Couples/Marriage Counseling

The difference between marriage counseling & couples therapy

“Marriage counseling” and “couples therapy” are terms often used interchangeably due to several overlapping topics that are explored. While they both involve engaging with a trained professional and discussing your relationship, the approaches and objectives are different. Simply put, couples therapy digs backward to unearth why certain problems have surfaced, tracing your relationship issues back to their roots. Couples therapy may involve both partners reflecting upon their individual backgrounds including issues started prior to the current relationship — in effort to better understand behaviors specific to the relationship. Thus one of the core objectives of couples therapy is to explore and uncover reasons behind the emotions that are driving certain behavioral patterns identified in the relationship. Marriage counseling on the other hand tends to center on working through your current relationship problems of the present rather than delving into the past. Focus is on the ‘now’ and the challenges faced within the marriage in effort to get things that have derailed back on track. Much of marriage counseling gravitates to improving communication, an essential component to regaining trust in each other. Beyond improving communication, in marriage counseling you’ll gain insights on how to negotiate differences, collaboratively problem solve and even argue in a peaceful and healthy way.

Marriage Counseling

Despite it being called “marriage counseling,” any couple is welcome to experience this counseling, regardless of their relationship status or how they identitfy. Also know your marriage does not need to have problems to consider marriage counseling. Research of couples married 30+ years determined pre-emptive counseling improved married life. Many couples explore marriage counseling simply to strengthen their bonds and update their communication skills mindful how today, half of emails and text messages are misunderstood. We’re not always communicating with our partners as well as we think and researchers found that couples were more prone to report less satisfying and stable marriages when the men frequently texted their female partners.

Thus participating in marriage counseling isn’t necessarily a sign that the relationship is on demise. It can also indicate being open to learning how to improve your relationship, better your communications, and grow closer to your partner. Marriage counseling can be quite effective to gain insight into specific marital issues you feel could be helped with an objective, trained, unbiased perspective.

Marriage counseling can both help you strengthen and rebuild your relationship or determine if you’re both better off apart. Either way, marriage counseling will bring clarity to understanding your relationship which in turn enables you to make better informed, clear eyed, and well thought out decisions.

Who can benefit from marriage counseling?

Stay mindful most marriages are far from perfect as each person has their own opinions, values and historical view of the relationship, not always aligning with and matching their partner’s. That’s okay and any such differences, in and of themselves, don’t assure your relationship is bound for friction or conflict. To the contrary, opposites can attract and differences can also help in understanding, respecting and accepting opposing views and cultures.
However with the ebbs and flows of life, people don’t always evolve the same and relationships can be tested. Those differences or habits that at an earlier point struck as endearing, after several years may now grate on your nerves and a gradual disintegration of communication and caring has settled in.
Regardless of the cause, a distressed marriage can produce undue sadness, worry, tension, fear and other problems. Relationship troubles rarely vanish on their own and left to fester, generally worsen, eventually leading to psychological problems (depression) and sometimes negative physical health implications.

The problem that’s all too common is by the time most couples consider marriage counseling, they’ve given up on the relationship and turn to a therapist to clarify whether they should get divorced. Preemptively getting ahead of marital discord, problems, and issues is usually a prudent and wise choice. Some of the specific issues that commonly precede marriage counseling including:

  • Feeling like you’re having the same fight, repeatedly with no solution in sight.
  • Disagreeing about financial, parenting, or lifestyle choices.
  • Feeling there’s an unfair imbalance in the household responsibilities
  • Feeling romantic & sexual chemistry is gone from the relationship.
  • Feeling the marriage has lost all spontaneity and is on auto-pilot.
  • Feeling unheard or their partner is no longer emotionally available.
  • Couples having trouble processing a recent trauma they’ve experienced
  • Couples coping with infidelity, substance abuse, or mental health issues.
In terms of duration, marriage counseling is commonly a short term engagement wherein only a few sessions are needed to help you revitalize rapport, fortify intimacy, or weather a crisis. But if your relationship has significantly deteriorated, marriage counseling for a number of months may be in order. Where you fall on the spectrum of duration of marriage counseling can’t be approximated until the issues are unpacked and layed out. Marriages are not saved overnight and it will take a few sessions to probe a couple’s dynamics and initiate the process of change.
rhea parks Black Therapists NYC

