Everything You Need to Know About Relationship Counseling (2023)

Saying "relationships are hard" is so common that it’s a cliché now. But it’s also true. Even when people get along really well, stress and daily life can cause conflicts that seem difficult or even impossible to resolve. Relationship counseling can help people in these tough situations to work through their problems, move beyond them, and be better partners overall.

This article discusses the basics of relationship counseling, including when it may be helpful, what to expect from counseling, and how to find a qualified therapist.

What Is Relationship Counseling?

Relationship counseling, also known as couples counseling or couples therapy, is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on helping people improve their romantic relationships. By working with a therapist, couples can explore issues in their relationship, work on their communication, improve interactions, and resolve conflicts.

While relationship counseling is often used to address problems, it can be helpful at any stage of a relationship. People in healthy, happy relationships can still benefit from counseling that strengthens their communication and connection.

When to Seek Relationship Counseling

Many people believe that you should only seek relationship counseling when separation or divorce is looming. But that is often too little, too late. Relationship therapy should begin as soon as the problems get in the way of your daily life. Here are some signs that you might benefit from a consultation:

  • You have trouble expressing your feelings to one another
  • You have one or more unsolvable disagreement
  • There is withdrawal, criticism, or contempt in your interactions
  • A stressful event has shaken your daily life
  • You have trouble making decisions together
  • You have experienced infidelity, addiction, or abuse
  • You want a stronger relationship

Remember that there are no wrong reasons to seek relationship counseling. Some couples start therapy as soon as they are married, even without obvious problems, to build a strong foundation and prevent serious problems from developing. Counselors can help you become better communicators, develop strong relationship skills, and improve your family’s happiness.

Keep in mind that the average couple waits six years before seeking therapy. This is a lot of time to let problems fester; at this point, troubled relationships are difficult to save. Instead, it's best to acknowledge problems early and seek therapy as soon as possible.

Problems with relationships are not limited to romantic ones, even though that’s the most popular reason people consult for relationship therapy.

(Video) What We Might Learn in Couples Therapy

Relationship therapy isn’t just for married people; cohabiting couples, people in non-monogamous relationships, and LGBTQ people can also benefit. It can also be helpful for siblings dealing with family issues, or even business partners.

Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling is a type of relationship therapy that helps prepare couples to enter into a long-term commitment. This type of counseling focuses on helping couples develop a strong and healthy relationship before marriage and identify any potential problems that might lead to issues down the road.

Some of the relationship issues that might be addressed during premarital counseling include:

  • Communication
  • Family relationships
  • Finances
  • Parenting choices such as whether or not to have children and parenting style
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Sex and affection
  • Values and beliefs

This type of relationship counseling can be a good way to establish realistic expectations and develop healthy communication skills that will set a marriage off to a good start.

How to Find a Relationship Therapist

There are a number of professionals who can offer relationship therapy, including clinical psychologists, registered marriage and family therapists, licensed counselors, and licensed clinical social workers. Remember that even though their title says "marriage," you don't need to be married to benefit from relationship counseling.

(Video) Secrets of a Couples Counselor: 3 Steps to Happier Relationships | Susan L. Adler | TEDxOakParkWomen

Although going to the internet is most people's first impulse when looking for a therapist, asking for references from people you know can be a more effective way to start. If you live in an urban area, there are probably hundreds of qualified therapists, and making the choice can be overwhelming.

If you can't find references from people you know, there are many other ways to find a qualified therapist, such as professional directories. You can even seek out online relationship counseling if that is more convenient for you and your partner.

Take advantage of the free consultation that many therapists offer for potential new clients. This is a great time to see if the particular counselor suits your needs, style, and budget. Therapist-client relationships can affect your life in many profound ways, and you should choose wisely.

