If you find yourself unable to communicate with your spouse, it can be difficult to make positive changes in your relationship. Whether it’s consistent arguments, minor disagreements, or avoidance, marriage counseling is an effective way to revitalize a marriage. Marriage and couples counseling can help with issues such as financial concerns, life changes like a new job, stress of children, disagreements in general, and any communication breakdown that couples might face together.
In this article, we’ll explore tips for couples counseling, marriage counseling questions to strengthen your relationship, and even tips to support you in a dating or premarital counseling journey if you’re not married.
How to Prepare for Couples Counseling
Preparing for couples counseling begins with exploring you and your partner’s needs, goals, and expectations. Counseling can be daunting if you don’t know what will happen during your session, which might leave you asking, “How do I prepare for my first couples counseling session?” Below are five tips to help you get ready for your first couples counseling session:
1. Be Open-Minded
With all of the stigma surrounding marriage counseling, it can be difficult to admit it is time to take action . You might think you should be able to do it on your own, but ultimately it is beneficial to seek help, if only to have a safe space for conflict resolution. Counseling sessions often include in-depth conversations about your relationship like setting expectations, goals, your intimacy, sex life, and expressing needs.
Marriage counseling is a learning experience that helps you and your partner identify problems and develop strategies to overcome those problems. You can also expect to:
- Discuss your fears and manage their effect on how you communicate with your partner.
- Learn how to effectively communicate and resolve conflicts.
- Understand your partner’s past experiences and how they influence their actions.
- Express your needs in a healthy way, without anger or resentment.
- Consider how you handle situations to be less reactive and more proactive.
- Rebuild and renew your relationship with your partner.
By going into counseling with an open mind, you’ll be able to better utilize the tools provided to you during your sessions.
2. Discuss Shared Goals
What do you and your partner want to accomplish during marriage counseling? Do you want to address sex and intimacy issues? Is healthy communication a top priority? Is there financial stress or big life transitions like a new job or baby? Are you finding yourself arguing more and more? You can explore several questions with your partner to set goals for your counseling sessions. It is worthwhile to lay out all of the issues you both think are important to focus on before meeting with a therapist.
A few marriage counseling questions you can work through with your partner before attending your first session include:
- What are the key challenges in your relationship that you wish to resolve?
- What do you want to accomplish with marriage counseling?
- Do you and your partner have the same goals?
- If not, what goals are most important to each of you?
3. Set Realistic Expectations
Understanding what you’ll gain from marriage counseling is important, but it can be easy to set unrealistic expectations before you begin. Counseling won’t solve your problems overnight; it takes work. However, you shouldn’t expect to get into the nitty-gritty during your first meeting with a therapist. The first counseling session is intended to introduce yourselves to your therapist, give some background information, and establish goals and priorities.
As you continue your sessions, realistic expectations of marriage counseling should be:
- Finding an unbiased third-party that listens to and understands your conflicts.
- Identifying and addressing systemic issues that affect you and your spouse.
- Developing solutions to address areas of contention and implementing them at home.
- Learning how to communicate with and listen to your partner in a safe setting.
- Maintaining commitment, appreciation, and love for your partner during and after the process.
Ultimately your expectations should be to effectively communicate with your partner and attempt to resolve issues that have driven you apart.
4. Identify Your Feelings and Assumptions
Marriage counseling can help you address some personal issues as well. If you find yourself assuming your partner no longer loves you, doesn’t care about your emotions, or isn’t attracted to you anymore, it is important to vocalize those sentiments in a safe space. Before you go to your first session, you should ask yourself questions like:
- Do I assume my partner’s feelings about me or our marriage?
- Do I think my partner is capable of change? Why?
- Has my partner addressed these issues with me in the past?
- Do I project my feelings onto my partner?
These tough questions can help you better understand your emotions and perceptions of your partner’s feelings. You want to address these during couples counseling sessions, so your therapist can help you navigate these sentiments.
5. Search for a Therapist/Counselor
Once you’ve set your goals and identified areas of improvement, you can search for a marriage counselor that meets your needs. Finding a qualified therapist might take some time, as you should ask questions to make sure they’re the right match for you.
Some questions for a potential therapist you might want to consider include:
- What do you believe makes a relationship successful?
- How many of the couples you’ve helped see improvement due to your counseling?
- How do you determine when it is appropriate to end counseling?
Remove any negative questions like, “What’s your opinion on divorce?” and aim your attention on how you can succeed. Some counselors might focus on weaknesses right off the bat, but providers like Well Marriage Center take strengths-based and marriage-first approaches to help you build a foundation for success in your relationship.
Many marriage counseling exercises will have you examining your goals and expectations, being prepared will help you navigate those difficult discussions together. Be sure to focus on what you need as an individual and a couple and find a therapist to revitalize your relationship.
What Questions Do Marriage Counselors Ask At the Beginning?
Marriage counseling can lead to great success in your relationship. If you’re considering marriage counseling, you might not be sure what to expect. Here are three questions that will come up during your beginning counseling discussions:
Who Are You? What Is Your Story?
