Choosing to attend couples counseling is a transformative step in any relationship.
However, once this decision is made, it can be difficult to know where to go from there. So, how do you find a marriage counselor that’s right for your relationship?
Take the time to find a therapist who you connect with, and who matches your personality. However, couples therapy is not all about you! Finding the perfect marriage counselor should be a collaborative process, with you and your partner approaching it as a team.
If you’re not ready for full-on marriage counseling, using Paired with your partner is a nice place to start.
A marriage counselor, also known as a couples therapist, is a trained mental health professional who specializes in helping couples address and resolve issues within their relationship.
Every marriage counselor has different expertise depending on your relationship issues, with all therapists aiming to improve overall relationship satisfaction between partners.
Couples usually attend therapy sessions due to communication breakdown, with relationship therapy providing a safe space in which both partners can openly discuss their feelings. The role of the marriage counselor is to facilitate these productive conversations, acting as a mediator as individuals express their thoughts and concerns in a safe and supportive environment.
Depending on the type of therapy, marriage counselors use a variety of therapeutic techniques in order to assist couples in identifying and understanding the root cause of their conflicts and challenges. Counselors can help couples work through a wide range of issues, such as trust issues, infidelity, intimacy concerns, or financial disagreements.
The ultimate goal of a marriage counselor is to strengthen the couple’s bond and equip them with the tools and skills necessary to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
Couples therapy and marriage counseling are often used interchangeably, with both terms used to describe therapy with revolves around solving relationship issues.
However, although it may seem nuanced, couples therapy is a broader term that encompasses all forms of counseling for couples — including people who are dating, engaged, or married. Whereas marriage counseling specifically focuses on married couples only — usually directed at issues related to the sustainability of the marriage itself.
“Couples therapy can happen at any point in a relationship, including when you are married, but often couples therapy feels more welcoming to those earlier on in a relationship who want to start out with strong communication skills,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.
The key to successful therapy is through finding a counselor that both partners feel comfortable with. Like any successful relationship, it’s all about trust.
Before entering couples therapy or marriage counseling, it’s important to trust in the process and know what to expect.
Importantly, you should never feel like seeking therapy is some kind of defeat, but a transformative step towards relationship satisfaction. However, finding the right marriage counselor is a crucial task — which is a huge factor in the success of the sessions.
If your relationship has hit a roadblock, it’s important to recognize the issue before resentment starts to build.
If communication has broken down, it may be more difficult to isolate a specific problem that is causing conflict.
However, utilizing therapy services for more general marital issues is very common — as even if you think you know the underlying issue, your therapist may unearth things in the assessment stage or within the first sessions that surprise you both!
Starting the process of looking for a marriage counselor can be very overwhelming. However, seeking recommendations can be very helpful when starting the process.
Couples therapy is very common, and it’s likely that some of your friends or family members may have undergone therapy before. Personal referrals are very beneficial, as it establishes a certain amount of trust from the outset.
If you feel comfortable discussing your issues with your primary care doctor, they can get you a professional referral, or provide information on a directory.
If you’re in the US, you will be looking for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).
These certifications guarantee that the counselor has gone through the necessary training, assuring you of their expertise.
Once you have found a directory of licensed therapists, it comes down to the kind of specialism you’re looking for.
Consider any specific issues you want to address and narrow down your list to couples counselors who are familiar with the challenges you’re facing.
If you’re unsure about what specific help you need, look for a seasoned professional who is likely to have encountered a wide range of relationship issues.
Depending on the counselor you choose, there are different therapeutic approaches to consider. While some therapists have more specific approaches, many of them use a combination of approaches to get the best results.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)
Imago Relationship Therapy
Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT)
Integrative Couples Therapy
Relational Life Therapy
Discuss these options with your partner, and choose the approach which resonates with you and your partner’s preferences.
Once you have a therapist in mind, it’s important to ask questions and consider the logistics of prospective marriage counseling sessions.
Think about factors that could affect in-person sessions such as location, office hours, and fees, as these practical considerations can impact the effectiveness of counseling.
Additionally, check if they offer online counseling services, which can make it easier for busy couples or those in long-distance relationships.