Here's How to Find the Right Therapist for You

Online Relationship Counseling

If traditional face-to-face therapy won't work for you and your partner, online counseling can be a great option. There are a number of reasons why you might want to try online therapy:

  • You and your partner live in different locations. This might apply to people who are in long-distance relationships or those who are separated and considering a permanent split. Online therapy services give both partners the option to participate even though they live apart.
  • You travel frequently for work. Online options allow people to benefit from counseling no matter how busy their schedule is or where in the world they are located.
  • You or your partner are not comfortable with traditional therapy. Face-to-face therapy can be challenging, uncomfortable, or even anxiety-provoking for some people. Web-based solutions can make relationship counseling more accessible.

Online relationship counseling services utilize tools such as online chats, video sessions, and phone calls where couples can talk to each other and their therapist. You and your partner will work to create goals that you would like to achieve in therapy, which may include addressing problems related to communication, arguments, or infidelity.

(Video) Relationship counselling: What people need

Best Online Couples Counseling of 2022

What to Expect

The first few sessions will focus on your history and the problems you are there to solve. Be prepared to answer questions about your relationship, your parents, your childhood, and relationship experiences before your current one. Your therapist will possibly want to spend some time talking to everyone together and to each member separately.

The way your therapy is going to go depends on the style of your counselor and the therapeutic approach they use. The most studied style of relationship therapy is emotionally-focused therapy (EFT). EFT is based on attachment theory and aims to foster healthy interdependency between members of the couple or family.

Other types of relationship therapy include Imago therapy and the Gottman method. Ask your counselor which method they are trained in and which one they think is most suited to your situation.

How to Make Relationship Therapy Effective

Effective therapy depends not only on the skills and experience of the counselor but also on the willingness of the couple. There are many things you can do to make your relationship counseling more effective.

Be Honest

Don't lie to your therapist. Sometimes we lie because we don't want to be judged. However, your therapist's job is not to judge you but to help you. Stay honest, even when it's hard.

Prepare Yourself for Discomfort

Therapy can often cause discomfort because you are discovering new truths about yourself and your partner and not all of them are going to be nice or happy. Working on yourself requires that you sit with your discomfort and acknowledge that you need to grow and improve. Your therapist is there to help but ultimately is it up to you to do the work.

(Video) What to Expect in Couples Counseling

Listen to Your Partner(s)

Whether you are doing relationship therapy with one person or a larger family group, it's important to listen to what others have to say. Remaining on the defensive and trying to reply to everything that others bring up about your behavior is only going to make things more difficult for everyone.

Put in the Time

Therapy happens just as much in sessions as between them. Your counselor might give you homework or ask you to try new patterns of communication and interaction in between appointments. It's going to take time and effort, but remember that it is worth it.

In the end, it's the work that all members of the relationship put in that makes a difference in the results of the therapy.

Don't expect the therapist to be a wizard who's going to make all your problems disappear. Consult early, engage honestly in the process, and do the work.

If Your Partner Refuses Therapy

Even if you believe that your relationship can benefit from therapy, your partner might not be willing to participate. So what can you do in this situation? It is important to remember that you cannot force your partner into counseling. All you can ultimately do is see a therapist on your own and work on issues you are facing as an individual.

A Word From Verywell

If you are facing challenges in your relationship, you may find that counseling can be helpful. A therapist can help you and your partner get to the root of your problems, find new ways of communication, and strengthen your connection with one another.

By working together, you and your partner can build a stronger relationship and address the conflict you might be having. You might also consider trying online therapy, which can also be highly beneficial.

(Video) Reasons You Should Go to Couples Counseling

Does Marriage Counseling Work?


What is important in a counselling relationship? ›

Trust, respect, and congruence are major components of a good therapeutic relationship. Therapists are encouraged to show empathy and genuineness. As with any other social relationship, the therapeutic relationship has boundaries which help to define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

What type of therapy is best for relationship problems? ›

Couples counseling is generally ideal for addressing relationship issues but individual counseling can be a good alternative depending on the circumstances. In fact, there are times when this option may be a better one than couples therapy.

Is relationship Counselling a good idea? ›

Relationship counselling can help improve the way you relate to those around you and allow you to break free from old patterns of behaviour. Counsellors can provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment to help you identify issues or problems in a relationship and find a way through those difficulties.

