Does Couples Counseling Really Work?

According to the Gottman Institute, the average couple waits for six years before seeking the help of a counselor, even when their relationship is not working properly. Ideally, you should seek expert intervention through couples counseling or marital therapy as soon as possible if your relationship is facing significant challenges.

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on May 01, 2024

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Couples counseling is a popular type of therapy for couples seeking to improve communication, manage conflicts, and strengthen their relationship. It can provide couples with a safe space to express feelings and resolve issues.  

While some couples may be skeptical of whether or not this type of therapy can work, couples counseling has been proven to be effective. This article explores the utility of couples counseling, its associated success rates, and how you can contribute to the success of your therapy as a couple.

When to See a Couples Counselor

According to the Gottman Institute, the average couple waits for six years before seeking the help of a counselor, even when their relationship is not working properly. Ideally, you should seek expert intervention through couples counseling or marital therapy as soon as possible if your relationship is facing significant challenges.

Couples considering getting married should also consider premarital counseling to prepare themselves for any relationship challenges that might arise in the future.

Couples may consider therapy for the following reasons: 

When The Relationship Is Facing Trust Issues

Diminishing trust is a major cause of relationship problems. If you struggle to be truthful or faithful to each other, you should consider couples counseling.

A professional can help you improve your communication without resorting to bitterness or blame. In the end, you will understand why your relationship is having trust issues and work together for a healthy relationship.

If Fights Become More Frequent

Constant arguments, quarrels, and fights signify escapism and communication breakdown. If your fights become more frequent and intense, sometimes involving name-calling, yelling, and brawls, then it’s time to seek intervention from a therapeutic expert.

A counselor will help you understand the reasons behind your relationship issues, diffuse your arguments, and increase mutual respect

When Lines of Communication Are Broken

Frequent arguments can eventually lead to communication breakdown. If you or your partner is afraid to bring up specific issues or withdraw from conversations, you must seek professional help. A licensed marriage counselor will assist you in overcoming your fears, clear your misunderstandings, and learn effective communication skills.

When Undergoing Difficult Times

Significant and abrupt changes can significantly alter the dynamics of the foundation of a relationship and threaten to sever the relational bond. A therapist can equip you with coping skills to help you remain strong during turbulent times in your relationship.

Whether it’s a drug problem, a health issue, or a more significant family problem, marriage therapy can help you rebuild your relationship and emerge more powerful than before.

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How to Tell If Couples Counseling Is Working

When you’re in couples counseling, it’s crucial to be able to tell if the therapy is having a positive effect. If you can measure your progress, you will be able to know if it’s working or not. Here are some tips to help you tell if your couples therapy is working: 

You Feel Comfortable With Your Sessions

Therapy sessions can be tough, especially at the beginning. There will be times when you feel like you don’t want to attend. You can tell your therapy is working if you progressively feel comfortable with every other session.

You Openly Talk About the Process

The ability to talk openly about the therapy process with your partner is a promising sign of success. If both of you feel increasingly interested in the process and more willing to see it through, then you can be sure that your therapy is working.

You Develop a Bond With Your Counselor

If both of you feel a connection with the therapist, then you can confidently say that your marriage counseling is working.  A feeling of deep connection is a sure sign that both of you are willing to cooperate with the therapist for success.

You Are Working on Yourselves

While a counselor is there to help you get over your relational issues, you also need to work on your personal shortcomings at an individual level. If you find that you and your partner are working on personal issues, it’s not a coincidence, it’s an expression of self-awareness.

Setting Goals for Your Sessions

While a therapist is there to help you with your relationship issues, couples can ensure that they take advantage of every session to get the most out of their time. Setting goals for your couples counseling sessions is important to ensure the counseling is successful.

Here are some steps you can take to help you set therapy goals:

Identify Broad Motives, Hopes, and Dreams

Begin by asking yourself, “What do I hope to achieve after therapy?” Your answer might be a heartfelt — yet vague — statement like, “I want to have a romantic relationship once more,” or “I want to feel less stuck in my relationship.” 

Ask yourself, “What does romance mean to me? What makes me feel stuck?” Seeking answers to such questions will allow you to brainstorm why you need therapy. Then list as many reasons as possible. As you build your list, you’ll realize that certain motives, struggles, and hopes stand out more prominently.

Choose a Theme

It’s normal to feel like you have trouble with everything; you don’t know what to focus on. At this point, ask your therapist to assist you in finding a specific mental health problem to focus on, like conflict, existential struggles, or intrusive thoughts. 

Narrow Your Theme into One or Several Goals

After choosing your theme, it becomes much easier to set your counseling goals. Sometimes it can be tricky, but a therapist is there to guide you. Be frank with your therapist and your partner and share your suspicions, and in the end, you will come up with a specific goal together.  

