What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

We believe we’re getting the fairytale when we get married. You know — meet “the one,” have a whirlwind courtship, get married and live happily ever after. What the fairytales don’t tell you is that relationships take work.

Often times, we don’t go into a relationship with the tools to manage the challenges, which is where the pros come in. And by pros, I mean a counselor or therapist who can help you learn new ways of relating to your partner.

The question is: when do you know it’s time to consider marriage counseling? Here are some trigger points and behaviors that are signs you may need help.

1. When you aren’t talking. In all honesty, many relationship challenges are simply challenges in communication. A therapist can help facilitate new ways to communicate with each other. Once communication has deteriorated, often it is hard to get it going back in the right direction.

2. When you’re talking, but it’s always negative. Negative communication can include anything that leaves one partner feeling judged, shamed, disregarded, insecure or wanting to withdraw from the conversation. Negative communication also includes the tone of conversation because it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Negative communication can escalate into emotional abuse as well as non-verbal communication.

3. When you’re afraid to talk. When it’s just too frightening to even bring issues up. This can be anything from sex to money, or even annoying little habits that are being blown out of proportion. A therapist’s job is to help a couple become clear about their issues and to help them understand what they are truly talking about.

4. When affection is withheld as punishment. My client Ann’s ex-husband would get angry over small things and then withhold affection (including giving her the silent treatment). If one partner starts to act as a “parent” or “punisher,” there is a lack of balance in the relationship.

5. When you see your partner as an antagonist. You and your partner are not adversaries; you are on the same team. If it begins to feel as if you are on different sides, then it’s time to seek help.

6. When you keep secrets. Each person in a relationship has a right to privacy, but when you keep secrets from each other, something isn’t right

7. When you contemplate (or are having) an affair. Fantasizing about an affair is a signal that you desire something different from what you currently have. While it is possible for a relationship to survive after one partner has had an affair, it’s prudent to get some help before that happens. If both of you are committed to the therapy process and are being honest, the marriage may be salvaged. At the very least, you may both come to realize that it is healthier for both of you to move on.

8. When you are financially unfaithful. Financial infidelity can be just as -– if not more -– damaging to a relationship than a sexual affair. If one partner keeps his or her spouse in the dark about spending or needs to control everything related to money, then the other should bring up the topic of family finances. It’s not unreasonable to say, “I want to better understand our monthly bills and budget, our debt, how many savings/checking/retirement accounts we have, etc.” If your spouse objects, consult a professional to help work out the conflict.

9. When you feel everything would be OK if he would just change. The only person you can change is yourself, so if you’re waiting for him to change, you’re going to be waiting a long time. This is often when I recommend hiring a coach or therapist to better understand who you are and what you want. Then, if challenges continue to persist, reach out to a couple’s therapist to learn better tools for relating to each other.

10. When you’re living separate lives. When couples become more like roommates than a married couple, this may indicate a need for counseling. This does not mean a couple is in trouble just because they don’t do everything together. Rather, if there is a lack of communication, conversation, intimacy or if they feel they just “co-exist,” this may indicate that it’s time to bring in a skilled clinician who can help sort out what is missing and how to get it back.

11. When your sex life has shifted significantly. It’s not unusual for sex to taper off a little after you’ve been together for a while. However, significant changes in the bedroom signal something is not right. An increase in sex, by the way, is also a sign of challenges, as it can signal one partner trying to make up for something they’re doing that they feel is wrong.

12. When you argue over the same little things over and over again. Every individual has trigger behaviors — specific things that drive them crazy that wouldn’t bother the majority of other people. This can include issues like laundry, how the dishwasher is loaded and having the same thing for dinner too often. The other partner often doesn’t understand why these fights keep happening and what he or she can do about it. A therapist can help a couple discuss these issues and figure out what the real root of the issue is.

13. When there are ongoing relationship issues. Every relationship has sticking points or those big-ticket arguments that carry over for months without any kind of resolution in sight. This includes differing views on family finances, incompatible sex drives and child rearing philosophies. These challenges feel impossible, but they can be worked out and both partners can reach a reasonable resolution. Therapists help if both parties are committed to understanding the other’s point of view and are willing to find common ground.