Can counselling help a broken relationship? ›

Counselling. A counsellor can help you discuss emotive issues and will help couples that want to save their relationship. Counsellors are professionally trained, though some offer their services voluntarily. They are trained to listen and to help you to work out your own solutions to relationship problems.

What is the most important process in counseling? ›

Opening: The initial portion of the counseling process is one of the most important because it provides both counselor and client the opportunity to get to know each other. It also allows the counselor to set the tone for the therapeutic relationship.

What are the 5 stages of counseling process? ›

The basic stages of counseling are: 1) Developing the client/clinician relationship; 2) Clarifying and assessing the presenting problem or situation; 3) Identifying and setting counseling or treatment goals; 4) Designing and implementing interventions; and 5) Planning, termination, and follow-up.

What are toxic traits in a relationship? ›

Signs of a toxic relationship include lack of trust, controlling behaviors, and feeling drained. Both partners can help fix a toxic relationship with therapy, reflective listening, and honesty. If you are in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

What's the best relationship advice? ›

The Best Relationship Advice, According to Experts
  • Be candid about your feelings—the good and the bad.
  • Figure out the recurring issues in your relationship. ...
  • Don't expect your partner to be your BFF.
  • Before commenting, repeat their words out loud.
  • Remember, don't just say how you feel...show it.
15 Jan 2019

What happens in couples Counselling? ›

During couples counselling, you and your partner will meet with a specialist to talk through and explore the problems you're both facing. The therapist will help you both to open up, highlighting the strengths in your relationship alongside what might be causing you distress.

What are the boundaries in counselling? ›

Boundaries are agreed limits or rules which help provide this safety and protect both the client and the therapist. They set a formal structure, purpose and standards for the therapy and the therapeutic relationship.

Why do people go to couples counselling? ›

In couples counselling, you gain new perspectives about each other and the way you relate, and you also learn new ways of being together. Couples counselling includes “skills work” to help you actually do something different, as well as helping you explore your feelings and thoughts with your partner.

How do you make a relationship last 6 tips from a couples therapist? ›

Six ways to make your love last
  1. Be curious about your behaviour — and your partner's. If your partner is snippy about something, it's easy just to react. ...
  2. It's rarely one person's fault. ...
  3. If you stop having sex, ask why. ...
  4. Conflict can be positive. ...
  5. Never say “you always . . .” ...
  6. Don't jump to conclusions.
19 May 2022

What not to say in couples counseling? ›

Here are a few things that you should not tell your marriage counselor.
  • "Don't tell my husband/wife this, but ..." Sorry, as marriage counselors we're not supposed to take sides and we can't keep important secrets from your partner. ...
  • 2. " No, I think you're wrong" ...
  • 3. " That's it; I want a divorce"
1 Feb 2016

Can you revive a toxic relationship? ›

According to Manly, repairing a toxic relationship will take time, patience, and diligence. This is especially the case, Manly adds, “given that most toxic relationships often occur as a result of longstanding issues in the current relationship or as a result of unaddressed issues from prior relationships.”

Can couples counseling save a toxic relationship? ›

Relationship counseling can help partners understand each other, resolve difficult problems, and even help the couple gain a different perspective on their situation. It cannot, however, fix the unequal power structure that is characteristic of an abusive relationship.

What are the 7 principles of counseling? ›

This chapter explains the "ethical principles" that guide the helping professions: autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice, fidelity, and veracity.

What phase of counseling is the most difficult for you? ›

Phase 3: Exploration/Working Phase — Making Progress

The first two phases are setting you up for this, the part of therapy where you make the most progress. This is where you're diving into the issues and working on yourself. It's the hardest part of therapy.

