Does Marriage Counseling Work? What to Expect.

marriage counseling in bethlehem pa; two puzzle pieces that create a heart; dr john g kuna and associates

Whether you’re considering starting marriage counseling with your partner or you have your first appointment booked, and you’re ready to go, it’s normal to ask yourself, will this really work? What do we expect? Luckily, with modern advances in techniques and types, couples counseling has a success rate of nearly 70-90% and contributes to the decrease in divorce across the U.S.

Couple goes for marriage counseling in bethlehem pa at dr john g kuna and associates
Being married isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a commitment in which both partners have to work together to love and forgive each other continually mutually. Relationships, and marriages, can be strained for a lot of different reasons.

In certain situations, it may be a couple’s choice to call it quits and get a divorce or separate. In other instances, a couple might choose to work on their relationship to repair or salvage it before it is too late. There might have already been conversations of separation, or you might just be looking for a healthy, neutral territory to work through marriage difficulties.

Bottom line? Many couples already decide that they want a divorce before they begin going to sessions. This quickly becomes divorce counseling instead of marriage counseling, especially if one or both partners have already emotionally checked out. The first step is to mutually and equally committed to the idea of working on your relationship with your spouse, with the idea of divorce, at least for now, off the table.


Table of Contents


Marriage Counseling Statistics

In 2017, MidAmerica Nazarene University surveyed 1,000 engaged, married, and divorced couples on marriage counseling. They discovered the following statistics:

  • 49% of couples went to some form of counseling for their relationship at least once.
  • Of those couples that hadn’t tried counseling, 52% were interested.
  • 55% of couples spent under 6 months in marriage counseling

According to a study done by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the success rate of marriage counseling is relatively high:

  • Nearly 98% of couples who went to a marriage counselor reported satisfactory or excellent services.
  • 90% of individuals felt an improvement in their overall emotional health
  • The average length of time is 12 sessions.

  • The average length of time it takes for a couple to seek counseling from the onset of marital problems is 6 years. In other words, 6 years of resentment to work through.
  • Couples engaged in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) reported the highest success rate, with 90% reporting they are satisfied and around 70-75% of couples in distress moving into the recovery period.


Couples Counseling Techniques

Below are some of the most common and popular marriage counseling techniques used by therapists.


Gottman Method Couples Therapy

Founded by husband and wife psychologists, the Gottman method aims to help couples repair their relationships by focusing on four specific areas of destructive behavior: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

It follows the Sound Relationship House theory, which involves concepts of learning each other’s worlds, building admiration, turning towards your partner in the face of conflict, maintaining a positive perspective, following your dreams, and creating shared meaning and purpose together.


Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

EFT is a well-known and popular therapeutic technique for couples. It is a short-term, 8-20 sessions approach that aims to identify and organize emotional responses, create a positive shift in your and your partner’s interactions, and foster a secure bond together. Preliminary research has been done on the effectiveness of EFT in couples who are struggling with mental illness.


Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT)

Behavioral Couples Therapy is for couples who are seeking counseling or therapy when one partner is suffering from alcohol or substance abuse. This form of therapy aims to create healthy communication skills in an open, non-judgemental environment. Sessions often last 12-20 weeks and can begin as soon as the partner seeks treatment, such as detox or inpatient.

One of the main aspects of BHT is the couple’s creation of a “recovery contract,” which involves daily tasks that are rewarded by staying sober.


Cognitive-Behavioral Couple Therapy (CBCT)

CBCT is an offshoot of the commonly known cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. CBT is one of the most common styles of therapy for individuals. CBCT uses aspects of social learning theories to help couples understand each other’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotional responses by rewarding positive behaviors and evaluating any negative assumptions about each other.


Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)

Imago relationship therapy focuses on the unconscious idea we have of love that was developed in childhood. This image of love is often projected when moving into adulthood in relationships. In IRT, conflict is a positive thing that allows for growth in marriage. It places the utmost importance on listening to your partner to understand positive and negative ideas of love that formed as a child.


Narrative Therapy

Counselors trained in narrative therapy understand that in a relationship conflict, the problem often becomes a part of the relationship identity and is inseparable because it has become embedded so deeply in the feelings and thoughts of the partner. Narrative therapy seeks to separate conflict from the marriage, by externalizing problems through talk therapy and then challenging feelings to figure out why a partner feels the way they do. By telling the story, the couple is forced to pull out uncomfortable memories and ideas, and through this, the therapist can work to create a sense of engagement and mutual understanding.


