Marriage counseling questions allow you and your partner to dig deeply into issues, identify root causes, and remember why you fell in love in the first place. A couples therapist can guide you through these questions, offering marriage counseling tips to promote productive conversations. Some answers might be hard to hear, but the resulting discussions usually lead to a healthier, stronger relationship.
But what questions are asked during couples therapy, exactly? If you haven’t been to couples therapy before, it’s helpful to know what to expect. A great place to start is this list of the seven most popular marriage counseling questions compiled by our relationship experts here at Well Marriage Center.
What Kinds of Questions Do Marriage Counselors Ask?
When you first start counseling, there are common questions marriage counselors ask so they know how they can best assist you. Here are a few you might encounter:
What’s the timeline of your relationship?
You’ll need to spend some time in your initial counseling sessions giving your therapist the background story of your relationship. Run through the major events, like getting married, having kids, changing jobs, experiencing trauma, and anything else that sticks out to you. With this context, your counselor can provide unique solutions to support you and your partner or spouse.
What did you initially admire in your partner when you first met?
It’s easy to forget what made you fall in love, especially in the midst of hard times. This question is meant to remind you both of those happy experiences in the early days of dating. Thinking positive thoughts about your partner can help balance the stress of sorting through your current relationships challenges.
What are your communication styles?
Styles of communication are typically divided into four categories: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. The assertive style is what couples should strive for. It involves asserting your own needs through direct, honest, and respectful communication. If communication is a weak point in your relationship, not to worry—a licensed counselor can walk you through couples therapy exercises for communication to get you both where you want to be.
Why did you seek couples therapy?
Some couples seek counseling purely to strengthen their relationship, but most couples usually have problems they want to address. Studies have shown that some of the top relationship stressors include lack of commitment, infidelity, too much arguing, financial problems, substance abuse, health problems, and lack of familial support. Responding to this question is the time to put these issues on the table and address what you hope to achieve in counseling.
How Can I Make My Marriage Counseling More Effective?
If you’ve taken the time to read through these questions and consider them in the context of your own relationship, you’re already on the right path. As long as you and your partner are willing to put in the work, you raise your chances of coming out the other side stronger than ever.
However, an experienced and skillful marriage counselor will certainly help! Our team of licensed counselors at Well Marriage Center are well-versed in pro-relationship practices and relationship science. These counselors have aided couples in overcoming almost any challenge you can think of, from parenting issues to infidelity and beyond.
Whenever you think the time is right, you can start the marriage counseling journey by filling out our short intake form. Our intake coordinator, Melinda, will walk you through the process and answer any question you may have.
We’ve heard the same statement from couples after counseling time and time again—“I never would have imagined our relationship could be this good again.” We would love to help you and your partner feel this way, too.
What Questions Are Asked During Pre-Marriage Counseling?
Pre-marriage (or pre-marital) counseling questions are designed to ensure you and your partner are on the same page before committing to marriage or some other milestone “next step.” Even if you’ve been together for years, you can still benefit from revisiting these questions as your relationship evolves.
How should you handle your finances?
There are so many factors to consider when it comes to managing finances together as a couple. It’s quite common for people to have different views on the many aspects of finance, and these differences can lead to uncomfortable arguments if not properly addressed. A good place to start is figuring out if you want joint or separate bank accounts. Then you also need to consider how you both feel about other big financial decisions, like credit cards, mortgages, loans, savings, financial goals, retirement, paying bills, and budgeting in general.
What do you want your physical intimacy to look like?
At the beginning of a relationship, the newness of it all can make sex and physical intimacy feel magical and exciting. And while many may think that spark fades with time, it doesn’t have to! Talking about exactly what you want from each other physically is the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What are your beliefs, morals, and values?
This is a big question, but maybe one of the most important. While it’s not impossible to make a relationship work with someone who has different values, it’s definitely not easy. When you align in these areas, it’s easier to approach whatever the world may throw at you as a team. Talk through topics like religion, politics, trust, ethics, respect, kids, birth control, and any other values that are a priority for each of you.
A licensed premarital counselor can help you navigate these questions with your partner, no matter what stage of the relationship you are in.
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.
On the vulnerability of sharing success stories:
Sometimes a couple wants to share their story. We’re really appreciative of the vulnerability and trust such a feat takes, and we hope you appreciate these stories as well.
(Names have been changed to preserve the author’s privacy.)
If your relationship is struggling, or if you feel empowered to take preventative steps to keep your relationship in a good place, we’re here to work with all couples who are willing to put in the effort.
Great relationships can be built, rebuilt, and sustained.
Nadia and Liam
“Mary asked me to be honest with this, so here goes: when we first came to see Mary, we were ready to separate. I don’t think I had ever felt more disconnected with Liam. We fought most of the time, and honestly, we hurt each other quite a bit. I know I definitely felt hurt. I honestly didn’t think we could make it. I cannot describe in words what that feeling is like.