What are the qualities of a good counselor? ›

The Qualities of a Good Counselor
  • Communication skills. Communication skills will play a key role in your relationship with your clients. ...
  • Patience. Patience will become a critical trait as a counselor. ...
  • Confidence. ...
  • Non-judgmental. ...
  • Observant. ...
  • Listening Skills. ...
  • Trust. ...
  • Respectful.
21 Jun 2021

What are the 6 methods of counseling? ›

Fortunately, almost all of the many individual theoretical models of counseling fall into one or more of six major theoretical categories: humanistic, cognitive, behavioral, psychoanalytic, constructionist and systemic.

What are the three types of counselling? ›

The techniques are: (1) Directive Counselling, (2) Non-Directive Counselling, and (3) Eclectic Counselling.
  • Directive Counselling: ...
  • Non-Directive Counselling: ...
  • Eclectic Counselling:

What is effective counselling? ›

Effective counseling is built on a strong relationship with your therapist. This can take time. A good counselor will be empathetic, tailor treatments to your needs, and foster collaboration. Together, you come up with goals and expectations for therapy.

What is Gaslighting in a relationship? ›

In this Article

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in relationships. It happens when one person convinces their target that they're remembering things wrong or that they're misinterpreting events. The gaslighter is trying to manipulate the other person and presents their own thoughts and feelings as the truth.

What are three red flags in a relationship? ›

13 red flags in a relationship to look out for
  • Overly controlling behavior. Overly controlling behavior is a common red flag. ...
  • Lack of trust. ...
  • Feeling low self-esteem. ...
  • Physical, emotional, or mental abuse. ...
  • Substance abuse. ...
  • Narcissism. ...
  • Anger management issues. ...
  • Codependency.
1 Feb 2022

What are 5 signs of a unhealthy relationship? ›

Some characteristics of unhealthy relationships include:
  • Control. One dating partner makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do, what to wear, or who to spend time with. ...
  • Hostility. ...
  • Dishonesty. ...
  • Disrespect. ...
  • Dependence. ...
  • Intimidation. ...
  • Physical violence. ...
  • Sexual violence.

How do you fix relationship problems? ›

Problem-solving strategies:
  1. Be consistent.
  2. Be on time.
  3. Do what you say you will do.
  4. Don't lie -- not even little white lies to your partner or to others.
  5. Be fair, even in an argument.
  6. Be sensitive to the other's feelings. ...
  7. Call when you say you will.
  8. Call to say you'll be home late.
26 Sept 2013

What are the top 10 most important things in a relationship? ›

What Are the 15 Most Important Things in a Relationship?
  • Honesty. It's paramount to be honest with both yourself and your partner, says Doares. ...
  • Good Boundaries. ...
  • Good Communication. ...
  • Respect. ...
  • Intentional Love. ...
  • Spending time together. ...
  • Being supportive. ...
  • Being willing to forgive.

What makes a woman happy in a relationship? ›

Being respectful to your partner is one of the key factors to make her happy and also your relationship. Respecting her opinion on things or situations can lead to less argument in your relationship.

What is the success rate of couples counseling? ›

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists reports an overall success rate of 98%. The success of couples therapy and other factors contributes to a decreasing divorce rate in the United States.

What questions do marriage counselors ask? ›

Marriage Counseling Questions to Ask Your Spouse
  • What are the issues? ...
  • Are we putting enough effort? ...
  • Are we going through a bad patch? ...
  • How do we feel about our connection? ...
  • What are your concerns about me? ...
  • Do you feel intimacy towards me? ...
  • Do we trust each other's actions? ...
  • Have we made any mistakes?
17 Sept 2020

What are unhealthy boundaries in relationships? ›

Unhealthy boundaries involve a disregard for your own and others' values, wants, needs, and limits. They can also lead to potentially abusive dating/romantic relationships and increase the chances of other types of abusive relationships as well.

Can a therapist hug a client? ›

A therapist can hug a client if they think it may be productive to the treatment. A therapist initiating a hug in therapy depends on your therapist's ethics, values, and assessment of whether an individual client feels it will help them.

What is transference in counselling? ›

Transference is subconsciously associating a person in the present with a past relationship. For example, you meet a new client who reminds you of a former lover. Countertransference is responding to them with all the thoughts and feelings attached to that past relationship.

