Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: A Comparison

Getting married is a very exciting time in a couple’s life, but they may not be fully prepared for the challenges and difficulties that come with married life. It is very easy to become overwhelmed and burned out after a while without the help of a trusted person.

Couples therapy and marriage counseling share a common goal: to help partners improve their relationship by finding healthier coping mechanisms and establishing better communication techniques.

Couples therapy and marriage counseling are often used interchangeably because of their many similarities. However, they have several differences that are important to note, such as their processes, durations, and costs.

Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling: Similarities and Differences

Different organizations and institutions have different definitions for couples therapy and marriage counseling. Moreover, clinics and professionals may vary in the services they offer. As such, their similarities and differences can be better visualized with a table of characteristics.

couples therapy table

The table above makes it clear why the two terms are often used interchangeably. While there is a multitude of similarities, there are nuances that ultimately set couples therapy apart from marriage counseling.

Couples Therapy

woman talking to therapist

Couples therapy, like any other kind of therapy, aims to assist someone to conquer a mental or emotional obstacle. These obstacles include intimacy issues, communication issues, insecurities, anxieties, and so forth.

Therapists commonly have four major steps for treatment:

  1. The therapist will attempt to zero in on a specific issue in the relationship.
  2. The therapist will then mediate a discussion on possible treatments.
  3. The therapist will set the goals of the treatment.
  4. Together with the couple, the therapist will set expectations on the changes that must be enacted.

Oftentimes, the therapist will also delve into the couple’s history, both as individuals and as partners. This is to identify unhealthy patterns, unsustainable behaviors, and root causes of problems that are causing a divide in the relationship.

Essentially, the question to be addressed in couples therapy is “Why is our relationship having these problems?” With this, the therapist guides the couple in finding areas of improvement within their relationship.

A couple going through major events such as a life-threatening disease, death of a loved one, and other stress-inducing situations, may seek the assistance of a couples therapist in finding healthy coping mechanisms.

Likewise, a couple in need of advice for simpler matters, relative to those aforementioned, like finding harmony and establishing better rapport in the relationship, can also be helped by a couple’s therapist.

As they are licensed professionals, couples therapists can also deal with matters of mental health. A topic of discussion may be a partner’s depression, anxiety, or bipolarity. With the help of a psychiatrist, a treatment and solution plan can be devised.

Sessions are usually 45 to 50 minutes long. Couples therapy is a long-term endeavor and necessitates several sessions. The cost depends on multiple factors, such as your location and the therapist themselves, but the average price is $70 to $200 per session.

Couples may opt to go together for each session, attend individually, or alternate between the two options. Every couple will have an approach that best fits their dynamic and schedule.

Marriage Counseling

counseling session

Marriage counselors seek to identify the conflicts in a relationship and help couples establish healthy and constructive methods to come up with solutions to these conflicts.

It is common for couples to seek marriage counseling before getting married to strengthen their relationship before transitioning to a new stage in their life. However, marriage counseling can also be helpful at any point during the marriage.

In contrast to couples therapy, marriage counseling focuses on present events and circumstances. There is an emphasis on timely matters, and in particular, the trials and tribulations of married life. Overwhelmed newlyweds or burned-out long-time partners may turn to the expertise of a marriage counselor to make married life easier to handle.

The focal point of marriage counseling is to equip the couple with better communication and conflict resolution skills. These two skills are often cited as pivotal in the success of a marriage.

Much like couples therapy, marriage counselors act as a mediator for the partners. They facilitate a dialogue on each of their perceived issues in the relationship. It is important for the counselor to prevent any form of hostility or aggression in this discussion, as it will ultimately result in unproductivity and possibly more damage.

A common tactic is to set realistic rules and boundaries to address the issues.

  • If the problem is a partner whose tendency to overwork themselves severely limits their time together or with their children, the counselor can propose that work duties be strictly left to office hours and at the workplace.
  • If the issue is a partner constantly looking through the other’s messages and social media, the counselor can recommend the use of passwords for each other’s privacy. It is also important to address that this tendency may be a result of a lack of trust, which the counselor can also remedy by giving them proper communication techniques and teaching them the importance of honesty and transparency in a healthy relationship.
  • If the problem is a partner feeling as if the domestic workload is not evenly distributed, the counselor can suggest that they set specific household and child-caring tasks for each other to ensure that they each do a similar amount of work.

Marriage counseling is a useful resource for any kind of issue concerning relationships, such as fidelity, sexual difficulties, communication issues, and conflicting goals or interests. Although they can also address mental health issues, not all marriage counselors have the license for a diagnosis. They may seek the assistance of other healthcare providers such as psychiatrists for these kinds of issues.

Additionally, marriage counselors look for signs that a person is being abused. It is one thing for a partner to have anger management issues, and another thing for them to be downright abusive — marriage counselors can contact the police, shelters, or centers if they feel that their client is in danger.

Sessions are usually 45 to 60 minutes long. Marriage counseling is typically a short-term and focused treatment. Like couples therapy, the cost depends on multiple factors, such as your location and the counselor themselves, but the average price is $45 to $200 per session.

Similar to couples therapy, a couple can attend marriage counseling together or individually. It is generally recommended, however, that they attend together, as finding solutions is easier and fairer if both parties are present.

Final Thoughts

Despite the progress we are making in society toward the normalization of talking about mental health, it is still largely stigmatized. This extends to couples therapy and marriage counseling; many couples are hesitant and intimidated to ask for help, as this may make them seem weak or “not trying hard enough” in their relationship.

However, attending therapy or counseling is actually a testament of their strength and their commitment to the relationship and to each other. It has been found that therapy and counseling generally work and are highly effective in mending relationships and helping couples cope with stress.

You may find couples therapists and marriage counselors in online directories or you may ask your general practitioner or physician for referrals. You may also ask your friends and family who have gone to therapy and counseling for recommendations.

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