When Liam and I think back to where we were, we’re thankful for two main things. First, that we went and saw someone instead of just giving up. And not just someone, but someone who understood what was happening to us.
Mary told us she works primarily with couples and it was obvious she had experience. Second, we could tell from the very beginning that she wanted us to make it. It was just a few subtle comments she made in our first meeting that seemed hopeful – at least they gave us hope. That turned out to be really important for us.
Throughout our time with Mary she really worked hard with us to make progress, to help us understand what was happening in our relationship and also what was happening to us individually. She helped empower us to heal some old wounds that I never even realized were causing so much pain. And she got us working right from the beginning to communicate better, which seems like a simple thing, but for a couple that feels so disconnected, it was a big deal for us.
Today we have better self-esteem which helps us to have a better connection with each other. We have a stronger bond that we both feel. We are incredibly grateful to Mary – I wish I could rave more freely about her. What I’ll say is the greatest thing about her: she will work hard for your relationship in a way that helps you feel hope. You won’t waste your time with her – she gets you moving right from the get-go in a very safe and supportive way.”
Marriage counseling can help couples get to the root causes of issues before those challenges shake the foundation of their relationship. Yet, it’s often seen as a last resort. Questions like “Is marriage counseling really worth it?” and “How do I know if couples therapy is working?” make couples hesitate starting the process.
To help couples feel more confident in actively improving their relationship, we’ve put together this guide on signs that your marriage counseling is working. After all, counseling is a significant investment, so you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. The average length of marriage counseling is 12 – 20 sessions, and starting off on the right track will greatly improve your final results. So how can you tell that marriage counseling is actually helping your relationship? Let’s find out.
Does Marriage Counseling Work?
If you’re hesitating to start because you’re asking, “What are the odds of marriage counseling working?” it can help to know that the marriage counseling success rate, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), is 98%. This means that nearly all participants in marriage counseling had an overall good or excellent experience. A positive experience can include a variety outcomes, such as:
- You and your partner are putting in the work to heal your relationship.
- You and your partner can appreciate the positive aspects of your relationship, even during difficult times and conflicts.
- You and your partner don’t dread attending sessions.
- You and your partner have a positive working relationship with your counselor or therapist.
- You and your partner discover how to make your relationship work moving forward and choose to stay together.
We’ll get into the specifics of each of these outcomes later, but it’s important to understand that couples therapy can be successful even if all of these milestones aren’t achieved. Every relationship is unique, and so the ideal end result will be different for each couple.
Well, what about divorce rates—does marriage counseling really help marriages last?
What Percentage of Couples in Therapy Get Divorced?
Up to thirty-eight percent of married couples get divorced within 4 years after completing counseling. Considering that nearly 50% of marriages in the United States are expected to end in divorce, marriage counseling does give you a better chance of saving your relationship than working through your challenges alone.
When To Go to Couples Therapy
If you are in a distressed relationship, it’s a good idea to begin couples therapy before underlying issues escalate into full-blown catastrophes. So what can cause distress in a relationship, and how do you know when it’s time to get professional help? Let’s take a look:
- Small disputes escalate into major arguments
- Disagreements on how to manage finances
- Unbalanced desire for sexual intimacy between partners
- Trust issues
- Unequal distribution of household chores and parenting responsibilities
- Conflicting parenting styles
- Inability to communicate effectively
- Attachment and codependency issues
- Difficulties connecting with each other’s social circles and in-laws
- Physical and mental health conditions
- Lack of emotional support
- Falling out of love or feeling like the “spark” is gone
These issues are common in relationships, but they don’t always present themselves clearly. For example, not putting effort into communication could be caused by a lack of excitement in the relationship. You don’t feel motivated to talk about big, difficult topics like how to manage finances and coordinate parenting styles because it all feels like work—with none of the spark that was there when you first got together.
Even if you are able to navigate your way through the surfacing issues, leaving underlying conflicts unresolved will only lead to more stress. That’s the primary benefit of couples therapy—getting to the root cause of what’s holding your relationship back, so you can experience long-lasting benefits in other aspects of your life.
If your relationship is preparing to go through a major change, such as marriage, it can also help to begin pre-marriage counseling. Think of it like preventive care. If you strengthen your relationship before facing significant challenges, you’ll be more likely to get through those challenges with less strain on your partnership.
Marriage Counseling Do’s and Don’ts
To get the most out of marriage counseling from the start, it helps to know some things you should do and others that you shouldn’t:
- Be willing to take responsibility
- Be committed to working on your personal growth
- Give your partner space to explain their perspective
- Be active in the conversation—both when listening and sharing your thoughts
- Be willing to compromise
- Expect immediate results
- Find every opportunity to blame your partner
- Interrupt your partner
- Threaten divorce (or anything else)
- Try to “win” counseling
How Do I Know If My Marriage Counseling Is Working?