Why Online Marriage Counseling is More Effective

We offer online marriage counseling, also referred to as telehealth, which is an advantage for couples as they are able to engage more authentically, immediately, and thereby accelerate the entire process. It’s worth noting research has indicated online therapy to be as effective as traditional in-person counseling. Frontiers in Psychology, published a study wherein the majority of couples who experienced online marriage counseling reported the experience both beneficial and positive. Interestingly, the participants determined online delivery actually improved therapeutic rapport with the counselor.

Kysely A, Bishop B, Kane R, Cheng M, De Palma M, Rooney R. Expectations and experiences of couples receiving therapy through videoconferencing: A qualitative study. Front Psychol. 2020;10:2992. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02992

For the couple, being in the familiar surroundings of your home creates a sense of safety and security to conversations that can be heart wrenching and trying. Couples are immediately comfortable with the environment thereby decreasing stress and increasing the ability to openly share, listen, and understand. The therapist is always there on screen to intervene, help with struggles and keep the dialog moving forward.
Sharing intimate details and talking about your innermost self can be difficult and the physical distance from the therapist with online counseling actually helps minimize apprehensions and hesitancy in opening up. In addition to promoting comfort for the couple, sitting in the familiar space of your own home allows for more authentic interaction between the couple.
For couples who are not together, traveling, or dealing with different schedules benefit from the flexibility that online live counseling sessions allow. Sessions can be held with couples at different locations as long as they have internist access. With no drive time required and the ability to access your sessions from various locations, online marriage counseling is ideal for busy people.

How to Make the Most of Online Marriage Counseling

Expect marriage counseling to:

  • help couples come together to focus on themselves, no small feat with our busy lives and schedules.
  • introduce a mediator between the partners facilitating healthy and effective communication, resolving the invariable impasses and keeping the conversation aligned with the underlying issues.
  • enable an unbiased professional to observe communication and the behavioral & dynamics of the partners to identify unhealthy patterns, and advise modifications accordingly.
  • offer couples a platform to stay accountable to each other. Learning new skills only helps if they’re adopted and applied, replacing the previous, unhealthy behaviors.
Preparation is often overlooked by couples embarking upon marriage counseling but is the very best way to get the most out of it. When confronting your partner there’s potential for emotions to escalate and a kind of brain freeze sometimes takes hold and we forget what we want to talk about. To best keep things on track in sessions is oconsider writing down a list of questions prior to the session(s). Asking the pressing questions you harbor to your spouse is a great way to learn about the specific areas in your marriage that perhaps need the greatest attention in the moment. Below are 10 common counseling questions partners ask of each other that effectively surface the most of the issues critical issues between couples. Of course, many more questions might exist that are specific to your marriage but this offers a solid starting point and things to consider.

1. Tell Me Your Most Important & Main Issues

Frequently what matters the most to one person is not viewed as significant by the other. Focusing on top line issues for each is a great starting point to try and sort and work through potential conflicts. In sessions, have a conversation on each other’s top concerns and possible remedies. For instance, if one person feels you two are not spending enough time together, a remedy might be in discovering new ways to enjoy time together and more often. Maybe that looks like taking a daily neighborhood walk together. Solutions can only come when the top line issues are identified and shared.

2. Is Divorce Really What You Want?

If you are concerned things have reached the point of no return, the only next question is whether you should stay together. If you do want to stay together, and it would take a solid yes from both of you, it’s worth exploring counseling as an intervention to save your marriage. Divorce is expensive and not easy, so you want to be completely certain it’s what you want before taking that step – as once you head down that path, it’s very hard to reverse.

3. Is this Just a Bad Phase We’re Going Through?

All marriages have their ups and downs and go through phases. Depending on what you’re going through at the time, falling in and out of romantic love with each other happens. When asking each other marriage counseling questions, after thorough consideration, place each issue in 1 of 2 buckets, (1) the marriage has really gone bad or (2) this is a bad phase we are going through. Take a look at the buckets afterward.

