What do you need to know before starting marriage counseling? In this post, we’ll answer the common questions that couples have before starting marriage counseling. We’ll also share essential insights that marriage counselors wish their clients knew from the beginning of couples therapy.
It’s normal to feel anxious about couples counseling
In my 20+ years as a therapist who specializes in helping couples, I’ve never met a couple that didn’t feel anxious about getting started with marriage therapy. This is your most important relationship after all, and so much of your happiness and your future depends on it! It’s only natural that you need some reassurance and guidance before starting marriage counseling.
Here’s an outline of the topics we’ll cover in this post:
How do we know if we need marriage counseling?
“A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.”– Karen Lamb
Since all relationships face challenges, couples who can benefit from marriage counseling come with a wide variety of concerns and goals.
Feeling Like Roommates. Some couples still feel very committed to their relationship, but they’ve started to feel like roommates. If this describes you, feeling “blah” isn’t how you started your life together. You certainly don’t want to end up feeling like strangers or enemies in your own home. Marriage counseling can help you address important issues, reconnect, and nurture your sense of enjoyment and intimacy. To help you prepare before starting marriage counseling, you can also get a copy of our free e-book, The Roommate Cure for Couples.
More Serious Marital Problems. Some patterns aren’t sustainable if you want a healthy relationship. For example, damaged trust, major life challenges, and feelings of intense dissatisfaction are relationship issues you shouldn’t ignore. Feeling stuck in the same patterns and arguments are a few examples of other issues that bring couples to counseling. To reclaim a happy future together, you need things in your marriage to change.
No matter the size of your difficulties, couples counseling can be the most important investment you make in your relationship. If you care about your relationship and could use some support and guidance, that’s enough to get started.
Setting helpful expectations about marriage counseling
It’s important to have accurate expectations and clear up misconceptions before starting marriage counseling.
Below, we’ll break these expectations into three parts: 1. Expectations about your marriage counselor’s role; 2. Accurate expectations of your role in making marriage counseling successful; and 3. Realistic expectations for the marriage counseling process.
1. Expectations about your marriage counselor’s role
2. Your role in making marriage counseling successful
Couples who are successful in marriage counseling share some common attributes. It’s important to note that not all couples start with these attributes—they can develop them along the way:
3. What to expect about the marriage counseling process: FAQ
Before starting marriage counseling, it can help to know the answers to some common questions about the therapy process:
Will we meet with our marriage counselor together or separately?
Typically, your marriage counselor will meet with you as a couple for 1-2 sessions at the beginning. Following these initial sessions, marriage counselors frequently will schedule one individual session with each partner. These individual sessions help the therapist understand your perspective and your relationship history. After this, you will typically meet together with your counselor for the remainder of your work together.
How often should we attend marriage counseling?
Experience and studies show that most couples benefit from weekly marriage counseling—especially at the beginning. Meeting this frequently can help you find traction sooner and establish hope early in the process. Even though it’s more expensive up front, in the long run it’s usually much more likely to be effective than attending marriage counseling infrequently or inconsistently. Your relationship deserves the best chances for growth and healing—make it a priority and plan to attend consistently.
How long will marriage counseling take?
The answer to how long marriage counseling takes can vary widely. It depends on a variety of factors, such as the following:
- The severity of the challenges that you face as a couple.
- How much sincere effort you put into the process.
- Your honesty with yourself, your partner, and your therapist.
- Your openness and efforts to change.
- How willingly you look at your own contributions the challenges in your relationship.
- Your willingness to create safety and be vulnerable.
Some other situations make it likely that the healing process could take longer. For example, deep betrayals and repeated violations of trust take time—sometimes several years—to heal. This can also be true when one or both partners have a history of significant trauma. We know that this can feel daunting, but take courage. You won’t be doing this alone. Your marriage counselor will be there to support you in working toward a future that you both desire and deserve. Your healing and your relationship is worth the effort.
What is the roadmap for the marriage counseling process? How will we know when marriage counseling should end?
Although the therapy process can vary from one couple to another, successful marriage counseling generally involved three overlapping stages:
What counts as “successful” marriage counseling?
When most people envision “successful” marriage counseling, it usually involves the healing described above. Who can argue with the value of reclaiming safety, wholeness, and being deeply loved in a marriage?
That being said, successful marriage counseling sometimes takes a different face. There are no guarantees that both partners will want the same outcome or do the work required. Even so, it’s still important to make a wholehearted effort. When you fully engage in therapy, you can find some peace in knowing that you’ve truly given your best. Regardless of the outcome, you won’t be plagued by feelings of regret. You won’t feel the burden of second-guessing whether things could have been different if you had given it your all.
When is marriage counseling not recommended?
I’ve listed below some of the situations where marriage counseling is not the right course of action or where its effectiveness will be severely limited.
How to find a good marriage counselor
What should you look for in a marriage counselor? With something so important, you won’t want to go to just anybody. Here are some guidelines to help you in your search before starting marriage counseling:
Where to find effective marriage counseling
If you’re searching online for a counselor, look for the qualities we’ve mentioned above. Asking for referrals from friends or family can also help before starting marriage counseling.
Even if you don’t know someone who can give you a referral, effective counseling is more available than ever before. Therapists are becoming more aware of proven effective approaches to couples therapy (like Emotionally Focused Therapy). The best couples counselors continually seek additional training. In addition, the availability of online counseling increases your options for finding quality help. This is especially helpful if you have mobility/transportation challenges or live in an area where there are fewer local resources. Just make sure to find a therapist who is licensed in your state. Many therapists offer clients the choice of whether to meet online or in person.
The best places to find effective marriage counseling
Excellent marriage counselors can be found in a variety of settings. In our experience, you’re most likely to find the best marriage counselors in a therapy group practice or a private practice. If I were looking for a marriage counselor for myself or close friends, this is where I’d look. There are several factors that play into this.
Advantages of finding a marriage counselor in a group practice or private practice:
The cost of marriage counseling
It’s no secret that good marriage counseling can be expensive. The best approach before starting marriage counseling is to consider your financial situation and invest in the highest quality help that you can afford.
Yet, sometimes finances can be a prohibitive issue for couples who need help. Unfortunately, insurance companies rarely cover the cost of couples therapy—but you still have some options:
- For example, some therapy group practices employ well-trained interns and newer therapists who charge lower fees.
- Graduate Schools: Some graduate schools with counseling programs often have affordable clinics where you can work with a therapist-in-training.
- Employer Assistance Programs: Some employers offer counseling benefits through Employer Assistance Programs (EAPs) for their employees. With EAP programs, there is usually a limit to the number of sessions you can attend. You’ll also be limited to counselors who have a contractual agreement with your employer.
- Some online therapy platforms also offer reduced rates for marriage counseling. These online platforms often choose your therapist for you, so finding the right counselor may take some diligence and patience. Research shows that you may need to meet with 3–4 counselors through these platforms before finding the right fit.
Getting started in couples therapy takes courage. We hope that you’ve found this information helpful about what you should know before starting marriage counseling. Having appropriate expectations and knowing what to look for can point you in the right direction. Once you’ve found a good marriage therapist, they’ll support you every step of the way.
If you live in Colorado and are ready to take the next step, schedule a marriage counseling appointment with us today!