Can a Marriage Counselor Save Your Union?

Nearly 44 percent of engaged couples and 50 percent of married couples have visited a therapist, according to studies by Bradley University and MidAmerican Nazarene University, respectively.

Most couples find seeing a marital counselor helpful. In surveys by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, 98 percent of couples said they received good or excellent therapy, and 97 percent said they got what they came for.

That is not to say that relationship therapists are magic bullets. Therapy is most effective when couples seek help at the start of a problem, rather than years down the road (which is more common). Both people must be willing to communicate honestly and listen to their partner. They must be able to own up to their contributions to the problem.

Before you go, note that marriage counseling is not a passive activity, and grappling with problems is rarely comfortable. Work on the relationship at home, as well as in the 60- to 90-minute therapy sessions, is necessary.

Where to Find a Couples Counselor

Eight out of 10 therapists in private practice provide couples therapy. You can also seek out a sex therapist, if your problems are specific to intimacy.

It is easy to find a counselor by looking online, asking friends, family or neighbors, or talking to your doctor or minister. What is more difficult is finding a therapist who is right for YOU. That may take some effort. Check out the websites of people to whom you are referred, look at their ratings, and ask if they offer a short getting-to-know-you session. You want to make sure you both feel at ease with the counselor.

Paying for therapy, which can cost $100-$250 per session, can also be tricky. Most insurance companies do not cover it.

Setting Goals For Your Counselor Sessions

Coming in with a goal can help you evaluate whether the counseling is starting to work after several sessions. If you want to find a way to argue less often, for example, or build a deeper emotional connection, doing a simple rating before and after each session on progress toward the goal can provide an objective measure.

Why Couples Therapy Usually Works

In therapy, you learn to talk and listen to each other more effectively. You transform fighting into communicating. Arguments become opportunities for understanding and working through difficulties. This alone usually helps couples feel more satisfied in their relationship.

If you are in a rut, having the same fight over and over, counseling can help you change the script. If you feel disconnected, your counselor can provide practical ideas for finding one another again.

After a major life change–such as a new child, job loss or serious illness—counseling can be especially beneficial.

When Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work

Counseling doesn’t always work, of course. It is not an appropriate solution for domestic violence or drug/alcohol abuse, for example.

Both parties have to be invested in the process. They must play fair even when angry. They have to avoid defensiveness, and promise not to use what is said in therapy against their spouse at home. Arguing in therapy the same way you do at home is a recipe for failure.

Things can get worse before they get better, because you may be sharing information in therapy that you have not aired in a long time. Feelings may be raw. But in time, things should start to get better. When each person feels heard, they start to become kinder to the other.

If you have been going to therapy for months, and your relationship is not improving, it is probably time for a different therapist.