Most couples wait too long before seeking help. In truth, you are best served if you seek help sooner rather than later.

This article originally appeared on Your 13 Signs You May Need Marriage Counseling

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Aug 7 2013

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

Whether you are looking to become a marriage and family therapist (MFT) or are considering seeking treatment from a professional marriage and family therapist, but don’t know exactly what to look for, this blog introduces some basic characteristics of marriage and family therapists so you know what to expect.

1. Effective Relationship Builders
Marriage and family therapists work directly with people on a regular basis and have to quickly build trusting relationships in order to work effectively with their clients. “It is in the context of these relationships that therapeutic work actually occurs,” notes Dr. Darren Adamson, director of curriculum development for Northcentral University’s School of Marriage and Family Sciences. As a result, it is important that MFTs not only enjoy working and interacting with people, but are also effective relationship builders in order to diagnose and treat individuals, couples and families.

2. Problem Solvers
MFTs are committed to identifying symptoms and helping clients solve problems related to behavior, emotional, cognitive and relational processes. Dr. Yulia Watters, MFT foundations faculty for NCU, compares the role of the MFT to a navigator, exploring and emphasizing solutions, while the client serves as the captain of the ship. Solving problems as a marriage and family therapist requires thorough knowledge of family systems theory and MFT-related research, and highly developed critical thinking and clinical skills.

3. Culturally Sensitive
In our diverse society, MFTs can expect to work with people from all walks of life. For this reason, they must be able to appreciate issues related to diversity, including culture, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and spirituality. “Respect for culture and curiosity that prompts efforts to understand clients’ unique cultural experiences are critical to success as an MFT,” says Adamson.

4. Ethical
“Ethics are the foundations for every therapeutic practice,” notes Watters. The AAMFT Code of Ethics helps set the standard for ethical practice for American marriage and family therapists. For example, professional MFTs must be able to establish trusting and reliable relationships with their clients, which requires awareness of confidentiality issues and the legal responsibilities and liabilities of clinical practice and research. “While relieving suffering is not always achievable, there is an absolute that we can always achieve as an MFT,” adds Adamson. “And that is to do no harm.”

5. Licensed
“Licensure is an important achievement for an MFT clinician,” explains Watters. “It is a gauge of credibility, responsibility and high ethical standards while providing clinical services.” According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), all licensed MFTs must have a minimum of a master’s degree and at least two years of post-graduate supervised clinical experience. If you’re not familiar with the MFT licensure process, you need to be aware that it is a distinct process that involves meeting the requirements of the state licensing board in the state in which you wish to work.

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

You and your spouse used to vibe like peanut butter and jelly. But now you seem to come together like oil and water. Is it time to send for reinforcements — in the form of marriage counseling?

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Admitting you need help can be both scary and humbling. But it can also lead you to a happy ending: a healthy relationship built on open communication. Clinical psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, shines a light on relationship red flags — and how couples therapy can help you deal with them.

5 signs it may be time for couples counseling

Marriages are like fingerprints — no two are the same. Each partner brings a set of hopes, dreams, personality quirks and family baggage to the relationship. And when you mix the two together, it can be fireworks, a firestorm or both. That’s why Dr. Borland says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to figure out the best time to seek help.

“Earlier is generally better, but it depends on the couple’s dynamic,” relates Dr. Borland. “For some couples, counseling happens when one partner is finally willing to go — though that’s often when the relationship is on the brink of divorce or separation.”

By paying attention to these signs, Dr. Borland says you may be able to pull out of the fire before your house burns down:

  1. Bad communication: Your home is either really loud (from all the yelling) or very quiet (silent treatment, anyone?) “I often have couples say, ‘It feels like we’re having the same argument over and over again.’”
  2. Lack of physical or emotional intimacy: “People tell me, ‘We live like roommates. There’s no sexual chemistry in our marriage anymore. We’re just kind of passing each other in the hallways.’”
  3. Broken trust: You suspect your partner is lying. Or you know that you definitely are. Perhaps there has been infidelity. But cheating comes in many forms. “It doesn’t have to be physical, person-to-person infidelity. Trust can be broken through actions carried out online or while using social media.”
  4. A major life change: “The birth of a child, the death of a loved one, moving homes, a new job or retirement — these changes have a huge impact on your marriage.”
  5. Addiction: “An addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography or spending can strain a relationship.”

