What Techniques Do Marriage Counselors Use?
Marriage counseling provides space and opportunity for couples of all types to build upon their partnership, wherever they are in their relationship journey. However, if you’re new to the idea of couples therapy (or therapy at all), you may have questions about it—and whether it’s worth trying. You might be wondering what to expect in a session, what sorts of couples therapy techniques are being used, or if couples therapy even works at all. Well, look no further: we’re here to help. Let’s talk a bit about marriage counseling, some things you can expect in a session, and how we believe it can help any relationship—including yours!
Can Therapy Help with Relationship Problems?
The short answer is yes—it absolutely can! In fact, as of 2022, couples therapy has never been more helpful in restoring, rebuilding, or even just improving relationships. A recent study by the Journal of Marital & Family Therapy found that 70% of couples saw therapy as helpful, or even integral, in renewing their partnership. For some types of therapy, that rate is even higher! This, combined with other factors, has contributed to a steady decline in divorce rates in the United States since the early 1980’s.
Part of this success for marriage counseling is due to the fact that we now have various proven methods of counseling couples, all of which are meant to fit various relationship stages, areas of concern, or focuses for improvement. To answer more of your couples therapy questions, let’s dive into five of those techniques, and what benefits each of them can provide to your marriage.
Five Types of Couples Therapy
Here, we will cover five different techniques that are proven to have positive results: Behavioral Marital Therapy, the Developmental Model, the Gottman Method, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Imago Therapy. Ultimately, every relationship is different and requires a unique approach, but these five can provide a good starting point for establishing therapy goals or even prescribing couples therapy exercises:
- Behavioral Marital Therapy—a myriad of techniques based around encouraging good communication and positively reinforcing good behavior. This technique theorizes that the behaviors most enforced in a relationship—positive or negative—are the ones that will most likely be repeated.
- The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy—also known as the Bader-Pearson model, this technique theorizes that relationships, like people, have different developmental stages of intimacy, and that each partner arrives at each development stage on an individual level. This suggests that many of the challenges couples face are from being in different developmental stages, and the best solutions depend on the unique combination of development stages between partners.
- The Gottman Method—developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, this method targets four key behaviors that cause harm to relationships (which we’ll discuss later), then gives couples techniques to notice, avoid, and even replace these behaviors. They do this using nine key principles to foster healthy relationships, including Trust, Commitment, Building Love Maps, and more.
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)—this model “prioritizes emotion and emotional regulation” as the central factor in relationship building. Emotionally focused couples therapy aims to strengthen emotional bonds in couples first, which in turn should translate to improving other aspects of the marriage or relationship.
- Imago Therapy—a theory that elevates working with the inner child, therapists who employ Imago will aim to help couples “understand each other’s feelings and ‘childhood wounds’ more empathically, allowing them to heal themselves and their relationships.”
Let’s dive a bit deeper into one of these techniques, also one of the most popular: the Gottman Method.
What Is Gottman Method Couples Therapy?
Gottman couples therapy techniques are backed by decades of research, reports, and discussions around what makes marriages work. Through their research, they’ve been able to pinpoint four communication behaviors that predict divorce, which they have dubbed the Four Horsemen:
- Criticism: inherently negative observations and personal attacks from one partner to the other
- Defensiveness: response to any criticism—even constructive—with hostility or denial of responsibility
- Contempt: a loss of respect for the other partner; this is the highest predictor of divorce
- Stonewalling: communication shuts down, and what rare communication remains is oftentimes hostile
While each of these might be present at some point in a marriage, their presence does not mean a marriage can’t be saved. Rather, they serve as a sign that there is opportunity to add more positive communication techniques into a marriage, something that marriage counseling can certainly help with. Gottman proposes nine such behaviors—known at the Sound Relationship House—that can be used to root out the Four Horsemen from a marriage, all by building a solid “house” of layered principles. They are as follows, in this specific order:
- Build Love Maps—cataloging “essential guide to your partner’s inner world,” including likes, dislikes, and other key facts about them
- Share Fondness and Admiration—the practice of telling your partner the things you like about them
- Turn Towards—actively responding to your partner when they “bid” for your attention, help, or support.
- Positive Perspective—not rushing to criticism, and assuming the best case scenario when your partner does something that rubs you the wrong way (i.e. “perhaps they didn’t realize this affected me this way”)
- Conflict Management—not avoiding conflict, but having a method to resolve it healthily
- Make Life Dreams Come True—supporting each other’s goals, and even helping achieve them
- Create Shared Meaning—like Love Maps, building a guide to an inner world, but for your relationship
- Trust—one of the “weight bearing walls,” focused on establishing mutual trust
- Commitment—the other “weight bearing wall,” developing faith in the relationship and your partner
Each of these nine tenets comes with their own exercises, techniques, and suggestions for improvement in the marriage. Keep in mind, this is just a brief overview of the Gottman method, and the specific approach will vary depending on what your therapist determines is a key focus. Also note that the Gottman method is just one of many techniques available to help with your marriage; an experienced therapist, like our team at Well Marriage Center, can determine what techniques may be right for your relationship.
Want to Learn More About Marriage Counseling?
If you’re interested in learning more about what kind of therapy will best suit your partnership, we at Well Marriage Center are here for you. Our therapists implement the best, most proven techniques—like the five described above—to create a unique strategy for every marriage. We have worked with over 15,000 couples (both in person and virtually) to help partners rediscover all of the beauty their relationships hold, and if you work with us, we can help you do the same.
Ready to fall in love with your partner all over again? Please schedule an appointment with our intake coordinator Melinda to take the next step on your relationship journey. We look forward to hearing from you.