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.
Most of us have heard of—and experienced—the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Sparks fly, and everything feels new, happy, and exciting. This stage of a relationship is truly wonderful, but it’s not what sustains a long-term relationship. The fact is, marriages and relationships take work, and they’re bound to have their highs and lows.
As the months and years go by, it’s not uncommon for feelings to dim over time or for the little things to start adding up. You might start to feel more like roommates. And, you might start to question whether or not you’re still in love with your partner.
If any of this rings true, you might be wondering, “Can lost feelings come back?” The good news is that marriage counseling or couples therapy can help you reignite your love for one another—as long as you and your partner are willing to put in the work. In this guide, we’ll discuss how to bring love back into a marriage with counseling and signs that marriage counseling is working.
How Do You Fix a Relationship After Losing Feelings?
It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that couples therapy won’t improve your relationship and rejuvenate your feelings overnight. It takes sustained work from both you and your partner. But with dedication and the right couples counselor, it’s more than possible to rekindle your feelings and your relationship! Here are a few tips to help you in this journey.
Be Ready to Put in the Work
There’s no doubt about it; couples therapy—and the work you do both in and out of sessions—is hard. During therapy sessions, you’ll likely find yourself having difficult conversations and confronting big or small issues in your relationship. Your counselor can help you identify unhealthy patterns in your relationship, understand the roadblocks or issues you are facing, and develop strategies to improve these situations—and ultimately, your relationship.
In addition to showing up physically and mentally for counseling sessions, you may also be asked to do homework outside of sessions. For example, you might be asked to write your partner a letter about what you admire about them. Or, you might be asked to share experiences with one another, like watching a favorite movie, sharing a hobby, or going on a date. Putting the work in and intentionally completing these kinds of activities can help you rebuild the foundation of your relationship and fall back in “like” with each other, one of the key elements for finding your way back to love.
Remember What Made You Fall in Love in the First Place
When your relationship feels tense, it can be difficult to remember the good moments and what you love, or once loved, about your partner. Combine that with kids, bills, workplace stressors, and so much more, and it can be easy to forget your partner’s good qualities. But rediscovering the feelings you once had can go a long way to rekindling your love.
At Well Marriage Center, we practice a strengths-based approach to marriage counseling, which uses your individual and relational strengths to build a foundation for success. When we begin working with a couple, we start with a structured relationship strengths and wellness assessment. You’ll be asked to reflect and share what brought you together, what your relationship was like in the beginning, what some of your favorite moments have been, and more. Not only can doing this build a safe space to discuss your current relationship dynamics and issues, but it will help you remember what you truly admire about one another.
Be Vulnerable and Willing to Grow and Adapt
Maybe you’re feeling stressed about household chores, the kids, your job, or other responsibilities. Maybe you’ve found that your relationship has developed unhealthy communication patterns. Maybe a lack of intimacy has instilled feelings of doubt. Maybe things have gotten so rough or feel so hopeless that you’re wondering, “Is marriage counseling worth it?”
While it may seem counterintuitive, being vulnerable and opening up about your concerns in a healthy and safe environment, like couples therapy, can help you and your partner reconnect. Our therapists are specifically trained to walk you through these moments of vulnerability. When resentments and negative feelings build up, it tends to block out the good stuff about your partner. If you can both open up about how you’re feeling and be willing to work on improving these problems, though, these negative feelings can fade in light of understanding. This will make it much easier to notice all the qualities about your partner that made you fall in love to begin with.
Do Couples Stay Together After Therapy?
Yes—time and time again we see couples rekindle their love for each other! Couples therapy often gets a bad reputation, and you’ve probably heard horror stories about therapists telling couples to split. But the truth is that many marriage counselors, including our team at Well Marriage Center, practice a pro-relationship approach to therapy.
What this means is that you won’t have to worry about things like, “Will a couples therapist tell you to break up?” Our therapists are relationship specialists who will carry the support and hope that you and your partner can heal your relationship and rekindle your love.
Rebuild Your Love with Well Marriage Center
Beginning therapy is often a scary or anxiety-riddled endeavor for couples. At Well Marriage Center, we’ve made it our goal to ensure that you and your partner feel supported every step of the way. Before you get started, it can be helpful to review our website to find out more about our process and what to expect.
Once you’re ready, you can get started by filling out a short Intake Form and setting up a call with our Intake Coordinator, Melinda. She’ll answer any questions you have and connect you with one of our experienced therapists. Taking the next step will take work—but your effort can help you reignite your relationship.
Nervous about your first marriage counseling session? You’re not alone. Marriage counseling is an extremely vulnerable experience, bound to unearth intense emotions for everyone involved. Fortunately, if you and your partner know what to expect before you begin, it can feel a lot less scary—and you’ll likely get more out of the experience. So, how do couples prepare for a therapy session? Although the specifics of your marriage/ couples therapy exercises will differ depending on your unique goals, there are some basic steps you can take to ready yourself for any initial therapy session.
Frequently Asked Marriage Counseling Session Questions
What Do You Talk About Before Couples Counseling?