“Ask the provider if they have experience working with someone who navigates the world as you do and has supported couples with similar challenges,” says Seeger DeGeare.
“The therapist doesn't need to have had a perfect experience in what you're seeking, but depending on the significance of the distress, it's sometimes worth waiting for a good fit rather than feeling like just a fun learning project for the therapist.”
While it’s important to work through all these more practical steps, it really comes down to how you and your partner feel about the counselor in question.
During the initial consultation, pay attention to how comfortable you feel and how well the counselor listens and engages with you. At the end of the day, therapy is a very personal thing — coming down to trusting your gut!
"Leaving that initial session, you should feel that the person can understand you, not that they know every detail of your life or you walk out of that room fully reconnected to your partner. You should feel that they can sit with you and you feel understood," says Seeger DeGeare.
Even if you and your partner are disagreeing on everything else — both individuals should agree on the chosen counselor.
Couples counseling is a very personal thing, with the effectiveness of marriage therapy dependent on the rapport between the couple and the counselor.
Therefore, matching the counselor’s personality with the client’s personality is crucial to the effectiveness of the relationship counseling process.
When you find a good personality match with your counselor, this promotes a sense of rapport and sense of security. Developing this kind of trust allows clients to feel comfortable and at ease, making it easier to open up and communicate honestly.
Some counselors also recommend individual therapy sessions for both partners, to try and further this personal relationship with their clients — boosting communication and engagement for everyone involved. This personalized approach can help therapists to produce a treatment plan which matches the client’s needs and which is most likely to have an impact on the relationship.
Overall, personality match contributes to a positive therapeutic alliance, and if this kind of relationship or trust isn’t present it’s more difficult to achieve results. In some cases, the therapist themselves may recognize a personality clash and recommend a different therapist which is more suitable for the case at hand.
Don’t take this change personally, as a good couples therapist has your well-being in mind.
Once you find a trusted marriage counselor, to who both you and your partner feel comfortable opening up — it doesn’t take long to start reaping the rewards.
Committing to the process can feel like a lot of work and effort, but after all, you get out of therapy what you put in!
By having your marriage counselor as a mediator, they can help facilitate difficult conversations which previously seemed impossible.
This results in greater communication skills developing between you and your partner, with therapeutic methods that allow both individuals to feel heard and validated.
Establishing, or perhaps re-establishing, lines of healthy communication is the first step towards greater relationship satisfaction and is a very positive sign for the future of your relationship.
It’s normal for couples to argue from time to time. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say things you don’t mean and if a conflict isn’t resolved properly, these sentiments fester over time — turning into resentment.
In marriage counseling, therapists teach their clients how to resolve conflict in a more healthy way. Addressing the problem head-on, rather than shying away from the subject and letting it get blown out of proportion.
Many counselors will also focus on more general problem-solving techniques, which the couple can apply to their relationship but also to other areas of their life.
With sustained therapy, conflict resolution becomes much easier, helping to maintain healthy relationships.
With the help of family therapy, it’s easier to foster a deeper emotional bond between partners. As couples develop a better understanding of each other’s needs and feelings, they can strengthen their emotional connection.
Through this deeper connection, couples naturally develop greater feelings of trust which can also help to renew their physical connection. Therefore, by dealing with underlying problems, couples are given the opportunity to start fresh and re-establish a spark.
Life is full of twists and turns, and often it’s forces outside of our control that can force a marriage apart.
Counseling aims to teach couples how to navigate these issues as a team, rather than as individuals. This mentality helps the couple to develop coping mechanisms and resilience-building strategies which rely on working together — negating the space for emotional distance.
According to the AAMFT, marriage counseling bestows effective tools to deal with problems in the long run — not just during the sessions themselves.
Even though marriage counseling is usually employed to deal with specific issues, the skills learned within therapy are designed to be carried into all aspects of the relationship.
With the skills and therapy techniques learned, it’s easier for couples to tackle any future problems with a new perspective. While it’s not quite magical, it certainly helps to make things more manageable!
However, couples can also go back to therapy later on, if they feel they need additional help for situations that arise.