Before you dive into the in-depth conversations, your therapist will want to get to know you, your partner, and your marriage. This will help them understand your dynamics as a couple, what is important to you inside and outside of the marriage, and any concerns you may have. Your therapist will get to know you so they can help you make your sessions beneficial for your relationship.
What Do You Value About Your Relationship?
In marriage counseling, you need to focus on the strengths and dynamics of your relationship. This includes discussing the pieces of your marriage that you value the most. What draws you to your partner? How do they make you feel? What do you appreciate about them? Understanding what you value—and how you are valued—leads to a stronger emotional connection in your marriage. You’ll be able to explore how those values impact your marriage now and into the future. That will be beneficial in creating a strong and lasting marriage.
What Do Marriage Mean to You?
Sometimes partners have different ideas about what marriage means. That is not a bad thing! However, it’s important to discuss expectations that are new or have changed if you’re struggling to communicate them clearly. Are there any roles you expect your partner to fill? Answering these and similar questions will help you understand what your partner expects from you in your marriage and how that aligns with your beliefs.
These questions will help therapists get to know you and your relationship better before diving into the nitty-gritty details. Also be prepared to discuss any expectations you have for counseling, disagreements or successes between you and your partner, and what you think is most valuable to focus on during your sessions. Counseling takes time and effort and you shouldn’t expect to solve your concerns during the first session. Set expectations and goals from the beginning and you will find more success.
What to Say in Marriage Counseling
Marriage counseling is about working together, and any conversations about reaching goals, navigating disagreements, and addressing personal feelings are greatly encouraged. Aim to have conversations with your spouse that promote healing within and outside of counseling sessions. During your counseling plan and counseling sessions, you should:
- Ask tough questions of yourself and your partner to uncover underlying issues.
- Be open and honest about your feelings without accusing or demeaning your partner.
- Instead of attacks, use communication techniques like “I feel” statements.
- Revisit and reflect on past discussions outside of sessions and address any concerns in the next one.
Don’t shy away from the tough topics! Growth can be difficult without facing issues head-on. At Well Marriage Center, we promote healthy discussion that leads to restoring marriages and believe that a strengths-based approach leads to success. Your sessions should help you to strengthen your marriage, not tear it down.
How Can I Make My Marriage Counseling More Effective?
Successful and effective marriage counseling relies on clear communication. By addressing the issues within your marriage openly, and with guidance, you’ll see more success in your sessions. Here are a few tips for effective marriage counseling:
- Avoid negativity, accusations, and attacks. Aim for positivity and collaboration.
- Focus on changing yourself—not your spouse—and communicate your needs clearly.
- Seek to understand your partner’s perspective and learn to accommodate their needs.
- Remember—it’s not about you, it’s about us. You both deserve respect and attention.
- Keep in mind your therapist will help guide you through discussions and isn’t picking sides.
While there are many more tips on effective marriage counseling, remember that you and your spouse both need to put in the work to make it successful.
Do I Need Marriage Counseling?
While only you and your spouse can determine whether it is time for marriage counseling, here are a few concerns to consider:
- Consistent negative communication
- Lack of intimacy
- Blame and Defensiveness
- Withdrawal and feeling lonely
It can be difficult to navigate situations with your spouse without clear communication, which is a major source of relational issues. If you or your partner are unsure about pursuing counseling, it can be helpful to answer these questions and determine whether or not you want to choose this option:
- Do you trust your partner? Why or why not?
- Are you being dishonest with your partner?
- Do you view your partner as an antagonist (the “bad guy”)?
- Do you consistently have arguments? Are they frequently about similar issues?
- Have you become indifferent about your marriage?
- Do you compromise on important issues? / Do you have to get your way?
- Do you feel safe physically and emotionally?
If you’re experiencing any distress while answering these questions, reaching out to a marriage counselor might be beneficial . Well Marriage Center has several resources for you and your partner to make the best decision for your relationship.
What Percentage of Marriage Counseling is Successful?
Marriage counseling works! Several studies have determined that 70-75% of couples who attend counseling are successful at renewing their marriage. However, don’t expect your relationship to be perfect after one or two sessions. On average, couples counseling lasts between 10 and 25 sessions, so there is plenty of time to identify and resolve any issues you’re facing as a couple.
How Do You Succeed In Couples Therapy?
At Well Marriage Center, we help couples overcome hurdles, interrupt unhealthy cycles, strengthen their communication, heal attachment wounds, and revitalize their relationship. Our strengths-based approach enables couples to identify their strengths, rather than focusing on weaknesses. We don’t see a difference between couples therapy vs marriage counseling. When it comes to building relationships, we find counseling an important tool for all couples.
We want to build your relationship up! Let us support you in making your marriage counseling experience a success. If you’d like to build a happier, healthier relationship, contact us by filling out our intake form and setting up a call with our Intake Coordinator, Melinda.