Reasons you might need counseling with your spouse

There are many reasons why you might choose to seek out counseling with your spouse. Whatever the reason may be, know that you are validated in your feelings of being unsatisfied or unhappy in some way and that there are solutions out there.

  • You feel unhappy but can’t pinpoint why. You want to be happy with your partner.
  • There is a lack of or no communication with your partner. You want to communicate better.
  • You both frequently argue and find it difficult to come to a resolution or mutual understanding. You want to fight less.
  • You believe that children put a strain on your marriage and you’re not sure how to maintain the relationship. You want to reduce stress associated with parenthood.
  • An affair/infidelity. You want to seek understanding and learn to forgive.
  • Money or debt is a problem. You want to work with your partner to have a healthy relationship with finances.
  • You both have different parenting styles. You want to raise your child(ren) as a team.
  • Problems with in-laws. You want each other to have a healthy relationship with in-laws while still prioritizing the marriage.
  • Work-related issues such as loss of job, no job, not spending enough time with spouse due to work, etc. You want your partner to understand you.
  • One spouse or both fell out of love. You want to rekindle the love you once had for your partner, or vice versa.
  • You are dissatisfied with your sex life. You want to improve your physical intimacy with your spouse.
  • There’s a specific problem that feels touchy to bring up but needs to be addressed. You want to be open with your partner and discuss a difficult topic.
  • One, or both of you are experiencing grief and/or loss. You want to support each other during a difficult time.
  • You haven’t gotten married yet, but are seeking premarital counseling to make sure your marriage lasts.
  • You simply just want to grow with your partner and ensure a healthy marriage.


What to expect at marriage counseling

Depending on what technique your therapist uses, marriage counseling can look different. In general, you and your spouse will have a combination of individual and couples counseling, with potentially family counseling if appropriate. Your therapist will want to know about your thoughts and feelings regarding your marriage when your spouse is not in the room, and then also seek to understand how the both of you interact with each other during couples counseling.

You can expect homework, but not in the same way we think of typical school homework. Your therapist may task both of you with learning better communication, coping, conflict management, or intimacy skills. This may be a difficult and busy time, but it is important to both be dedicated to putting your words into action when you step out of the therapist’s office.

When you start marriage counseling, you’re coming into the office with deeply engrained habits, thoughts, and feelings that are interfering with your relationship. By the both of you committing to doing the exercises and homework, you are actively working towards unlearning these unhealthy behaviors and patterns that landed you there in the first place.

Your therapist will encourage both of you to open up to each other about opinions and negative feelings in a safe environment. You will quickly fill up a “toolbox” of coping strategies, new ways of thinking, and solutions to your marital problems. Throughout this process, you will also learn to support and love each other better.


Does marriage counseling really work?

The easiest way to answer if marriage counseling is effective in saving a marriage is something that truly only you and your spouse can answer. Research and studies on different therapeutic techniques for couples counseling do show that it can be effective, but only if the couple wants it to be. Having these mindsets will increase the likelihood that marriage counseling will work for you and your spouse.

You and your spouse…

  • have a healthy mindset and are hopeful about repairing and working on your marriage.
  • are dedicated to saving your relationship instead of using marriage counseling as a “make it or break it” for divorce.
  • follow through with homework and work on your marriage outside of your scheduled appointments.
  • are both open with your experiences and feelings. Regardless of how difficult they might be to listen to and think about, you want to work through them with your partner.
  • are not in a rush to get it over in one session, and are committed to the fact that it might take a few months to start seeing progress.
  • understand that the hard work you do for your marriage now will pay off long-term.
  • have a good professional relationship and feel comfortable with your marriage counselor. (HINT: sometimes you have to “shop” around for the right counselor for you!)



Marriage is a beautiful, but sometimes difficult, committed relationship that truly takes the work of both partners to make it last. Even with marriage counseling, some marriages still end in divorce. The likelihood of its effectiveness is largely dependent on how dedicated you and your spouse are to repairing and mending marital problems. No marriage is perfect. Couples counseling can be beneficial to all couples who are looking to grow, mend, and nourish their relationship.


Online Therapy & Telehealth in Pennsylvania

Dr. John G. Kuna and Associates is a highly qualified team of mental health professionals providing a caring and compassionate environment for marriage counseling through online and telehealth sessions. If you and your partner are considering marriage counseling, our virtual services offer a convenient way to access support and guidance from anywhere, ensuring privacy and comfort. If you’re considering marriage counseling for you and your partner, schedule an appointment today, we are here to help.


Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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