The benefits of couples therapy

To have a healthy relationship, Dr. Borland says you need three tenets: good communication, honesty and trust. Couples counseling can help you restore — or even establish — all three.

Marriage counseling can:

  • Improve communication so you both feel heard, understood and connected.
  • Strengthen the emotional bond between partners.
  • Increase cooperation.
  • Reduce stress.

Like the tooth fairy, the idea that couples therapy is a one-way ticket to separation or divorce is a myth. According to the American Psychological Association, marriage counseling works about 75% of the time. Those in abusive relationships and those already actively separating make up a big portion of the remaining 25%.

“There are plenty of couples whose marriages have been strengthened and saved by marriage counseling,” notes Dr. Borland. “When my patients express that their marriages are doing better, they often say, ‘We’re laughing more. We’re doing things that are fun.’” And who doesn’t want more fun in their life?

How to find a marriage counselor

Finding the right counselor can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. So where should you start? Dr. Borland suggests these resources:

  • The American Psychological Association.
  • Psychology Today.
  • Your insurance company.

Once you identify the person who will hear your deepest, darkest secrets, Dr. Borland recommends giving it three or four sessions before you pass judgment. “But I tell people it doesn’t matter if I have diplomas from the greatest universities in the world. If you don’t feel like you can talk to me, then this is all for nothing.”

And don’t worry. If you or your spouse feel like you just don’t connect with your new life coach, it’s OK to keep searching until you find a counselor that clicks.

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Not all couples therapy is created equal. Here’s help.


  • What Is Therapy?
  • Find a therapist near me

It amazes me that most people decide to end their marriages without seeking professional help. The decision of whether to divorce or not is probably the most important decision anyone will ever make. Yet, the fact remains that only a minority of people in the throes of marital problems consult marriage therapists.

Truth be told, seeking professional advice for your marital problems is no guarantee things will improve. In fact, many people have told me that their so-called marriage therapy even made things worse. Most therapists are well-meaning, but not always qualified to do marital therapy. That’s why I want to offer some guidelines for you to consider should you seek professional help to improve your marriage.

Make sure your therapist has received specific training and is experienced in marital therapy. Too often, therapists say they do couples therapy or marital therapy if they have two people sitting in the office. This is incorrect.

Marital therapy requires very different skills than doing individual therapy. Individual therapists usually help people identify and process feelings. They assist them in achieving personal goals. “How do you feel about that?” is their mantra.

Couples therapists, on the other hand, need to be skilled at helping people overcome the differences that naturally occur when two people live under the same roof. They need to know what makes a marriage tick.

A therapist can be very skilled as an individual therapist and be clueless about helping couples change. For this reason, don’t be shy. Ask your therapist about his or her training and experience.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Make sure your therapist is biased in the direction of helping you find solutions to your marital problems rather than helping you leave your marriage when things get rocky. Feel free to ask about the therapist’s feelings about the point at which s/he sees divorce to be a viable alternative. Your therapist’s response will be very revealing.
  • You should feel comfortable and respected by your therapist. You should feel that he or she understands your perspective and feelings. If your therapist sides with you or your spouse, that’s not good. No one should feel ganged up on. If you aren’t comfortable with something your therapist is suggesting — like setting a deadline to make a decision about your marriage — say so. If your therapist honors your feedback, that’s a good sign. If not, leave.
  • The therapist’s own values about relationships definitely play a part in what he or she does and is interested in when working with you. Since there are few universal rules for being and staying in love, if your therapist insists that there is only one way to have a successful marriage, find another therapist.
  • Also, although some people think that their therapist is able to tell when a person should stop trying to work on their marriage, therapists really don’t have this sort of knowledge. If they say things like, “It seems that you are incompatible,” or “Why are you willing to put up with this?” or “It is time to move on with your life,” they are simply laying their own values on you. This is an unethical act, in my opinion.
  • Make sure you (and your partner) and your therapist set concrete goals early on. If you don’t, you will probably meet each week with no clear direction. Once you set goals, you should never lose sight of them. If you don’t begin to see some progress within two or three sessions, you should address your concern with your therapist.
  • It’s my belief that couples in crisis don’t have the luxury to analyze how they were raised in order to find solutions to their marital problems. If your therapist is focusing on the past, suggest a future-orientation. If he or she isn’t willing to take your lead, find a therapist who will.
  • Know that most marital problems are solvable. Don’t let your therapist tell you that change isn’t impossible. Human beings are amazing and they are capable of doing great things — especially for people they love.
  • Most of all, trust your instincts. If your therapist is helping, you’ll know it. If he or she isn’t, you’ll know that too. Don’t stay with a therapist who is just helping you tread water. Find one who will help you swim.