How long should you do couples therapy for? ›

While the specific number of sessions depends entirely on the couple and the approach of their therapist, on average, you can expect to spend anywhere from 12-30 hours, according to the therapists I spoke to.

How long is a couple counselling session? ›

Couples therapy sessions last for one hour. Couples can be offered weekly, fortnightly or monthly sessions.

How often should a couple be therapy? ›

On every initial phone call with a couple interested in couples counseling, I get asked “How often should we come to couples counseling?” I recommend weekly sessions for the first 4-6 weeks, and then re-evaluate after that.

What makes a relationship last long? ›

Research demonstrates that the happiest, most long-lasting couples are best friends: They enjoy each other's company, rely on one another for emotional support, spend their leisure time together, and share many things in common. The risk of companionate love is that partners may begin to feel too much like friends.

What are the roots of relationship? ›

A Root relationship is a relationship within a query and created in SM through push. It represents a relationship between two Root CIs. Only the relationships marked with Root are pushed to SM.
Search forOperatorExample
A combination of search types( ) parenthesescat + (dog | mouse) cat | dog + (! mouse)
4 more rows

How do you keep a relationship forever? ›

How to Make Love Last Forever
  1. Practice forgiveness. Resentment, anger and blame are normal reactions when your loved one does something hurtful. ...
  2. Be realistic. Every long-term relationship will have its share of disappointments. ...
  3. Develop rituals. ...
  4. Listen actively. ...
  5. Be honest. ...
  6. Fight fair. ...
  7. Get help if you're stuck.

Does counseling help a narcissist? ›

Living with narcissistic personality disorder. While it can be challenging to treat NPD, you can work through it. Seeing a therapist or psychologist for counseling can be very helpful, as can changing how you think and interact with others daily.

What is Gottman method? ›

The Gottman Method aims "to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy, and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship."1.

Why does marriage counseling fail? ›

Many couples therapies fail because the partners continue to experience each other as adversaries. Consequently, they remain locked in bitter struggles for dominance and persistently discredit each other's point of view and emotional reactions.

How do you know if your relationship is beyond repair? ›

5 Signs Your Relationship Is Beyond Repair
  • 1) You keep breaking up and getting back together. ...
  • 2) You're afraid of your significant other. ...
  • 3) Your bond or feelings have dissipated. ...
  • 4) Your relationship is tainted with toxicity. ...
  • 5) One or both of you aren't willing to make an effort.
28 Nov 2017

When should you quit a relationship? ›

Here, experts explain some of the signs that indicate it may be time to let go:
  • Your needs aren't being met.
  • You're seeking those needs from others.
  • You're scared to ask for more from your partner.
  • Your friends and family don't support your relationship.
  • You feel obligated to stay with your partner.
27 Aug 2018

What is a toxic message? ›

Toxic text messages are texts that drain you physically and mentally while affecting the overall health of your relationship. These texts demand you to act or behave in a certain way that is unnatural and only satisfies your partner's insecurities.

Can therapy fix a broken relationship? ›

Couples therapy can tackle the full range of relationship issues, from minor disagreements to major problems in communication. It's never too late to seek help from a qualified therapist. Even if you feel your relationship is too broken for repair, you'd be surprised how much therapy can help.

Can counselling help a broken relationship? ›

Counselling. A counsellor can help you discuss emotive issues and will help couples that want to save their relationship. Counsellors are professionally trained, though some offer their services voluntarily. They are trained to listen and to help you to work out your own solutions to relationship problems.

Can you fall in and out of love with your spouse? ›

But it's absolutely possible, according to Michelle Herzog, LMFT, a Chicago-based couples therapist and AASECT-certified sex therapist. She believes that, yes, you can fall back in love with your partner—but it won't be easy.

What are the characteristics of a counseling relationship? ›

3 Characteristics of Counseling. Counseling is a process between a client and therapist to explore difficulties, learn to see things clearly, and facilitate positive change (Sexton, 1996). The process is built on a relationship of trust, confidentiality, and mutual respect.