The exact signs of success in marriage counseling vary from couple to couple depending on what their relationship needs, but common green flags are:
Your Relationship Is Healing
This is the big one. Most couples go into therapy together because they want their relationship to work, but they’re not sure how to get there on their own. Healing starts with communication. Sometimes it’s hard to express what you need, and sometimes it’s harder to know exactly what that is. A good sign that your therapy is working is that you and your partner feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable truths without worrying about backlash.
Another sign that couples therapy is working is that you feel more affection for your partner again. When the hard work of relationships takes priority—whether that’s paying bills, raising kids, operating a family business, maintaining a home, or anything else—it’s easy for attraction to take a backseat. You may feel more like coworkers than romantic partners. When you start to feel that connection come back, you know your relationship is on the right path. You can see this through small changes like performing small acts of kindness for each other, flirting, and making time for emotional and physical intimacy.
Willingness To Attend Therapy Sessions
Therapy is hard, and if you’re there to discuss what isn’t going right in your relationship, it usually isn’t fun. But if you and your partner are making progress, it’s easier to attend those appointments, even knowing that they will challenge you. The hard conversations, the self-reflection, and the reevaluation of roles are paying off.
You Can Acknowledge Both the Good and the Bad of the Relationship
It’s easy to get caught up in the negative when things aren’t going well. You feel angry, lost, and hurt. How can anything good come out of this relationship? On the other hand, the idea of admitting that anything is wrong at all could be too intimidating. If you acknowledge even minor flaws, then the whole relationship must be a failure, right? Not at all.
Even the healthiest relationships have their mix of good and bad. Part of the healing process is being able to acknowledge both without ignoring the other. For example, if you do all of the household chores, it’s easy to complain that your partner doesn’t contribute at all, and therefore conclude they aren’t putting enough into the relationship. But at the same time, your partner also works long hours to provide for your family and plans major trips. Instead of just labeling them as lazy, it’s important to acknowledge that they also work hard on different tasks. Then you could seek a compromise where your partner helps more around the house on a daily basis, while you participate more in planning vacations.
You Are Willing To Do the Work—During Sessions and at Home
Opening up to your partner is hard. It’s even harder when someone else is in the room with you—at least at the beginning. It takes courage to be vulnerable, and that step alone is a good sign that your couples therapy is off to a promising start.
But therapy doesn’t end once your appointment is over. There’s also important work to be done at home to change your behaviors and make lasting improvements. Couples therapy homework can include:
- Writing a letter about your partner’s best qualities so you remember why you fell in love with them in the first place
- Having conversations with “I feel” statements to bring up strong emotions that usually get bottled up
- Recording memories to capture the meaningful moments throughout your relationship and get inspired to make more
- Sharing your favorite things, like music, art, and movies, to help your partner understand how you relate to the world
- Asking icebreaker questions—these may seem silly, but your partner’s favorite color, ice cream flavor, and so much more may have changed since you first met
Life’s busy, so if you and your partner are willing to make room for these exercises, it’s a good sign that you’re invested in getting the most out of couples therapy.
You Like Working with Your Marriage Counselor
Your marriage counselor can make or break your healing process. If they’re not doing their job well, sessions could turn into shouting matches and you leave feeling worse than when you showed up. On the other hand, the signs of a good couples therapist are that they help each person take responsibility for their feelings and set boundaries. At Well Marriage Center, we work hard to help couples build trust, work through trauma, and navigate conflict.
When To Stop Marriage Counseling
There are two reasons to stop marriage counseling: you and your partner have strengthened your relationship and can continue the work at home or you and your partner have decided to end your relationship. Typically, marriage counseling lasts up to six months before couples reach either of these points.
What Kind of Therapist Is Best for Couples?
As we mentioned earlier, great marriage counselors encourage you and your partner to open up about difficult feelings in a constructive way. Our team of licensed, professional therapists at Well Marriage Center does just that to help couples find their way back to each other. We understand that each relationship has its own personality, challenges, and strengths, and can benefit from a personalized approach.
To learn more about how to begin taking steps toward a healthier relationship, explore our website. If you feel ready for next steps, our Intake Coordinator, Melinda, would be happy to help you schedule an appointment.
You and your partner have decided that marriage counseling is a good fit—you are taking a big step toward a stronger relationship! Once you’ve chosen couples therapy as a helpful option, or even after you’ve attended a few sessions, it’s a good idea to consider how to get the most benefit from your therapy as a whole.
In this article, we talk about practical things that can be done to make your marriage counseling more effective, signs marriage counseling is working well, and examples of how strategies can be applied in real-world relationships.
How to Approach Couples Therapy
There are some things you can do before you begin couples therapy that can improve its effectiveness. If you’ve already had several sessions but maybe want to get even more out of your therapy, it’s never too late to apply these approaches.
It’s About the Couple as a Unit, Not About Each Person Individually
Couples therapy is all about understanding and improving the way you and your partner interact. It isn’t about one person ‘winning’ or someone being forced to change. Focusing on the dynamics within the relationship and the overall goals you have together as a couple is the best approach for getting the most out of couples therapy.
