importantly, improve their relationships.
In this piece, we’ll not only answer the question of how long marriage counseling tends to take—we’ll also provide you with some pointers to ensure that if you commit to counseling you’ll have a positive and productive experience.
How Do You Know When It’s Time for Couples Counseling?
While every relationship is as unique as the two individuals themselves, it’s worth knowing the types of signs that your marriage or relationship could benefit from counseling. There are many, many factors that can create relationship problems, but here are a few of the most common, foundational signs that your relationship might be improved through counseling:
- Communication is breaking down (or has been broken for a while): A huge subset of marriage problems center around issues related to communication. When couples lose the ability to consistently engage in open, honest communication, it can exacerbate existing issues, create new issues, or both. A major component of marriage counseling is the re-opening of communication channels and the development of healthier communication methods.
- You’ve lost that loving feeling: For many couples, changes to how they demonstrate affection and cultivate intimacy can signal one or more issues. For example, perhaps one partner withholds affection or allows resentment to fester. Maybe it’s gotten to the point that one or more partners is considering infidelity as a means of fulfilling their needs for intimacy and security. Even at this stage, counseling can help repair relationships.
- Trust has eroded: Once one partner begins to lose trust in the other—whether due to infidelity or other factors—it can become a slippery slope toward conflict and divorce. Negative feelings can quickly snowball, especially when they’re not properly explored, expressed, and worked through. In these situations, a marriage counselor can help reset the dynamic nature of a partnership, build new foundations for communication and trust, and lay the groundwork for a better, happier relationship.
When Do Most Couples Consider Marriage Counseling?
All too often, couples begin marriage counseling weeks, months, or even years after problems begin to emerge within the relationship. This is perfectly understandable, as it can be difficult to know (in the present) whether relationship issues are serious or not. It can also be difficult from an emotional standpoint to acknowledge that there are problems in the relationship. Finally, especially for those who have never experienced any form of professional counseling before, it can be an intimidating prospect. The time component can seem overwhelming, as can the anxiety of delving into deeply personal, emotional matters. This is where humanity’s well-documented “fear of the unknown” comes into play, as well.
All of that being said, when it really comes down to it, according to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, most couples aren’t exactly prompt in seeking out counseling at the first signs of marital issues. In fact, most couples wait two years from the onset of a problem. That’s two years for issues to manifest even more deeply, and for the relationship to potentially become even more damaged. The good news is, there’s no time like the present to take the first step in healing the relationship by connecting with a marriage counselor.
Should Every Couple Go To Therapy?
No, we don’t believe every couple necessarily needs therapy—but we also don’t necessarily think it could hurt. However, we understand that there’s a certain stigma around couples therapy and marriage counseling when private thoughts question whether the fact that you’re considering therapy means your relationship has failed. It doesn’t!
Even couples—including married couples—who would say their relationship is good (if not great) could potentially benefit from the communication and trust-building strategies that come with counseling. It’s also worth noting that Well Marriage Center also offers premarital counseling, which can help couples strengthen their relationship (prior to getting married) by establishing a solid foundation for communication and openness.
Is It Appropriate To Undergo Marriage Counseling When You Want a Divorce?
It’s absolutely appropriate! Just because one or both of you might be considering divorce, it doesn’t mean the marriage is a lost cause. If both parties are open to reconciliation and willing to put in the work, marriage counseling can be a relationship-saver, especially with a marriage-friendly counseling approach (like Well Marriage Center’s).
How Long Should Marriage Counseling Last?
While many variables may impact how long a specific couple spends with their marriage counselor, you can generally expect, on average, anywhere from 12 to 25 counseling sessions. These will normally start off with a discovery-based focus, with the counselor asking baseline-type questions to better understand the relationship’s strengths and weaknesses. From there, individual sessions can be more tactical, working through specific problems and developing patterns for better relationship-building.
What Is the Average Length of Counseling Sessions, and How Frequently Do They Occur?
Counseling sessions typically last for around 50 minutes, and they’re often scheduled on a weekly basis to start and eventually move to twice a month and then just once a month. This frequency allows us to spread out the course of counseling (keeping it more affordable) and stay with you longer, anywhere from 4 to 10 months. A counselor will often work with you to determine a cadence that will fit the participants’ schedules.
What Percentage of Marriages Survive After Counseling?
If you’re one of the many people or couples asking yourself questions like “Does marriage counseling work?” and “Is marriage counseling worth it?” then this section’s for you.
If you’re particularly results-driven, you’re probably wondering, “What percentage of marriages survive after counseling?” Fortunately, counseling does work a majority of the time. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 90% of counseling clients report an improvement in their emotional health after receiving treatment. More specific to the marriage counseling success rate, over 75% of marital or family therapy clients report an improvement in their relationship as a result of counseling.
What Factors Impact the Length of Counseling?
For many people considering counseling, the time component is just one piece of the puzzle. In reality, several distinct factors impact how long a particular couple may need to attend marriage counseling. Of these, one of the most important is how well the counselor and participants establish rapport and trust. When a trusting bond is established early on, individual sessions can focus on specific, relevant topics, prioritized by importance. With that in mind, then, let’s next explore a few variables related to both the counselor and the participants.
What To Look for in a Marriage Counselor
Signs of a Good Couples Therapist
A good couples therapist or marriage counselor is an advocate for repairing and strengthening relationships (as opposed to throwing in the towel). At Well Marriage Center, our counselors practice what’s called marriage-friendly marriage counseling (as opposed to marriage-neutral counseling). This means our number one goal is to help couples stay together. This approach helps alleviate some of the anxiety couples might feel toward counseling, where they fear that counseling might make the relationship worse—if not lead to divorce. You can learn more about our Wellness Model here.
