Finding a great fit in a couples counselor that you and your partner are both comfortable with might feel difficult, but if you’re serious about working through recurring arguments and improving unhealthy communication then this article will help you conduct your search in an effective way. It’s worth it to find a marriage counselor suited to you and your partner’s unique needs.
When Should We Consider Couples Counseling?
Couples counseling is a great way to strengthen your bond with your partner. Having disagreements with your spouse is normal, and can even be healthy if you fight fairly. While you don’t have to be on the verge of breaking up in order to get the benefits of couples counseling, it can help if you’re having trouble in your relationship.
Signs of when it would be beneficial to seek couples counseling include:
- Increase in conflict and problematic communication patterns
- Feeling emotionally shut down or lonely in the marriage or relationship
- Trust issues or commitment issues
- Parenting styles that clash and create conflict
- Disagreement in managing finances
- Being in a sexless marriage
- Feeling unsupported and unable to confide in your spouse
- Falling out of love
How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor
Finding a couples counselor can feel like a challenge, but if you and your partner are clear from the start about the type of therapist you want to see, their credentials and training, and goals of therapy, it will make the process of finding a marriage counselor more streamlined.
An online therapist directory is a great place to start looking. You can also consider exploring online couples counseling options, such as ReGain Couples Counseling or the Lasting App, which may be a more affordable option for some.
What to Look For in a Marriage Counselor
It can be tricky to know where to start, but there are several things to consider together as you begin the process of finding the right couples counselor. This is a big decision that you and your partner will make, so it is crucial to choose your marriage counselor carefully.
Here are a few elements to be clear on when looking for a marriage counselor:
1. Decide What You Want to Work on Together
Beginning couples therapy with a game plan will help you and your partner to be more engaged in the therapy process. This way, you can both get to the root of problematic issues in your relationship. One way of working as a team is to keep an open mind about the process and avoid the blame game.
This means agreeing to not get drawn into saying that they are the “problem,” but rather sharing the responsibility for how the relationship got to this point.
It is also important to agree to stick with the process of couples therapy no matter what happens and how difficult it may become. Couples who get the most out of therapy engage in the process ready to work as a team on their relationship issues.
2. Understand the Best Couples Therapy for You
There are many different approaches to couples therapy that can be especially helpful for certain issues. Make sure the therapist you see is licensed in your state and has specific training in couples therapy.
Some of the more popular approaches to couples therapy include:
- The Gottman Method: This improves verbal communication, enhances intimacy, increases respect, increases conflict resolution and creates more empathy and compassion in relationships.
- Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy: a short-term therapy that focuses on improving attachment and bonding in adult relationships. It helps couples stop fighting by ending emotional distance and focusing on each partner expressing their authentic feelings.
- PACT Therapy: A type of couples therapy that quickly pinpoints what is causing the conflict and tension in your relationship. Sessions focus on moment-to-moment shifts in your face, body, and voice and ask you to pay attention to these as a couple. Your therapist will help you work through troubling issues in real time during the session.
- Sex therapy: Helps to solve sex problems that are negatively impacting the intimacy in a couple’s relationship. The goal is to help people move past physical and emotional challenges to have a satisfying relationship and sex life.
3. Know What Type of Therapist to Look For
There are so many types of therapists, and they all have different training and different backgrounds. When searching for a couples therapist, you should ask about specific training and experience the therapist has. Licensed family and marriage therapists (LMFT) are professionals who have been specifically trained to work with families and couples. Also, therapists certified in the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) provide assessment, diagnosis and in-depth psychotherapy for clients with sexual issues.
4. Make Sure You’re on the Same Page About Payment, Scheduling, etc.
The cost of marriage counseling can be expensive, so it is important that you and your partner have openly discussed the general budget, timeline you’re both comfortable with, goals of therapy, and style of therapy.
The cost of couples counseling can vary depending on the type of therapist you see and where you live. Before scheduling a session, ask if your insurance will cover it. You might also want to ask for a list of mental health providers within your network. If your insurance company does not cover marriage counseling, ask if the therapist is willing to offer you services on a sliding scale.