As an example, let’s consider a couple struggling with dividing household chores. Both partners could come to a therapy session and focus on all the work around the house they do, and how one person does far less. However, it is more likely to be an effective counseling session if the couple arrives ready to talk about their expectations of what chores need to be done and how they can work together to achieve or adjust these expectations.
Name Your Objectives and Focus on the Big Picture Solutions
It’s easy to sit down in a couples therapy session and go through the play-by-play of your most recent fight. However, focusing on the broad goals and issues you are having in your relationship is more likely to produce lasting results. A discussion about how a singular fight might be resolved is less likely to produce lasting positive results for a couple. The best path forward to achieving their overall marriage goals is to focus on overall relationship objectives.
For instance, a couple might come into a counseling session in the midst of an argument about how one partner left their wet towel on the floor. Instead of focusing on the details of this specific argument, the couple could name their overall relationship objective that this situation highlights. They could then work with their counselor in the session to come up with the underlying issues that this specific challenge brings up for each of them.
How to Have Effective Couples Therapy
Once you have adjusted your mindset and are approaching couples therapy in the most effective way, there are some additional things you can do to potentially improve your marriage counseling success rate. Making sure you are discussing all of these ideas with your partner and your counselor, here are some tips for making couples therapy more effective once you’ve started.
Do Your Homework
When your counselor gives you ideas or assignments to do at home before your next appointment, prioritize them and commit to taking them seriously and making them happen. It’s easy to get busy with day-to-day life and put off couples therapy homework that may seem silly or make you uncomfortable. But in order to get the most out of your marriage counseling, you need to put in the work during sessions and at home.
For example, a counselor might recommend that a couple sits down individually and makes a list of things that their partner does that makes them feel happy before their next session. If each person puts off doing this, then scribbles down a few superficial things moments before the next session starts, they are unlikely to get much out of the exercise. If each partner spends time really thinking of times their partner was thoughtful and caring this exercise will be more effective. It will give the therapist more to work with in future sessions and foster more positive feelings for the relationship overall, too.
Be Willing to Work on Yourself
If you go into couples counseling thinking that your partner is the only one who needs to change, you are much less likely to have the most effective counseling experience. In fact, coming in with a long list of things your spouse must change could be on the Marriage Counseling: What Not to Say Checklist. It can even be helpful to come into therapy with more goals for yourself than your partner, because you have more control over your own actions and beliefs than anyone else’s.
Let’s look at an example of a couple coming to therapy to try to rekindle the romance in their marriage. If one partner comes with a list of things they want their spouse to start doing to be more romantic, it is less likely to enact lasting change. However, if that partner comes in thinking about what they consider romance and what they can do to themselves to create that within the relationship, the therapy session will likely be more effective.
Well Marriage Counseling: Building Stronger Relationships for a Brighter Future
Ultimately, more effective marriage counseling isn’t about how many times a week you should go to marriage counseling or the average length of marriage counseling. It’s about the mindset you and your partner come in with, and focusing on your biggest relationship objectives when you’re there.
Well Marriage is the nation’s largest relationship specialty center. All our counselors are couples therapy experts with years of experience helping people just like you. We know how scary it can feel to start therapy, and we want to take as much of the guesswork and uncertainty out of the process as we can.
You are on the right track for considering how to make your marriage better! Schedule an appointment with us to take the next step on your journey.
While some reports show that marriage counseling has a positive impact on 70% of couples, the journey to healing your relationship is not always easy. Even if you and your partner agree that therapy is the best move, the connection you have with your counselor can profoundly impact the health of your relationship with your partner as well. It’s hard enough to find a therapist in the first place, and then it can also be difficult to know how to evaluate them. It is also not common for couples that are new to counseling to know that they can leave their therapist, and find a new one. They are ultimately there to serve you and your needs, not the other way around. That is what has motivated us to create this piece on marriage counseling: what not to say. We want couples to have more confidence in being able to identify if they are in the right place to heal their relationship.
What Are the Signs of a Bad Couples Therapist?
It can be easy to attribute the problems with couples therapy to the pair seeking help. This can lead couples to stay with the wrong therapist much longer than they should. Let’s take a look at some of the signs of a bad couples therapist.
- Uses Too Much Jargon: Your therapist is not there to confuse you and show off that they have a degree. The language they use in sessions should be to help you discover the root cause of your issue(s) and progress to a positive future. The best help a counselor can give you is to guide you and your spouse through whatever challenges your marriage is facing without resorting to jargon that you don’t understand.
- Has Little or No Structure: Couples therapy needs to be conducted in a structured environment, with a clear cut plan and a positive end goal for the relationship. Before you meet with a counselor, ask them how they structure their sessions. They need to step in and give ample time for each person to speak their mind. There are too many emotions in play for a therapist to sit back and let the couple talk in circles for the whole session.