Finally, the best way to find a good therapist is word-of-mouth. Satisfied customers say a lot about the kind of therapy you will receive. Although you might feel embarrassed to ask friends or family for a referral, you should consider doing it anyway. It increases the odds you’ll find a therapist who will really help you and your spouse.

So don’t give up on therapy, give up on bad therapy. You be the judge. There’s a lot to be gained from seeking the advice of a third party who can help you find simple solutions to life’s complicated problems. Happy divorce busting!

Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers.

It can be called marriage counseling, marital counseling, couples counseling, or couples therapy. All focus on helping a couple’s marriage.

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

What is marriage counseling?

In it’s simplest, marriage counseling consists of a couple and a therapist trying to uncover and improve the couples problem by talking about them. But unlike your parent’s couples therapist, a skilled couples therapist is more effective in helping couples change.

What does a marriage counselor do?

If we toss a burger in the pan, we can call it “cooking.” But knowing how to do it well is another thing entirely. In all areas of life, to be good at something requires knowing the rules of the game and cooperating with them.

Teaching Speaking and Listening Skills

Bad marriage counselors act like coaches in a street fight. They keep trying to insist upon a set of rules for “good communications” that the couple neither knows about nor cares about adopting.

Good marriage counseling clarifies these rules, makes them explicit, and transfers responsibility for maintaining those rules to the couple.

Skills deficits like listening and the ability to effectively negotiation also show up outside the home. Improving these skills in the marriage, especially in when the situation is tense, transfers well to other areas of life.

Navigates the emotional tension in the room

A skilled marital counselor can both heat things up and cool things down in a room. And they teach this skill to the couple as well. Couples learn to emotionally regulate themselves and how to regulate their partner for maximum effectiveness.

In good marriage counseling, the therapist knows when to take sides and why

If a therapist clearly sides with one spouse against the other, this is damaging and ineffective. But there are also times when it is important to challenge a partner, question them in greater detail, or help them to express their issues more clearly. On other cases, a spouse won’t stand up for themselves in the counseling. A good counselor is able to make this side-taking explicit, so the couple understands what they are doing and why.

What makes a professional a “relationship expert”?

The section above speaks to basic skills needed to conduct good marriage counseling. But a relationship expert does more.

Naming the repetitive Negative Cycle

Emotionally Focused couples therapy calls this cycle the ‘demon dance.’ John Gottman has labeled four behaviors he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” to describe the elements of this negative cycle.

Naming and teaching the couple to stop these negative cycles is key. Negative cycles:

  • interfere with problem solving reduce the number of issues couples fight about improve future problem solving is easier to change than personality disorders allow couples to feel closer “in the moment,” even if the problem itself doesn’t evaporate.

It is wise for the true relationship expert to start with less charged emotional issues when working with these negative cycles. Once they can tackle these, they can go on to focus on more emotionally reactive issues.

Labeling the negative cycle as the enemy

When you fight, it is easy to label your partner as the source of the problem. Often couples shy away from therapy for this very reason. But when relationship problems escalate, it is usually a “chemical process” of putting two people together. When couples therapists help couples to resolve conflicts, they each them how each play a role in escalating the difficulties. Some fights are so explosive and resistance to change, that they need more exploration. Learning about hidden issues and fears are part of this work.

