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What's the Difference Between Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling?

By Gottman Connect Staff

Published on 11/18/2022

What’s the Difference Between Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling?

Couples therapy and marriage counseling are frequently used interchangeably to refer to the necessity for a lengthy discussion with a professional to improve a marriage or relationship. While it’s still common to hear the terms used as synonyms there are a few differences you need to know about.

Therefore, if you're wondering if couples therapy works and what it entails, continue reading. This article will assist you in better understanding the terms and will also help you find the best therapist and improve and enrich your connection.

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling

While many people who are not educated experts in the field may feel couples therapy and marriage counseling are synonymous, there are several critical distinctions between the two. Both counseling and therapy can help you strengthen your closeness and bond, but you may want to understand the differences before beginning. 

That way, you'll have all the facts necessary to make the most informed decision and assist your relationship efficiently.

Experts can use the two phrases interchangeably depending on the initial need and purpose of marriage counseling or couples therapy. Couples therapy, in general, is used to handle existing issues in the relationship, and marriage counseling is frequently used to prepare newlyweds and those about to marry for marital life.

Both approaches can assist you in strengthening your bond with your partner, but while couples therapy requires you to explore all of your emotions, scars, and trauma, marriage counseling prepares you for specific scenarios and focuses more on the present.

Key Differences between Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling

If you're still unsure about the distinction between marriage counseling and couples therapy, the following list may help:

  • Cause - Married couples typically seek couples therapy when genuine issues in their relationship require resolution. On the other hand, marriage counseling and coaching is frequently used to prepare newlyweds and those about to become one for building a life together.
  • Timing - Couples therapy delves deeply into each individual's emotional state in the relationship and primarily deals with the past to assure a better future. Marriage counseling focuses on current difficulties without excessive examination of past events. Rather than that, counseling should concentrate on the future and potential challenges that most couples should be able to overcome.
  • Benefits - While couples therapy and marital counseling can be beneficial to a relationship; they are not identical. 

Marriage counseling guides and supports couples who wish to be better prepared for marriage life, and it's ideal for couples considering establishing a family or newlyweds.

On the other hand, couples therapy addresses past emotional turmoil that contributed to the relationship's current unhappiness. It is intended to assist persons in treatment in developing greater compassion for themselves and their partners.

  • Issues at hand - Therapy is typically used to address more serious mental health issues such as substance misuse or family abuse that are causing problems in the current relationship. While counseling addresses frequent hurdles that may arise along the way and equips the couple with the necessary tools to overcome them.
  • Duration - Couples therapy, on average, requires more time and dedication than marriage counseling. Due to the fact that therapy deals with emotional baggage and the past, it may require additional sessions to achieve the optimum outcomes. 

What Is Couples Therapy?

If you are still wondering what is therapy here is a brief definition - Couples therapy is designed for couples who adore one another, have a history together, and still require further assistance from a professional to resolve issues of miscommunication and conflict. Because the problems are apparent, couples feel that seeking therapy from a qualified therapist is the best approach to achieving that great relationship and intimacy.

What Is Marriage Counseling?

As the name implies, marriage counseling is a therapy intended to assist individuals who are about to marry or are newlyweds. This form of consultation with the therapist assists couples in better understanding their partnership and acts as a preventative strategy.

What Does Couples Therapy Address?

Couples therapy is a wide term that refers to a range of approaches and strategies to assist couples in thriving and growing together. 

The following are some of the most frequently addressed difficulties in couples therapy but bear in mind that each couple requires a unique strategy for the best results.

  • The tension between husband and wife
  • Stress and trauma
  • Lack of understanding and compassion
  • Poor commitment
  • Miscommunication 
  • Emotional distance
  • Anxiety 
  • Lack of intimacy and sex
  • Beliefs and values
  • Vulnerability
  • Problems with finances
  • Familial relationships
  • Children
  • Health issues
  • Addiction 
  • Constant conflicts
  • Long-distance relationships
  • Trust and attachment issues


So, what does couples therapy do with the mentioned issues, and is this the best thing for your marital bliss? 

You may be concerned that your relationship is doomed, or you may have doubts about the efficacy of any amount of counseling. This is entirely natural, but the good news is that couples counseling improves the situation in more than 70% of cases.

These astounding figures are the product of the devotion and expertise of the industry's greatest therapists and the strength demonstrated by couples willing to invest time and effort.