- Treats All Couples the Same: Inexperienced counselors will use similar treatment methods from couple to couple. While some healthy habits and practices can be recommended to couples across various circumstances, you want your therapist to treat your unique situation as such. The special dynamics of your relationship may fit a certain strategy on paper, but the right therapist will customize their process to fit your situation.
- Is Not Pro-Relationship: Whether or not you are married, counselors that push for divorce or breaking up as the top solution for your relationship may be too focused on you as an individual and not as a couple. So, what does pro-relationship counseling look like? Other therapists may practice what is called “marriage-neutral counseling.” This means the therapist will take a neutral approach toward whether or not you and your partner should stay together. Within these kinds of sessions, it is not uncommon for the counselor to encourage couples to split up rather than put in the work to better their relationship.
Can Couples Counseling Make Things Worse?
Simply put no, marriage counseling will not make things worse. The catch is that both parties must be willing to put in the work to fix the issues. However, there are therapists that can cause damage to your marriage and even you and your partner’s mental health. It all comes down to your work and how well you and your partner connect with your counselor. Although it’s not always easy to spot the signs of an ineffective counselor, if something feels off, talk to your partner and listen to yourself if the sessions just are not feeling right. Perhaps you’ll discover you’ve both been searching online, “when to stop marriage counseling” because neither of you feels you’ve made any progress after numerous sessions.
This can all sound a bit bleak, but before you jump the ship on counseling altogether, a shift in who you go to might be all the change you need. For example, if you feel your current counselor is discussing divorce too much, it would be a good idea to go to a team that practices pro-relationship therapy like Well Marriage Center.
What are the Signs Marriage Counseling is Working?
With a better understanding of what a bad situation can be, here are some clues that your counselor is a good fit:
- It Feels like Collaboration: You should feel like the therapist is on your team. For example, are they asking the right questions, are they truly wanting to get to know you both, do they demonstrate a good understanding of your relationship after multiple sessions, and are they focusing on the strengths of your relationship? If your couples therapist is taking sides, that is a sign that healing in your relationship will likely not occur.
- You Don’t Dread Going: If you and your partner are excited about going to therapy to work on creating the best situation, that is a great sign it is going well. Dreading going to counseling because you feel like all it does is start conflict could mean that your current session environment is not conducive to healing the relationship.
- You Are Doing the Work at Home: It is a great sign if all the hard work both of you put in does not end when you leave the session. You should be excited to put what you have been learning and practicing in therapy into action. When your therapist gives you a mindfulness activity to try the next time an argument starts, both parties should be excited to pause and implement it.
Well Marriage Center: Where Happy Futures Begin
When you invest in relationship counseling with one of our therapists at Well Marriage Center, you can trust you’re getting paired with certified therapists that have a wide range of treatment frameworks. It can also put your mind at ease that all of our therapists have dedicated their careers to solely helping couples forward. It is always beneficial to have a marriage counselor in your community: one who is deeply experienced with the nuances of committed partner relationships and who wants to see your marriage succeed and thrive.
Contact us today to set up a consultation with our Intake Coordinator, Melinda. She is ready and waiting to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are matched with the right counselor.
All relationships go through phases. Sometimes, you’re perfectly in sync with your partner and your personalities just click. You are open when communicating with each other, and you are excited to celebrate their wins or weather their losses together. Then there are times when you can’t seem to agree on anything. Whether it’s spending habits or how they chew, sometimes your partner just irritates you. There are also the times in between, when you and your partner settle into your routines. You may start to feel more like coworkers and roommates while doing chores, running errands, or raising kids and pets. Whichever stage you’re in, you’re not alone. Couples across the globe struggle to keep the spark alive when everyday life gets in the way.
And, while you’re not alone in your experience, you also don’t have to be alone in working toward a more solid relationship. That’s where marriage counseling comes in. In fact, 49% of couples have attended some form of counseling with their partner, even if they aren’t married. A growing number of couples are seeing the benefits that sessions can have on their relationships, such as improving communication, identifying the root causes of conflicts, and strengthening emotional and physical intimacy. Yet, it’s not uncommon to feel hesitant to open up about your private life to a professional. Lacking answers to questions like “What do you say at marriage counseling?” and “Why does marriage counseling fail?” can prevent couples from seeking help, even when they truly need it.
At Well Marriage Center, our goal is to make the benefits of couples therapy accessible to all, so we’ve put together this guide on marriage counseling: what not to say.
What Not To Say During Couples Counseling?
While you shouldn’t hide anything from your couples therapist, there are certain phrases or ways of saying things that will harm your relationship further instead of healing it. Oftentimes, these phrases are ways of lashing out about problems rather than identifying and working to solve them, which causes both sides to feel worse after marriage counseling. Here’s a list of phrases you should avoid in favor of more reflective ones:
“No, You’re Wrong…”
While both you and your partner should feel comfortable expressing how you feel, shutting down the other party’s perspective or playing the blame game closes off communication and leaves no room for growth. The same situation could be interpreted completely differently by you and your partner. If they start to open up about what they experienced and you interrupt with “You’re wrong,” you won’t get the chance to understand their perspective. You don’t necessarily have to agree with your partner’s version of events, but it helps to know what they are in order to get to the root cause of your disconnect.