4. How Do You Truly Feel About the Relationship?

While you may feel the marriage is repairable, your spouse may feel otherwise and that it’s too late. Nonetheless getting a partner to engage in marriage counseling is a solid indicator there is still something left to work with, but it’s also important to know where they stand with regard to making things work. For example, are they open to the possibility of change? Also be aware, moving forward is difficult if there are unresolved conflicts. In these cases the past tends to keep coming up in arguments going forward and it’s hard to get close to someone with unresolved issues between you.

5. What Upsets You Most About Me?

In a marriage, there will be things about your partner that are unnerving but not cause for divorce. However bigger things like a lack of respect or trust can destroy intimacy. You can learn where your partner would like to see personal change in you and work on those issues by asking marriage counseling questions.

6. Do You Feel Love, and if so What Kind?

Falling in and out of romantic love is easy, but generally there is a deeper love in a true marriage. If deep and lasting feelings for each other are still there, then marriage counseling is worth it. However if one partner has stopped caring entirely, it’s very unlikely they would approach marriage counseling from a healthy place.

7. Do You Trust Me?

Connecting on any level is difficult if trust is waning or lost entirely in the relationship. However it’s never too late to rebuild if both people are willing to work at it. Forgiveness is one of the key elements in regaining trust. If your partner has learned to think negatively of you because of things you have done, you need to be aware of that. Share your reasons for what you did, ask for forgiveness and give your spouse a chance to tell you what you need to do to regain trust.

8. Are You Satisfied With Our Intimacy?

Almost all couples experience changes in chemistry over time, but what’s important is how they feel about it. If the chemistry is gone, your partner may be open to experiencing chemistry elsewhere. Reflect back to why you originally fell in love and explore ways you can perhaps recapture those times.

9. What Are the Reasons You Want to Work Things Out?

Ask your partner what the reasons are for making the marriage work. Responses centered around love and commitment increase the chances you can work together to rebuild the relationship. Responses centered on staying together for the children or the number of bills you share generally are not healthy foundations to rebuild on. Support and acceptance from those you love is important to feel so learn if your spouse does from you. If it turns out your spouse feels unappreciated, have a conversation on the little things that could make all the difference.

10. What’s Your Vision of the Future & Are You Open To Change?

Question your spouse about their vision of the future and your role in that vision. Are they willing to work on the relationship, put forth every effort to improve things and realize their vision? Visioning, your spouse having a mental picture of the person they aspire to evolve to and what they aim to accomplish is vital to get from today and where you are to tomorrow and where you want to be in your life.

10. What’s Your Vision of the Future & Are You Open To Change?

Question your spouse about their vision of the future and your role in that vision. Are they willing to work on the relationship, put forth every effort to improve things and realize their vision? Visioning, your spouse having a mental picture of the person they aspire to evolve to and what they aim to accomplish is vital to get from today and where you are to tomorrow and where you want to be in your life.
rhea parks Black Female Therapists

Succeeding in Marriage Counseling

Occasionally people approach marriage counseling with the intent of punishing their partner. They are not particularly interested in resolving things; and hoping for the counselor to choose sides and affirm their perspective. We won’t take sides and we will remain neutral. Marriage counseling is not for speeches, you want to speak in the moment so that your emotions are sincere and you’re your authentic real self. It’s best to approach marriage counseling ready to open up. Some things may hurt, but it’s a bridge to cross and in your best interest in moving things forward in life. We want the counseling session to be a ‘positive interaction’.
Research has identified that even increasing the number of positive interactions over negative ones can improve marriage stability (Budiharto, Meliana, & Rumondor, 2017).

If you’re on speaking terms with your spouse, it can be helpful to share these questions with them ahead of time and suggest they consider creating a similar list. That way, they, like you, will reduce any chances of ‘brain freeze’ in the moment and will be positioned to make the most of marriage counseling.

In spite of difficulties and conflicts, we grow in our relationships by reconciling our issues. There’s no secret formula or magic pill for a great marriage. It simply requires hard work, clarity in purpose, and introspection. The longer that they persist, the more difficult it is to resolve resentful feelings and unhealthy behavior.

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