How to Interview a Potential Couples Therapist
It’s important that you both feel comfortable with whomever you choose, so vetting a potential therapist on a phone consultation can be very helpful. Before starting marriage counseling, your mind might be racing with questions. Before working with a therapist, you and your partner should put together a list of questions.
What to Ask Before Your First Session
Here are some questions to ask a potential couples therapist:
- What do you believe makes a relationship successful?
- Have you worked with couples like us before?
- Which therapy modalities do you use?
- What type of mental health professional are you?
- What does working with you look like?
- How much of your practice is devoted to marriage counseling?
How to Prepare for Your First Session
When preparing for couples counseling, it helps to have a specific outcome in mind. Be prepared to explore what is happening now and decide what goal(s) you want to set for the relationship you want to have once therapy is complete.
What to Consider After a Few Sessions
Having appropriate expectations from marriage counseling can help you get the most out of it. You will sense that your therapist is the right fit if you and your partner feel understood and you are able to be candid about what you find helpful (or not). A good therapist will understand that what works for one couple may not work for another, and once you voice your concerns, they are willing to adjust how they work with you and the relationship. If you’re not clicking after a few sessions, the therapist might just be a bad fit and you should move on to another provider.
Know the Signs of an Incompetent Marriage Counselor
Although there are many great, skilled, and compassionate couples counselors, there are some that are not.
Here are some signs of an incompetent marriage counselor:1,2
- Is unreliable—frequently late, canceling sessions, or not showing up without prior notice.
- Doesn’t actively listen, show interest or empathy, provide feedback, or is distracted during sessions.
- Lacks experience in treating couples or addressing the couple’s specific concerns.
- Doesn’t assess for intimate partner violence, mental health issues, or substance misuse.
- Doesn’t share important information like their professional background, therapeutic approach, fees, length of sessions, confidentiality, etc.
- Lacks awareness of the role that values, culture, race, gender, family background, socioeconomic status, and so forth play into the marriage.
- Imposes their own values or opinions or suggests divorce.
- Is not cognizant of the changing trends in couplehood as these impacts the couple’s dynamics.
- Displays discomfort or avoids discussing certain sensitive topics relevant to your marriage (spirituality, sex, open marriages, etc.).
- Fails to provide structure to the course of treatment.
- Either or both partners feel judged or uncomfortable during therapy sessions.
- Uses a therapeutic approach that doesn’t align with the couple’s goals for therapy, doesn’t address their specific needs, or isn’t open to exploring new perspectives or techniques.
- Is not neutral or takes sides with one of the members in the couple.
Does Marriage Counseling Even Work?
Marriage counseling works. According to research conducted by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), marriage counseling can give couples more effective tools to deal with their problems.3 Marriage counseling can lead to a healthier relationship and help you build trust with your partner.
Couples Who Stick With Therapy Typically See Improvements
According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, couples counseling tends to be briefer than other forms of treatment, requiring an average of 12 sessions and 20 sessions to reach full completion for 65% of the cases. However, certain variables like therapeutic model used, the couple’s specific needs, severity of the problem being addressed and presence of mental and/or substance use issues may elongate the process.4
Just like with individual therapy, marriage counseling is a journey and not necessarily a destination. And although improvement can be subjective and defined differently between couples, those who are equally committed to this process can start noticing progress in subtle ways. This may include boosted self- and couple-awareness, taking accountability for their own actions, having more tolerance towards one another, and using learned tools to solve problems.
What If My Partner Won’t Go?
There are lots of reasons why someone might not want to go to marriage counseling, and to be a supportive partner, your first step is to listen to their concerns. Maybe you can try to persuade them to try a few sessions- with the agreement that they can end it at any time. Their unwillingness to go doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is over.
If your partner is hesitant to try couples therapy, have a conversation about why, and you’ll be able to figure out how to move forward in a way that works for both of you. Also, individual therapy can be an important part of working out any relationship issues with an objective third party.
Final Thoughts on Finding a Marriage Counselor
Couples therapy can be a game changer for your relationship, but it takes both partners to make it happen. Finding a great marriage counselor can greatly improve your relationship and quality of life. A quality therapist can help you shift how you communicate with each other so you can change problematic patterns. It will be challenging at times, but couples who stick with the process are able to build new bridges of connection that can create feelings of intimacy, being seen, and cared for.