What to Expect in Marriage Counseling

Reasons People Go To Marriage Counseling

Couples go to marriage counseling, or couples therapy, for a variety of reasons, such as to reconnect emotionally, learn conflict management skills, improve communication skills, gain self-awareness, etc. Marriage counseling equips couples with the skills needed to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship–even during difficult times. The marriage counselor sees the couple as the client–as opposed to individually–and encourages growth for the couple as a unit. The main goal in marriage counseling is to provide the couple with a neutral mediator who can provide understanding and encourage growth.

Marriage Counseling Helps Improve Communication

Marriage counseling aims to provide couples with valuable conflict resolution skills, such as de-escalation, active listening, and self-soothing. Often times, the counselor will guide the couple through a conflict interaction and provide feedback. The marriage counselor will not take sides but recognize the ways in which the couple interacts. For instance, a marriage counselor who does Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) would identify the “dance” occurring between the two partners. Dr. Sue Johnson refers to the “dance” of conflict as an attempt for each partner to get his or her attachment needs to be met. The most prevalent “dance” between couples is the pursuer-withdrawer. The act of putting a name to the process and identifying the root feelings is key to promoting effective resolution of conflict.

John Gottman another known name in marriage counseling, tends to refer to the withdrawer as the partner who stonewalls or emotionally shuts down. In Gottman marriage counseling, the counselor provides the couples with tools to de-escalate intense conflict interactions. Often times, according to Gottman, partners become activated and are unable to think rationally as a result. In the session, a Gottman marriage counselor would provide the couple with information about self-soothing, which often includes either removing oneself from the situation or completing a mindfulness activity. The marriage counselor can walk the couple through the process of self-soothing in session. A Gottman marriage counselor would also emphasize the importance of repair attempts, which are jokes, an affectionate touch, a smile, etc. that de-escalate the conflict.

Active listening is another communication skill that helps during times of conflict. This skill involves listening, reflecting, and assessing what a partner is saying in order to communicate a sense of respect and a desire to understand. Active listening enables one partner to tune into the needs and feelings of another partner. At times, the marriage counselor will reflect one partner’s feelings so the other can begin to understand the underlying emotions behind actions.

In addition to conflict resolution skills, marriage counseling also allows couples to develop basic communication skills, which increases understanding, empathy, and overall emotional intelligence. For example, marriage counselors often discuss the importance of communicating feelings in a healthy way by using “I” statements. “I” statements encourage the partner to state a feeling–as opposed to assigning blame to the other partner: “I feel ____ when ____.” Through participation in marriage counseling, partners learn how to better identify and communicate their feelings. Simply communicating feelings to a partner will increase a sense of connection, empathy, and trust. Understanding breeds closeness and a desire to show the partner compassion and patience.


Marriage Counseling Helps You Individually

Most importantly, marriage counseling is a pathway to self-awareness as well as awareness of a partner’s feelings and needs within the relationship. Marriage counseling provides a safe space for exploring the issues that crop up in relationships. The awareness gained through the counseling process is valuable and useful outside of session.

The purpose of this blog was to provide information about the various topics couples discussed in marriage counseling as well as the benefits. In addition, a couple theories of couples therapy, such as EFT and Gottman Couples Therapy were discussed to increase understanding of difficult to understanding counseling terms. If you feel as though you and your partner would benefit from marriage counseling, feel free to call us at 980-237-7732 or email mail@kaleidoscopecounselingpllc.com to set up an appointment.


By: Ashlyn Boredolon, Counseling Intern at Winthrop University