Naturally, every couple’s reasons for pursuing therapy differ. However, there are common factors that often contribute to strife in a relationship, such as:
- Communication issues
- Loss of romantic feelings
- Financial issues
- How to raise children
- Health issues
- Intimacy issues
If there are clear stressors—like those listed above—that you and your partner deem the main source of tension, then it would be best to review those points before your first therapy session.
However, if your reasoning is less cut and dry, then it maybe is beneficial for you both to explore the following questions before starting therapy:
- Do we want to stay together?
- What are your opinions of therapy?
- What are the most significant problems in our marriage?
- Does this rough patch/relationship feel temporary or permanent?
- When did you first notice that something was wrong?
Going through these questions can give you a better idea of how to navigate counseling. It’s important to note that you do not need concrete answers so long as you both actively engage with these questions on a deeper emotional level.
Additionally, reviewing these types of questions in advance will better prepare you and your partner to have difficult conversations, making your first counseling experience more productive and beneficial for everyone.
What Do You Talk About During Marriage Counseling?
As we’ve said before, the specific topics of each counseling session vary greatly depending on the couple’s unique goals and challenges. Every couple is different, so every counseling approach is equally distinctive. That being said, here are a few of the most common questions a good therapist asks during an initial counseling session.
- In general, how would you describe your life and marriage together?
- What does the timeline of your relationship look like?
- What strengths do you bring to the table in your relationship? And what strengths do you think your partner has?
- Do you have any prior experience with marriage counseling or other types of therapy?
- What made you decide to seek marriage counseling?
- Have you tried anything to resolve present issues before seeking counseling? What did you try, and how did that go?
- What do you expect to get out of couples therapy?
- Do you currently want to stay with your partner? Why or why not?
- Are you willing to put in the work and make changes to improve the quality of your marriage?
Is There a Difference Between Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling?
This depends on who you ask, but Well Marriage Center uses these terms interchangeably. We believe that all couples, legally married or not, can repair and strengthen their relationships via therapy. Ultimately, the end goal of therapy for all types of couples is the same—to heal, reinforce their relationship, and bring about a happier future together.
How Long Do Couples Usually Go to Counseling?
The actual duration of couples counseling is different for everyone and depends on several factors, like:
- How long you have been together
- What your needs are
- What challenges are present
- The counseling model used by the therapist
In the end, the average length of marriage counseling doesn’t matter. A couple may pursue counseling for as long as they need to; incorporating a strict timeline doesn’t do anyone any favors, and may add unnecessary stress.
Searching For Pro-Relationship Counseling? Try Well Marriage Center
It’s important to understand that pursuing counseling does not mean you have failed as a couple. Instead, it’s a chance to make your relationship even stronger. Regardless of your specific situation, you and your partner deserve a therapist who will help you pursue individual happiness while advocating for the success of your relationship.
Although counseling can feel daunting, the right therapist will help you and your partner work through the tension to build a stronger and happier union. Our licensed, specialized therapists know how to tailor your therapy experience so you and your partner can discover mutually beneficial solutions.
If you are both ready to take the first step of your counseling journey, fill out our short intake form and set up a consultation with our Intake Coordinator, Melinda. She’ll happily walk you through our process and answer any questions you have to match you with a counselor who meets your unique needs.
Written by Glen Denlinger
There are numerous functions and purposes for marital love. One our society doesn’t talk about enough is the healing function of marriage. As children we all experience woundedness, some more so than others. In addition to struggles from childhood, emotional pain is something we experience and accumulate all throughout life.
Love, Warts and All
Marriage has a unique comforting and healing component to it. Allowing someone to intrinsically love us, warts and all, is part of that healing component and especially so for our childhood pain. Frequently we hold back from being vulnerable in our closest relationships and limit that healing.
Sometimes, too, love unfortunately becomes toxic and it isn’t safe to be vulnerable. When that happens, ideally it is only for a season. We learn to work our way out of negative emotional cycles and keep growing forward together with our partner. Couples therapy is designed to help us turn our marriages around and make them safe places where transparency and vulnerability occur and healing happens.
Growing Past the Disappointments
Another way marriage is designed to heal is by disappointing us. That may sound strange but after the honeymoon phase of love, disillusionment often sets in. Sometimes the disillusionment phase doesn’t come until many years later. Choosing to love a spouse when they disappoint us can grow us up inside and bring healing, growth and maturity to a fractured and wounded self.
While paradoxical, it’s somewhat like the benefit forgiving provides the person doing the forgiving. Counselors will tell you there are several types of forgiveness. There is the healthy and functional type, but there is also the doormat and enabling type which doesn’t promote healing at all.
Marriage counseling, or couples therapy, is designed to walk you through both the childhood pain and resulting toxic emotional cycles, as well as through disappointments and disillusionment that often show up in long-term relationships. We all get to choose how our love grows or stagnates.
Doing the Work
Is your marriage or significant relationship one that provides healing and growth for both you and your partner? If not, help is readily available. Changing and improving the relationship to make it healing is worth all the effort it takes to make that happen.
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!
Licensed, professional, therapists offering specialized couples counseling, individual therapy, and relationship wellness programs. We welcome ALL relationships!