“Don’t Tell My Partner This…”
You don’t want to create a situation with your couples therapist taking sides. Asking your therapist to keep a secret from your partner can put them in a tricky situation. Should they take your side and keep your secret or should they take your partner’s side—revealing your secret and possibly compromising the relationship while betraying your trust? If you have information that you aren’t sure how to share with your partner, however, it is okay to ask your therapist to help create a plan to have that conversation.
“I’m Done. I Want a Divorce.”
Often, this is purely an expression of frustration and a way to try to make your partner feel small. We can tell because if you really wanted to end the relationship, you would be meeting with a divorce lawyer instead of a couples therapist. Instead of this phrase that can only result in your partner getting defensive or shouting back the same, it’s more constructive to explain the feelings behind those words. Are you struggling to believe that things could get better, or has your partner hurt you in a way that you don’t feel you can move on from?
What Do You Say During Marriage Counseling?
If you find yourself ready to lash out with words that you hope will do some damage, then you should say something different. When you feel like using any of the above phrases, here’s a list of what you could say instead:
“No, You’re Wrong…”
- Instead, say “I understand why you feel this way, but I had a different experience during this situation.”
“Don’t Tell My Partner This…”
- Instead, say “I’m not sure how to tell my partner this. Can you help me bring this up once our relationship is strong enough?”
“I’m Done. I Want a Divorce.”
- Instead, say “I don’t feel that you’re trying to understand my concerns as we work on our relationship.”
Using these alternative phrases doesn’t just help prevent tense situations from escalating, they can also help you rekindle your trust and respect. Choosing to not be reactive gives you the chance to learn more about your partner and their experience, which can bring you closer to one another.
Relationships Are Hard. Navigate the Ups and Downs with Well Marriage Center.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may be sound advice for your garage door, but it isn’t for your relationship. Even if you aren’t experiencing major problems in your relationship, couples therapy can still benefit you and your partner by opening up communication. At Well Marriage Center, we view couples therapy as preventative care. We help you uncover and deal with underlying challenges in your relationship so you can fix them early or heal from unresolved issues.
That’s why we’ve made getting started with a couples therapist easy. All you have to do is schedule an initial consultation online with our Intake Coordinator, Melinda. Then we create a customized plan to help you meet your goals through consistent appointments. Are you ready to build the foundation for a more healthy, intimate relationship? Schedule an appointment to get started!
Beginning marriage counseling means you are committed to doing hard work to restore your relationship. That work includes speaking your truth about hopes, fears, hurts, and happiness. Reigniting joy in your relationship requires clearing some debris along with rekindling the spark. Counseling is meant to be a safe space where you can express your needs and frustrations. But bringing trauma and challenges to the table means you and/or your partner might already be walking on eggshells trying to avoid making things worse. You might be so afraid of saying the wrong thing that you don’t want to say anything at all.
Are there things you should not tell the therapist, but wait to discuss with your partner in private? Are there things you should keep to yourself and not tell anyone for the sake of getting along? Will your honest answers to the marriage counseling session questions do more harm than good? These questions and others might be circling in your brain, losing you sleep, and increasing your anxiety as the appointment date gets closer and closer.
It’s totally natural and healthy to feel these concerns and generally be nervous about the first marriage counseling session. Now, take a breath. Well Marriage Center has put together this guide to help you prepare for the journey ahead. After reading this, you will be better-equipped to balance your statements in the moment with your long-term goals for the relationship. We want to support you in making your own best judgments about what to say to both the therapist and your partner, when to say it so it can be constructive, and how to say it with love.
What Do You Talk About in Marriage Counseling?
When you start marriage counseling, what to expect can be a little confusing. You might worry that the main topic of discussion during marriage counseling will be all your problems and everything negative that has happened in your relationship so far. If you are working with a less-experienced counselor or a therapist who does not specialize in couples therapy, they might even mistakenly guide you in this direction. But only talking about the problems is itself a problem. While you can’t address and move past your issues without talking about them, you should also talk about positives.
At Well Marriage Center, we employ a strengths-based approach, taking the time to learn what you admire about one another, what drew you together, and what has kept you together despite difficulties. Our counselors respect your desire to preserve and strengthen your relationship, and work to heal and restore the connection between you and your partner.
One of the biggest signs of a good couples therapist is that they do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to their work. What you talk about will depend on what brought you into counseling to begin with. And whatever the subject of discussion, you deserve a therapist who is as committed to fighting to protect your relationship as you are. What Statements Cause Problems With Couples Therapy?
There are statements from both the participants and the therapist that can cause problems with couples therapy. Let’s start with some of the things you should not say.