What are relationship building skills in counselling? ›

There are three important qualities a client should look for when seeking a therapist that Carl Rogers emphasized: empathy, genuineness and respect. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the client's situation, feelings and motives.

What is counselling relationship in psychology? ›

The relationship between a counselor and client is the feelings and attitudes that a client and therapist have towards one another, and the manner in which those feelings and attitudes are expressed.

Which boundaries are most important for the development of an effective counselling relationship? ›

Time, Number of Sessions and Location

These are the practical boundaries relevant to each encounter. It is important to be explicit about the length and frequency of the sessions being offered, whether the work is to be open-ended or time-limited, and when and where the counselling sessions will take place.

What is the ultimate aim of couples counseling? ›

Your therapist can help you express your feelings, discuss issues with your partner, and resolve conflicts. Couples therapy can help increase understanding, respect, affection, and intimacy between you and your partner, which can help you be happier together.

What phase of counseling is the most difficult for you? ›

Phase 3: Exploration/Working Phase — Making Progress

The first two phases are setting you up for this, the part of therapy where you make the most progress. This is where you're diving into the issues and working on yourself. It's the hardest part of therapy.

What is the major goals of counseling? ›

The goal of the counseling is to enable the individual to make critical decisions regarding alternative courses of actions without outside influence. Counseling will help individuals obtain individuals obtain information and to clarify emotional concern that may interfere with or be related to the decision involved.

What are the 3 stages of counselling? ›

The Counseling process is broken down into three basic stages.
The three major stages of the Counseling process
  • Initial stage or the initial disclosure stage.
  • Middle stage or in-depth exploration stage.
  • Last stage or commitment to action stage.

What are the 6 processes of counseling? ›

This article explores what counseling is and is not, and the stages and steps involved in a successful outcome.
A Look at the Process in Group Counseling
  • Explain expectations upfront. ...
  • Build cohesion quickly. ...
  • Seek feedback. ...
  • Identify and address ruptures.
9 Jul 2021

What are the 4 stages of a therapeutic relationship? ›

Ideally, the therapeutic relationship has a clear starting point and ending point. It progresses through the four stages outlined above: commitment, process, change, and termination.

Why is trust important in a counselling relationship? ›

Trust is vital. This means developing a good rapport, gaining a sense of confidence and feeling that your counsellor is really able to listen and understand your needs. From the very first session, you need to be able to trust your instincts and pay attention to your gut reaction.

Why is helping relationship important? ›

There are many characteristics of helping relationships such as compassion, wisdom, realness, acceptance, trust, empathetic understanding and respect. With these features and the assistance from their helpers, clients are further able to take responsibility for their own growth and problem solving.

What are unhealthy boundaries? ›

Unhealthy boundaries involve a disregard for your own and others' values, wants, needs, and limits. They can also lead to potentially abusive dating/romantic relationships and increase the chances of other types of abusive relationships as well.

Why is time important in counselling? ›

Time management also translates to the counselling sessions themselves. It is important that you have some time between clients, especially if some cases are emotionally draining. Having at least 10 minutes between clients allows you to prepare for the next client.

What happens when boundaries are crossed in counselling? ›

Crossing boundaries

Extending the session undermines the consistent and predictable nature of the therapy, but a lack of flexibility seems uncaring. The therapist must also balance needs – for example they may have another client waiting to start a session.


1. What Should I Expect At My First Couples Counseling Session
(Biltmore Psychology and Counseling)
2. 4 Signs You Should Try Couples Therapy
(Biltmore Psychology and Counseling)
3. 5 Things You Learn in Relationship Counseling (Part 1)
(Jenny Ann Helms)
4. Relationship Problems? This Marriage Advice Saved My Relationship & Will Change Your Life
(Marie Forleo)
5. Skills for Healthy Romantic Relationships | Joanne Davila | TEDxSBU
(TEDx Talks)
6. 3 MAJOR Signs You Need Couples Therapy
(Authentic Mental Health)
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