Enhancing Romantic Relationships

While Gottman’s work focuses on enhancing fondness and admiration, removing the fangs from argument about the frequency of sex is equally important. One writer recalls a couple who called it “the morass/more-ass” battle that made both miserable.

Holding yourself responsible for your partner

In effective marital counseling, each becomes aware of how they worsen or improve these patterns. Just as ways of relating can make couples a good fit, clinical trials have demonstrated that individuals can work to try to regulate their partner’s level of emotional upset with efforts like “repair attempts” which effectively give ground, make concessions or validate the importance of their partner’s perspective.

What does it mean for a couple to “improve their relationship”?

Win-win conflicts improve marriages. In fact, staying calm and seeing your partner as an ally instead of an enemy is a backdrop to keeping your cool. Researchers have found that couples feel more confident and proud of their marriage when they are able to engage successfully in disagreement.

What does it mean to “resolve conflicts”?

Years of research studying intimate relationships has taught us that most problems in a marriage don’t get “resolved” in any objective sense. They just fade in importance as the couple feels comfortable and effective in talking about them and negotiating around them.

They learn what contributes to the conflict and ways to change the pattern. For example, to the extent that Derick focuses on work on Saturday, Beth will fight with you about it and become resentful and be disinterested in sex Saturday night. In this situation, Derick learns the role he plays in his wife’s anger, resentment, and lower sexual desire. Other therapists refer to this cycle as “the more, the more…”

How long should the marital counseling session be?

The length of the sessions are typically 45-55 sessions. This is problematic. Many therapist continue to try to use an insurance model and treat couples the same as individual patients. With a couple as clients, you need 80-90 minutes according to research. This not only allows the couple to raise important issues, but have the time to practice processing them as well.

Do happily married couples have higher mental health?

Yes. Happier couples have:

  • higher levels of physical wellbeing
  • high levels of economic success and
  • communication skills improve

…according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). A happy marriage is probably the best predictor of overall happiness, according to research.

Many thanks to Arthur Nielson, MD for his most recent compelling book.

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)Do you need marriage counseling? The rule of the thumb is that if you are wondering about something like this, chances are that you do. Even good relationships could benefit from professional advice, even more so if things are less than perfect. Generally, one of the following behaviors or signs is a good enough reason to seek therapy:

  • 1. Negative interactions outnumber positive ones;
  • 2. Your partner is having an affair or might be considering it, and vice versa;
  • 3. You wish you were single;
  • 4. Your partner is physically abusive.

Obviously, in the last scenario you will need more than just a counselor, but talking to a marriage therapist alone and without your partner knowing is a good place to start and will help you deal with the problem in the safest way possible.

There is a lot of not-so-obvious signs as well, and you can find them in the quiz below. However, keep in mind that you possibly can’t make a perfect quiz for something like that. In fact, trying to do so would be irresponsible. Quizzes are based on scores: For example, 1-30 — bad; 31-60 — okay; 61-100 perfect. Imagine: If you score 31, you are told that your relationship is okay; but if you score 30, you are told you are in a big trouble. That is only one point difference; this obviously doesn’t make sense in real life.

So while we are going to calculate your score, please use common sense when deciding whether or not you need couple counseling or solo counseling. This quiz is designed to stimulate your thinking and organize your thoughts more than give you a definite answer. Ready? Let’s begin!

What makes you the way you are? Take THIS TEST to discover your personality type.