- “It’s your fault…”
There are many issues and challenges that bring couples to therapy, and some come with blame from one or both sides. Infidelity, lack of intimacy, disconnection…both parties in the relationship might tell a different story about why these situations have come to pass. In each of these scenarios and others, the initial fault or bad action might even lie with one partner over the other. But part of the work of therapy is understanding the broader dynamics of your relationship. Once a couple works past the need to place blame, they can release bitterness and begin to heal. Though it may sound scary to put a pause on blame, this is a liberating experience that can effectively reveal more strength in your relationship. All in all, continuing to focus on the faults of the past keeps you trapped in the old relationship that you are trying to repair and restore into something better than ever.
2. “Don’t tell my spouse/partner…”
It’s important to understand you should not expect your therapist to take sides. Asking your therapist to keep something a secret from your partner or spouse is a request which can actively hold back your healing. If there is something you do not want your partner to know, but you do want the counselor to know, it’s important to explore why that is. What are you worried might happen if this secret becomes known in the relationship? Talking through what you want to keep hidden in the safe space of therapy can help you and your spouse deal with the emotional pain, questions, and/or fears that are driving your hesitation.
In some cases, it might still be a good idea to talk with your therapist individually about big reveals you would like to make. Past infidelity that is not known to your partner, hidden feelings and experiences–these can require planning to make known, and it might be the opinion of your therapist that more healing is needed before certain things come out. It’s not to say that a therapist will keep your secret, but they can help you plan bringing it to light in a positive way that does not further damage your relationship.
3. “I want a divorce/breakup.”
Since marriage counseling is a safe space to express your feelings, you might wonder why this statement is something you should not say. Ultimately, if you do want a divorce, or a breakup for those who are in couples therapy while dating, then this might already be known to the spouses and counselor. But continuing to repeat it reflects that therapy may not be working.
More often, we find that when this statement is made during a counseling session, it is a threat coming from a place of deep distress and frustration. While you might later decide you did not mean this statement, your partner will remember what you said and might even take you seriously. Your marriage counselor is on your side to help solve and work through negative feelings within the relationship to preserve the good while healing the bad. Threatening to end the relationship in the middle of counseling is expressly working against this effort.
There are also some things your therapist should not say. Your therapist should never be the one to tell you that your relationship needs to end. They should also never say anything that makes you feel judged,, belittled, or otherwise unsupported. At Well Marriage Center, we practice pro-relationship counseling, listening to your specific mutual needs, goals, and concerns to tailor an approach that can help you and your partner find your way back to each other.
How To Handle Feeling Attacked in Couples Therapy
Feeling criticized is one of the four main predictors of relationship unhappiness, according to Dr. John Gottman, a foundational researcher in the field of relationships. Dr. Gottman also researched defensiveness that emerges when we feel attacked. When you speak up to defend yourself against the perceived attack, your partner then speaks up in defense of their initial criticism, trapping you each in your own perspectives trying to prove you are innocent. Luckily, in addition to describing these dynamics with his research, Dr. Gottman also came up with an Antidote to Defensiveness:
- Seek the truth within the criticism. When criticism is given, it’s because your partner has something important they are trying to tell you. What is that?
- Give the benefit of the doubt. Your partner is not trying to make you feel bad about yourself. In fact, the criticism might be more about what they are feeling than what you did or did not do.
- Validate your partner’s perception, even if you do not agree. Telling them they are wrong or becoming argumentative/defensive is only going to deepen the rift in the relationship. You don’t have to agree with their perspective, but you do have to accept that it exists.
- Tell your partner what you can agree with. Are they right about a way you behaved, an outcome that occurred, or something that could have gone differently? Repeating back something they said lets them know you were listening.
- Bring up your difference of opinion. Of course, your feelings are equally valid and deserve to be equally heard. Leaving this part until last allows you time to process and avoid having too extreme of a reaction based on your defensive feelings.
Depending on the circumstances which have brought you to this point, it may be very difficult to validate your partner’s perception and accept the truth within criticism. Remember that when your partner is speaking, you should be listening to understand their perspective, not already planning what you will say in response. That work is exactly what experts like the therapists at Well Marriage Center are here to help you do!
How To Prepare for Marriage Counseling
As you get ready for marriage counseling, questions to strengthen your relationship and topics for conversation might be top of mind. Or you might be anxious about telling your side of the story or hearing your partner’s. Remember going in that it’s important to find the foundation in the strengths of the relationship. If the goal is to try to stay together, be ready to start by exploring why that is. Preparing for marriage counseling means preparing to welcome gratitude, respect, passion, and compassion back into your relationship. It won’t happen with the first session, but we have seen it happen for many couples.
Contact Well Marriage Center for Effective Marriage Counseling
There are many factors that impact whether a certain marriage counselor is right for each couple. Well Marriage Center may not be right for everyone, but with a diverse group of specialists we do believe we can lend perspective to a tense, lonely relationship. We have 21 offices across the US, so it’s possible we might already be in your area or be delivering telehealth marriage counseling in your state.