Make Your Goals Concrete and Measurable

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, marital therapy should be well-defined and have specific and measurable goals. The goals should also be concrete and time-oriented. For example, “I want to be spending two hours a day with my spouse by June” is more specific than “I want to create time for my spouse.”

If you feel a particular therapeutic goal may take a long time to achieve, break it into smaller milestones.

Create an Action Plan to Achieve and Track Your Goals

Work alongside your therapist and partner to come up with an action plan. An action plan is an outline of your primary goals, smaller objectives to track progress, actions to attain the objectives, and the timeline for the specific actions.

It’s important to note that the goal-setting process is ongoing, and you may need to modify or add new goals as you continue to work with your counselor. The key is to be patient and open to change while working together towards a stronger relationship.

Tips to Make Your Relationship Therapy Work

A number of different studies show that couples counseling can indeed work. According to research by the National Institutes of Health, couples undergoing Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a branch of couples therapy, reported an 86% marital satisfaction rate.

The International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy also suggests that EFT works for couples with relational difficulties and produces lasting results. Further research indicates that 70% of couples who go for therapy report lasting positive changes in their relationship.

Even though all evidence points to the efficacy of counseling therapy as a powerful tool for rebuilding relationships, it’s crucial that you take an active role in your counseling to ensure you’re getting the most out of it. Here are some top tips:

Choose a Well-Trained Therapy Specialist

One of the most crucial elements to the success of your counseling therapy is the therapist. Ensure your therapist has the appropriate qualifications and is licensed in your state. They should also have experience working with patients with similar issues to yours.

Consider whether your preferred therapist offers online therapy or if you need to meet them through an in-person appointment. Online therapy has become popular and allows you to receive counseling services from the comfort of your home.

Lastly, choose a therapist that you feel comfortable with. Kristina Anzell, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LFMT) and provider with Grow Therapy, advises that “the most important part in choosing a couples therapist is that partners feel safe and not judged by the therapist. If your partner tells you they do not like the therapist, listen to them, and find one you both like.”

Search Inside Yourself

Take time to reflect on your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and understand what has led you to seek counseling in the first place. Doing this will give you greater self-awareness and insight into the issues troubling you.

Share Expectations

Sharing your expectations with your spouse or partner can help you maximize your therapy sessions. Communication is crucial in any relationship, and it is no different regarding therapy. Discuss your goals and objectives with each other before your first session.

Be Honest 

It can be challenging to share your deepest and darkest secrets, thoughts, and feelings with someone else, but transparency aids the therapeutic process. Your therapist needs to know what you are struggling with, your fears, anxieties, and other problems, so they can choose the right type of therapy to help you.

What Benefits Can I Expect From Couples Counseling?

Gauging the success of couples counseling can be tricky, as each couple has their own definitions of success. Generally speaking, you can use the following measures to evaluate how successful the counseling has been for you and your partner: 

Improved Communication

After couples counseling, you should notice an improvement in your ability to communicate with your partner. You and your partner should feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly with one another while also being able to listen to each other’s points of view actively.

A Closer Relationship

If your goal is to strengthen your bond and improve your relationship satisfaction, you should notice a stronger, more romantic relationship. Your interactions should be more positive and have more trust and understanding. The time you spend together can also be a good way to measure progress. 

Conflict Resolution 

If you have been struggling with specific issues in your relationship, couples counseling can help you develop the necessary problem-solving skills. Once you have gone through counseling, resolving conflicts without escalating them into more prominent arguments should become easier. You might start a journal to track changes in the way you handle your relationship conflicts.

Meeting Goals

Finally, you can evaluate the success of your relationship counseling by seeing if you are on the right path towards meeting the goals you set in the early days of your sessions.

To this end, you can develop a questionnaire to see if you have accomplished the goals you set out to achieve at a particular time. The questionnaire may have the same set of questions to help you track longer-term success. 

According to Karina Hester, a behavioral therapy specialist and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with Grow Therapy, “Changes don’t happen overnight. If you are practicing the skills you are learning in session, regardless of what your partner is doing, you will see changes in your relationship — changes in the way you are interacting with your partner, the way you hold empathy and compassion for them — and you will see an increase in positive interactions.”

Key Takeaways

Couples counseling can be a successful way to help two people build a stronger relationship if they are willing to work together. 

While it can take time to see results, couples who attend regular sessions with an experienced counselor can make positive progress in communication, understanding, and trust. Significantly, success rates for couples counseling vary depending on the couple, the counselor, and the length of therapy. 

You should remember to set reasonable expectations and goals for each session so that you can accurately measure the success of your counseling. With patience and commitment, you can be sure your couples counseling will succeed.

If you’re considering therapeutic services, whether on-line or in-person, contact Grow Therapy today. A team of experts will help you find a unique, qualified therapist who is specialized in your area of need and accepts your insurance. 

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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