Signs of Deteriorating Relationship TRUE FALSE
1. You are giving more than you are getting back.
2. Your partner is very secretive.
3. Your partner never leaves his or her cell phone unattended.
4. You secretly resent your partner for something they have done or not done.
5. You feel your bond has weakened.
6. It feels like your partner isn’t present even when you are together.
7. You feel insecure about your relationship.
8. You are jealous.
9. You have different views regarding what is considered acceptable.
10. You feel exploited by your partner.
11. Your partner takes you for granted.
12. You don’t trust your partner.
13. Your partner suddenly deletes everything, such as calling and text history, browsing history, emails.
14. You feel invisible.
15. You struggle to come up with conversation topics to entertain your partner because silence feels uncomfortable.
16. You feel tension in the air.
17. There are many unresolved issues between you and your partner.
18. You hesitate to speak out.
19. You feel the need to be extremely cautious of your words and actions as if you were walking on eggshells.
20. You criticize your partner behind his or her back.
21. You are gradually drifting apart.
22. Your relationship is not satisfying.
23. Silent treatment is a norm between you two.
24. You yell at each other.
25. There is a growing emotional distance between you two.
26. One of the two partners is overly sensitive and tends to overreact.
27. Your or your partner’s words and actions do not match.
28. Your partner isn’t supportive.
29. One of the partners manipulates the situation by crying and falling apart.
30. There are things you want to know about your partner but are afraid to ask.
31. You feel lonely.
32. Your partner ridicules you.
33. Your partner criticizes you excessively.
34. Your partner seems to be passive and disengaged even when confronted about your problems as a couple.
35. There is something that one of the partners is unable to forgive.
36. Your partner is verbally abusive.
37. You want different things.
38. Your partner withholds physical affection.
39. You have different views about money.
40. You and your partner compete with each other, and you are keeping a score.
41. One partner tries to change the other one.
42. You hide your partner’s behavior or lie about him or her to your friends and family.
43. Your time together decreased.
44. You are unsure whether or not you can see yourself and your partner together in the future.
45. You wonder if you even want this relationship to work out.
46. Your partner negatively interprets some of your most innocent actions.
47. Your partner constantly makes you feel guilty.
48. Your partner puts you in a risky situation where you are forced to do things you don’t necessarily want to do, such as lending money or becoming a guarantor.
49. Your partner has changed.
50. You compare your relationship to others.

Your results will be displayed below the button.

Online CBT Platform to Help Deal with Relationship Problems, Anxiety, Depression, Addiction, and More. Includes professional follow-up by a CBT therapist. Click here to get started.

This is a common question. All relationships have ups and downs, and it’s hard to know the difference between a passing rough patch or a more serious situation that isn’t going to change on it’s own. Even if your relationship feels pretty difficult, it can easy to talk yourself out of marriage counseling (“Things will get better” or “We’re just under a lot of stress right now” or “This week has been better”).

So here are 3 clues that you really do need to get help.

1. Get Marriage Counseling If…. There Are Longstanding Patterns

It’s only in looking back over months, or even years, that you’re able to see that the old patterns are still there, and that nothing you are trying is leading to meaningful change– it’s better for a bit and then you have the same old fight again. When you are aware that there are long-standing patterns that haven’t changed, despite your efforts, it’s a clue that you might need couples therapy.

2. Get Marriage Counseling If…. There Is Repeated Empathic Failure

Some of the most damaging long-term patterns in a relationship include patterns of “empathic failure.” This means that one partner comes to the other for emotional support. To share something that is important to them, for help with a problem, or tries to initiate a shared activity (especially sex!) and winds up feeling rejected, ignored, misunderstood, unimportant, or uncared for. A marriage can recover from just about anything…. except repeated empathic failures.

If this is happening in your marriage, get thee to a good couples counselor. Stat.

3. Get Marriage Counseling If…. There Is A Crisis

Another situation where it’s absolutely essential for couples to get connected with a good marriage counselor is in a crisis. A “relationship crisis” is a situation that is traumatizing to one or both partners. Discovering that one partner has been participating in sexual, emotional or financial infidelity are crises that are very difficult for couples to work through with out the support of a good marriage counselor.

There are two types of major marriage crises that people really need marriage counseling to recover from:

  1. Toxic Marriage Crisis: Feelings have been hurt to the point (on both sides) when productive communication feels impossible. One or both partners is negatively reacting to the other consistently, and any efforts to talk or interact becomes a negative experience (or flat out argument).
  2. Frozen Marriage Crisis: People stop talking altogether. When marriages have been in toxic crisis for a while — arguments, empathic failures, breaks in trust — and couples don’t get real help for their relationship when they need it, eventually one person will stop talking. Sometimes both people stop talking. They simply don’t believe that it will accomplish anything positive, or they don’t trust their partner enough to be open with them.”Frozen” relationships are bad news. Couples who have stopped talking are actually at a much higher risk of divorce than couples who are still fighting with each other, trying to get their needs met or trying to be heard. When people stop talking they’ve essentially given up. Emotional withdrawal has begun, and that is often the beginning of the end. This is the emotional climate that usually precedes a separation.But even in these situations where marriages are far gone, there can still be hope. A good marriage counselor can help you see if there is still any willingness to try again. Sometimes in the environment of emotional safety that good marriage counseling creates, partners can feel safe enough to start opening up again. And sometimes when people are genuinely afraid of loosing their marriage, they can be willing to make changes that they were not motivated to before.Even though going through a relationship crisis together is harrowing, heartbreaking, and difficult — it can often help both people become motivated to reconnect and make real changes. These crises can be the catalyst for major “growth moments” for each partner, and can start a brand new chapter in a marriage. BUT… couples do really need support to do this kind of hard, deep growth work together.

The longer you wait, the harder it can be to heal.

According to research, the most distressed couples take an average of 6 years to decide to come to counseling. (Whereas the most healthy, happy and committed couples are much quicker to get professional support). This is unfortunate, because distressed couples are often the ones who need the most support. Waiting too long can allow negativity to become very entrenched. Years of negative interactions can damage a relationship terribly, creating toxic hostility, mistrust, resentment and avoidance that affects everyone in the family and can be more difficult to heal– even with therapy.

The sooner you can stop this pattern, the better. While any marriage counseling is better than no marriage counseling, and even very distressed couples often have positive outcomes, the process is much easier and more effective between people who still love and respect each other, and have hope for their relationship. Getting professional help for your relationship sooner rather than later is an investment in the future of your family. And, by all means, if you are in a crisis (an affair or addiction has been revealed, or you two are struggling in the aftermath of a major life event) run, do not walk, to your nearest professional marriage counselor. (And please don’t see a “life coach.”)

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

Marriage counseling is perhaps one of the scariest, yet most rewarding, journeys you can embark on.

A lot of people wonder whether they really need marriage counseling. In fact, most of the time, it’s not until a relationship is really on the rocks that a couple considers seeking help in therapy from a mental health professional.

After all, society tends to view marriage counseling as some sort of indication a husband and wife have reached a low point — that only couples who aren’t meant to be together need couples therapy. And if you do need it, it often feels like you’ve already failed somehow.

This is wrong. Marriage counseling is one of the best ways to improve any relationship.

And you don’t actually even have that many issues to see a drastic improvement.

What is marriage counseling — and does it work?

As defined by Mayo Clinic, “Marriage counseling, also called couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy. Marriage counseling helps couples of all types recognize and resolve conflicts and improve their relationships. Through marriage counselling, you can make thoughtful decisions about rebuilding and strengthening your relationship or going your separate ways.”

Just like seeing a doctor, a marriage counselor is there to help you when you need help from an expert.

You wouldn’t avoid the hospital if you broke your leg — and you shouldn’t avoid seeing a marriage therapist when your marriage is broken somehow (or slowly falling apart).

Here are three ways to know if going to marriage counseling or couples therapy can work for you:

1. You can’t stop arguing.

This is perhaps one of the most common reasons couples go for counseling. When every single conversation seems to turn into a fight, and agreeing on something only happens once in a blue moon, it could be a good idea to get help.

When we get locked into arguments it tends to spark a vicious cycle, where we can’t seem to stop bickering. The more we bicker, the worse it gets and the resentment starts to build.

If this feels like you, now might be a good time to see a relationship therapist.

2. You’re unhappy with your relationship.

Marriage isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be! It’s normal to sometimes feel unsatisfied in your relationship, and feel like it’s hard work. Marriages are hard work.

However, if you’re lately finding yourself more unhappy than happy, it could be a sign that something needs to change.

Sometimes a marriage counsellor can help put things in perspective. Other times they can help you repair what has been broken. Getting a third persons viewpoint can really make all the difference.

3. You’re not having sex anymore and you can’t talk about it.

This is completely normal and doesn’t necessarily have to be a cause for concern. It’s okay to go short (or even long!) periods, without sex.