Additional signs of a good couples therapist or marriage counselor include:
- A specialization (supported by specific training) in relationships and marriages
- An approach that focuses on couples succeeding and staying together
- Experience working with different types of marital problems
- A communication style that is relatable and builds trust
Signs of a Bad Marriage Counselor
To be effective in their work, a marriage counselor needs to be able to build trust with their clients, ask probing questions, listen carefully, and get to the root of their problems. In other words, just like in a marriage, communication is key to the counselor-participant relationship. Without open communication, the possibility of positive outcomes greatly decreases.
Additional signs of a bad, or ineffective, couples therapist or marriage counselor include:
- An over-reliance of jargon, rather than personalized communication
- Jumping to premature, general-type conclusions or making recommendations before hearing the whole story of each participant’s experiences
- A lack of concrete, actionable information/perspectives
- A lack of demonstrable progress or defined goals after multiple sessions
Ultimately, even the most highly-qualified and well-intentioned marriage counselor is going to struggle to make headway if one or more of the participants is unwilling or unable to participate constructively. To improve the chances of success, then, it’s also important that you’ve prepared your heart and mind for the difficult but important work of strengthening the relationship.
How To Prepare for Couples Counseling
As with any type of therapy or counseling, what you bring to the process certainly impacts what you’ll get out of it. Even the best marriage counselor can’t help an individual (or couple) who is unwilling to open their heart and mind to be present and engage with the process. If even one partner closes off or becomes antagonistic, it can wreck the process (and even the marriage). So, how should you prepare for marriage counseling, to maximize the time? Here’s a brief overview of what to know before going to couples therapy, so you can make the most of the opportunities it presents.
Get yourself mentally ready. It would be inappropriate for us to claim that marriage counseling is going to be a breeze. The truth is, an effective counselor is going to broach some difficult topics and ask some tough questions. Especially if you’ve never worked with a therapist or counselor before, this can be uncomfortable and intimidating. This is why it’s important to mentally prepare, not just for an individual session but for the overall, ongoing counseling experience as well.
Sort out your thoughts and feelings. For many married couples who take the step to work with a marriage counselor, it can feel overwhelming to get your thoughts together. It’s also very normal for participants to think about their relationship outside the confines of their counseling sessions. To ensure that nothing too important slips through the cracks, a counselor might recommend personal journaling throughout the week, so you can come to the next session with specific things you want to ask or talk about, new insights or revelations, and so on.
Familiarize yourself with the counselor’s approach. As you start to learn more about your counselor’s general approach, you can better anticipate what to expect in future sessions. This should not only reduce anxiety, but help make the most of your time with the therapist or counselor as well.
Have realistic expectations. Nothing is necessarily guaranteed in this life, so while we want clients to be optimistic about counseling outcomes, we also know it’s best for you to expect growth and improvement, not an immediate, 180-degree turnaround. This is especially true for ongoing, persistent issues. It can be difficult work, but it can also be truly transformative. At Well Marriage Center, we’ve seen couples who thought all hope was lost find their way back to one another.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. All too often, marriage counseling participants feel like the counselor is the one who should be asking all the questions. This simply isn’t the case. While you obviously shouldn’t interrupt the counselor or disrupt the flow of the conversation with random questions that cross your mind, you should certainly ask any questions that might help you to better engage with and understand the counseling approach.
When your partner shares, keep an open mind/heart—and assume positive intent. Just as important as it is to begin the counseling process with an open mind, you should also make sure to assume the best possible intention(s) of your partner and counselor, too. This means, for example, taking your partner’s contributions at face value—assuming that they, like you, are there to put in the work and save the marriage.
What Makes Well Marriage Center’s Marriage-Friendly Counseling Work So Well?
At Well Marriage Center, we provide a strengths-based, marriage-friendly approach to counseling. This means getting to know our clients and their relationships, exploring root issues, developing effective communication, and providing personalized counseling recommendations.
It all begins with the understanding that no two couples are the same. That’s why our process builds its foundation on a relationship’s strengths and works to develop those strengths into better, healthier relationships. Here’s how our process works:
- First, you’ll schedule an initial appointment with one of our counselors. Rather than asking vague questions like “What seems to be the problem today?”, we instead start with a structured assessment to identify strengths and weaknesses in the relationship. This, then, provides the foundation for further sessions, in which identified strengths can be further developed into the fabric of the relationship.
- Next, our team will create a customized plan around your goals. Leveraging our experience working with over 12,000 couples, we focus on relationship science. Based on what’s working in the relationship—and what you want to improve—we’re uniquely trained to adjust and improve the course of counseling as needed.
- Finally, we’ll work together to establish specific relationship objectives and develop an action plan. This might mean identifying and then working through how to interrupt toxic cycles a relationship might be stuck in, or remedy an uneven dynamic. Or, it might mean recapturing—and then maintaining—the relationship’s original spark. It could also mean digging deeply into specific traumas that might be impacting the quality of the relationship.
If you’re ready to start the process of finding your way back to each other, the first step’s easy. You’ll simply need to fill out our short Intake Form, and then set up an appointment with Melinda, our Intake Coordinator. She’ll help to answer any questions you have and connect you with a therapist in your area who is available to work with you.