Does Couples Therapy Work and Can It Help Your Relationship Issues?

How to find the right couples therapist for your relationship and what you can expect from your first session
by Sarah Finley
does couples therapy work

If you’ve come to a point in your relationship or marriage where you feel disconnected, or every other conversation turns into an argument, it could be a good time to consider marriage counseling. 

But, does couples therapy work and how can it transform your relationship? Therapy is widely used across the world to help married couples and committed partners understand each other and find their way back to a healthy relationship.

Strains and stresses of daily life such as growing families, money troubles and work can take their toll on relationships; leading to a breakdown of communication skills, intimacy, and other relationship problems. But taking the plunge and investing in a marriage counselor can feel daunting. 

Here’s what to expect at couples therapy if you decide to go ahead with it and if it’s the right path for you and your partner to take. 

How does couples therapy work? 

Couples therapy aims to help couples work together in a safe, impartial environment and heal any emotional wounds in their relationship. Just like a normal therapy session, it involves talking about your problems with a trained therapist who will help you adopt new skills and guide your relationship in the right direction. 

Kendra Capalbo, a licensed couples therapist, explains that relationship therapy also challenges you to communicate on a deeper level with your partner. “Couples therapy is often hard work so you can expect to be encouraged to be vulnerable and expressive with your partner, and to communicate clearly your needs and desires,” she says.

Most couple therapists can be found on The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy website — giving you a clear picture of how they could help you. If you’d prefer to discuss your relationship problems with a licensed marriage therapist in the comfort of your own home, the Betterhelp website is a great source for online therapy.

Is couples therapy worth it?

If you and your partner are considering couples therapy you may be wondering if it will help the well-being of your relationship. Capalbo says it can be worth the time and money, dependent on a few factors.

“It depends on the competency of the marriage therapist, the level of motivation from the couple, and the issues that need to be addressed in the relationship,” she explains.

However, she goes on to explain that couples therapy is not a panacea for every relationship issue, and it might not work for everyone. “For some perpetual problems, it may not be effective, such as if within a couple one partner wants children, and the other partner doesn’t want children,” she splains. “It’s unlikely that couples therapy will have any impact on the success of the relationship.”

How long should couples therapy last? 

If the thought of sitting in a therapy room for months on end has you running for the hills, we have good and bad news. Depending on how willing you are to be open about what is causing your relationship distress, then the easier and quicker it could be for you and your partner. Either way, it’s best if you don’t go into it with a hard deadline. 

“I don’t think that there is a one size fits all equation for couples therapy,” says Capalbo. “I’ve worked with couples who have put in significant time outside of sessions and worked through relatively minor issues in just a few sessions. However, for other couples, primarily those dealing with infidelity, the therapy may last for longer.” 

How often should couples therapy sessions be?

Like most therapy sessions couples therapy starts with weekly sessions so you can have consistent communication and the space to talk about your relationship issues.

“Once a couple starts building momentum and seems to be implementing the tools outside of therapy, sessions can decrease in frequency,” says Capalbo. “Most couples tend to go from weekly to biweekly to monthly, and then couples are able to drop in whenever for refresher sessions when they feel like they are slipping backward.”

What is the most effective therapy for couples? 

There are many different types of couples therapy. Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is the most widely used form of therapy by marriage counselors. This type of therapy looks at the negative patterns couples have formed, and from the first session helps couples unpack their emotional needs which aren’t being met. The therapist then helps them form new healthier patterns around their beliefs. 

Another widely used therapy is the Gottman Method, created by psychologist and marriage counselor Dr. John Gottman, who has spent years researching relationships. The Gottman Method aims to stop conflicting communication in a relationship, while also increasing intimacy, respect, and affection for each other. By removing a stagnant feeling in your relationship you’re left with a better sense of empathy and understanding for each other.

What are the pros and cons of couples therapy? 

“The pros of couples therapy include having a third-party perspective, having a safe space to have difficult conversations, having the assistance of a trained professional to guide you through difficult topics and explore the underlying feelings that motivate our behaviors,” says Capalbo.

While she goes on to say that one of the cons “is that it is hard work and can feel at times emotionally draining.” On top of that, therapy can be expensive if you’re paying out of pocket, so it not might be accessible to everybody. 

Is couples therapy a good idea?

You both have to agree to couples counseling — you can’t force your partner to attend. However, if you are experiencing any of the below problems you should start considering if its right for you:

  • A breakdown in communication

  • You have experienced physical or emotional infidelity

  • You or your partner are dissatisfied with your sex life 

  • You feel a lack of intimacy and connection, both physically and emotionally 

  • You have arguments or disagreements regularly and can never seem to solve them

  • You’ve stopped trusting one another.

If your partner is adamant that they don’t need a family therapist and you think it could help your mental health then perhaps start with individual therapy to determine whether it can help increase your relationship satisfaction.

Couples who are looking to get married may also be interested in attending premarital counseling — where you discuss if your values and future lives align.

What is the success rate of couples therapy?

Whether or not couples therapy works depends entirely on the therapy technique, the therapist, and the couple. That being said, some research shows couples therapy is 75% effective. The most important part of the therapy’s success, however, is that both parties want the relationship to work out and put the effort in to get the most out of couples therapy.

Can couples therapy make you fall in love again?

Most couples that have marriage counseling work haven’t fallen out of love with each other, but are finding it hard to understand each other’s point of view. Looking at the stressors during counseling sessions can help to reignite the feelings of love and your romantic relationship.

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