Our counselors study many different methods and schools of thought to deliver unique approaches that are tailored for each relationship. Sometimes the strengths-based model reminds a couple immediately why they continue to choose each other. When working through deeper trauma or infidelity, coping with the recent events might require strengths to be explored as they are revealed through the healing process. Whatever pace of treatment and specific tuning your relationship needs, Well Marriage Center is your partner on the journey to a fresh start. Our intake coordinator Melinda can work with you to answer any questions, learn more about what your needs are and match you with a therapist. Fill out this short intake form to get some time on the calendar and get started!
The idea of going to marriage counseling can feel like the first domino falling for a failing relationship, but this is a tired and untrue sentiment associated with the practice. Deciding that therapy is the right move for the health of your relationship is one of the best actions you can take as a couple. Our team at Well Marriage Center puts our all into helping couples establish healthy practices they can implement every day so that you can find your way back to one another.
Every couple we see is unique. Some come in with goals and a plan to attack the hurdles in their relationship, and others feel that something is off but want a professional to talk with. Whether you are in one of these camps or another altogether, there is hope for your unique relationship. Our aim with this blog is to cover the more common goals related to couples counseling so you can go to your sessions with confidence and a plan of action.
What Is The Most Common Problem Addressed In Couples Therapy?
There is not a single problem that comes up more often than others. Normally, we see a combination of elements that has led a couple to our offices:
- Communication Issues
- Emotional Disconnect
- Affairs & Infidelity
- Intimacy Issues
- Significant Life Events
- Overcoming & Processing Trauma
What Are Examples Of Goals For Therapy?
Therapy goals help outline each session and create a structured path towards a happy relationship. Here are several examples our therapists see that can lead to successful results.
- Identify the Root Cause of the Problem: Couples may come to our office for one major issue or a host of irritations, but there is usually more under the surface that has led them to this point. Finding the root of an issue will shed light on all the related topics that both parties need to address. For example, you may be frustrated that your partner never plans anything for both of you to do. But perhaps at the root, you find there is an imbalance of relationship responsibilities that neither of you has addressed head-on.
- Better Understand Your Partner’s Perspective: Everyone has a lot going on in their life, and it is easy to lose sight of one another. Therapy creates an environment where both of you sit and hear each other honestly. A past situation that seemed trivial to you could have had a profound emotional impact on your partner, turning a molehill into a mountain. Coming to counseling to understand each other more deeply is a fundamental goal that is a great indicator of success.
- Enhance Intimacy: Intimacy is vital, as we thrive on close personal relationships with one another. However, intimacy is often solely thought of as a sexual relationship between two people. Couples counseling will expose you to other types of intimacy, such as experiential, emotional, and intellectual intimacy. Couples can have great sexual intimacy, but if the other types are not being met, your relationship could lack key elements of trust and vulnerability.
- Achieve Better Communication: It is not uncommon for someone to feel blindsided by couples therapy. In some cases, one party may be ignoring important issues and feel that the relationship is fine. This lack of communication is something consistent sessions can fix over time. Keeping what is bothering you bottled up will lead to festering resentment towards your partner. Therapy can teach you healthy and straightforward communication methods that help avoid meaningless arguments.
Is It Normal For Unmarried Couples To Go To Counseling?
It is absolutely normal for unmarried couples to go to counseling. Regardless of your marital status, holding off on discussing issues can lead to other, more significant problems. This is only one of the many stigmas around couples counseling that we are working to do away with here at Well Marriage Center. Additionally, we believe that heading into couples therapy even before problems arise can help you build a foundation that lasts.
Practicing healthy communication through therapy at any stage in a relationship enables couples to be better equipped when challenges do arise. Think of it like this—couples therapy is like taking care of your body by going to the gym. You don’t start going after you pull a muscle or break a bone. You go before problems start to appear to ensure that you are capable of surviving, healing, and then moving on.
What Is The Best Therapy For Relationship Problems?
There are many different forms of couples therapy that counselors will attempt to implement to fix complex relationship issues. Some counselors will keep divorce on the table early on as an option for the couple. That is not how our team sees a successful change for a couple. Well Marriage Center believes that couples enter counseling because they want to get their relationship back to a point where respect, love, and affection are front and center. The best way to achieve this is through what we call pro-relationship counseling. A pro-relationship counselor always advocates for saving, healing, and restoring your relationship. Our team uses clinically proven methods and is committed to avoiding divorce or separation whenever possible.
Well Marriage Center: Where Happily Ever After Begins
Your relationship is special, which is why we refrain from cookie-cutter questions like “what seems to be the problem?” Over our 30+ years of experience with over 15,000 couples, we’ve repeatedly seen our pro-relationship and strengths-based approach work. When we meet with a couple, we start with an extended session (90 minutes) and begin our time with a structured relationship strength-and-wellness assessment. Our counselors are committed to helping you build a brighter relationship future.
Get started here to put the spark back in your relationship.
Licensed, professional, therapists offering specialized couples counseling, individual therapy, and relationship wellness programs. We welcome ALL relationships!