If this however, is something you feel you can’t broach with your partner, or your partner gets distant or moody when you try to bring it up, seeking help from a sex and relationship therapist can make a world of difference.

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I know it may seem daunting to talk about something so private with someone you don’t know, but in my experience, after the first few minutes of the session, the nervousness subsides and it doesn’t feel quite as strange as you thought it might.

Seeing a marriage counsellor can be a big step for a lot of people.

If you feel like it might be something that could benefit you, try and get to it as quickly as possible. The more quickly you get help, the less entrenched you’ll be in your problems, and the easier they will be to solve.

Remember you’re not alone in finding marriage difficult and challenging. Marriage is difficult (even for marriage counsellors!). But there is help.

Rip off the plaster and do it now. Your marriage will thank you.

Leigh Norén is a sex and relationship therapist specializing in low libido, who offers sex therapy, online courses and free resource materials. Her work has been featured in Glamour, Babe, the Tab, and more. For more information and free downloads, visit her website.

Education and Careers

Couples therapy and marriage counseling are two names for the same thing: helping people work on their relationships. Marriage and family therapists offer guidance to couples and families who are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and the well-being of the whole family. They help improve communication skills, increase mutual respect, and help kids develop into healthy adults.

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What They Do

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

Couples therapists and marriage counselors treat some of the same issues as other psychologists, such as depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and PTSD. But their work focuses on issues that are specific to their target group, the family. Some common issues that family counselors encounter are marital conflicts, adolescent behavior problems, domestic violence and issues related to infertility.

Marriage and family therapists observe how people behave within the family, and identify relationship problems. They then come up with treatment plans so that each individual has his or her needs met and the family unit can work for the benefit and happiness of all.

Skills You Need

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)

Learn which personality traits and professional skills you’ll need to be a successful couples therapist or marriage counselor.

You should have…

  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Clear boundaries
  • High ethical standards
  • Desire to collaborate
  • Goal-setting skills

How to Become a Couples Therapist or Marriage Counselor

Marriage and family therapists are required to be licensed in order to practice in their state. Licensure requirements usually include a master’s degree and two years of supervised clinical experience. You’ll also need to pass a state-recognized exam. The Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards provides information on the requirements for each state.

Taking classes online can help you earn a degree while you manage other obligations in your life. There are many accredited online schools that offer master’s degree programs in marriage and family therapy. If you plan to start your education with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you’ll also be able to find a wide range of schools offering online programs.

If you plan to enroll in a marriage and family therapy program, look for accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). This organization gives their seal of approval for master’s, doctorates, and postgraduate levels.


Get a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning an undergraduate degree in psychology is the first step toward becoming a therapist or counselor.


Get an Advanced Degree

Most states require a master’s degree in professional counseling or marriage and family therapy.


Get Clinical Experience

Most states require that you get two years of clinical experience before they will grant you a license.


Pass the Marriage and Family Therapy Exam

Many states also require you to take and pass the exam given by the Association of Marital and Family therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).


Apply for Licensure in Your State

In order to practice marriage and family therapy, you must be licensed by your state. Check your state regulatory board for specific requirements.

License renewal often hinges on continuing education. Many states require marriage and family therapists to complete a certain number of continuing education hours every few years. Since laws vary, check with the board of psychology in the state you practice in.

One thing to weigh is whether you want to open a private practice at some point. A number of factors influence whether a marriage and family therapist should work in private practice or for an institution. If you’re new to the field and lack a large patient base, you’ll have to work hard at marketing yourself and getting referrals—a process that will happen throughout your career. Working at an institution allows you to gain valuable knowledge from colleagues and likely receive employer-paid benefits. However, you may not have the schedule flexibility you’d have in private practice.

Salary Comparison

Marriage and family therapists can make a good living. But salaries vary greatly based on location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, marriage and family therapists make a median salary of $51,340.

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)


School & Career Counselors

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)


Marriage & Family Therapists

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)


Rehab Counselors

What is marriage therapy (and how to know if you need it)


Mental Health Counselors

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2020

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Job Growth

Employment of marriage and family therapists is expected to grow 22% through 2029. This is much higher than the job growth predicted for all professions combined. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.