Couples therapy as a whole tries to uncover and repair previous emotional scars to assist you in developing a stronger bond with your partner. 

Here is what you can expect from the process:

  • One-on-one sessions with both partners to discover the root of the problem;
  • Joined sessions aiming to reveal the dynamics in the marriage and potential red flags;
  • Assessment by the professional therapist;
  • Finding the best treatment options and making a plan;
  • Working on communication, understanding, and intimacy;
  • Learning all the skills needed to have a happy and blissful marriage.

Couples prepared to work on their problems and commit to resolving them effectively have the best marriages. Since self-reflection and communication enhancement can boost any relationship, you may be surprised at how happy you feel after each session.

Step 1: Assessment

Each phase of effective couples therapy should begin with a thorough examination conducted by your selected therapist. Therefore, if you want to overcome marital difficulties, you must be willing to speak up and be entirely candid about your emotions.

This is frequently the most challenging step to adapt to, but in the long run, it is the most effective way to develop a solid bond with your therapist and spouse.

Once you are willing to be entirely candid about everything that bothers you about your marriage, as well as everything that you adore, your therapist will be able to paint a whole picture of your marriage. By thoroughly examining the relationship, the expert can devise the most effective treatment approach. This is why a professional therapist will create a trusting relationship with you from the start.

Step 2: One-on-one Sessions

After you've had a chance to share the story of "you" as a couple, you can move forward to one-on-one sessions to dig further into the root cause of any challenges you may be experiencing. These sessions are frequently referred to as "Venting" since they may contain information you are not comfortable disclosing in front of your partner.

Given that therapy is intended to assist each member in the relationship as an individual, it is critical to have an excellent venting session that is about far more than moaning about your spouse.

This is the time for your therapist to identify any underlying mental diseases or triggers that may be contributing to your spouse or wife's troubles. Because your relationship with your therapist is already strong, this is merely another approach to building trust and belief in your ability to improve.

Step 3: Treatment Plan

When your therapist has a greater understanding of your marriage, possible conflicts, and connection, he or she can devise the most effective approach to assist you in growing together.

While it may be difficult for you to hear specifics about your marriage from their perspective, bear in mind that this is not intended to make you feel bad but to educate you. Identifying the issue is the first step toward a more successful marriage and communication.

What Marriage Counseling Addresses

Marriage counseling addresses various issues that couples may confront and for which they want additional advice. This may involve the following:


Marriage counseling can assist you in establishing better communication from the start and resolving issues before they escalate. Marriage counseling can help with the following:

  • Better communication skills
  • Improved strategies to resolve conflicts
  • Enhanced intimacy
  • Maintaining balance and harmony
  • Investing in the emotional bank account

Step 1: Assessment of the couple

The initial counseling session is always focused on getting to know one another. 

This is an opportunity for your counselor to have a deeper understanding of your relationship and the reasons you may benefit from counseling. In contrast to therapy, couples counseling aims to treat the partnership as a whole, not necessarily the individuals involved in the marriage.

Step 2: Making a Plan

After meeting with you and your spouse alone or in a group setting, your certified therapist will most likely advise a treatment plan. This will contain any potential issues that will need to be addressed and practical techniques and lessons to be learned along the way.

Step 3: Implementing Knowledge

Given the brief duration of marriage counseling compared to couples therapy, you will soon have the opportunity to discover how to make your marriage work. 

This step may include role-playing and modeling and assigned work at home. All of the strategies should assist you in developing a more meaningful connection based on trust and improved communication.

Preparing for Therapy vs Counseling

While your therapist will determine the best method to take with you and your spouse to develop a positive relationship, you can do a few things to facilitate the process.

For instance, you might:

  • Find the right therapist for you depending on the problem you are facing and the desired outcome;
  • Be prepared to speak openly and honestly in both therapy and counseling sessions
  • Dress comfortably and relax right before the treatment. This will help you and your therapist establish a good and enjoyable relationship.
  • Be realistic and invest time and effort. While counseling might take less time than couples therapy you still need to be engaged and ready to work with your partner
  • Read resources like “Building a life together” that will help you understand therapy better and set you off on a good foot even before you begin

Does Insurance Cover Couples Therapy More than Marriage Counseling?

Marriage and couples therapy are rarely reimbursed by insurance because they are not considered medical emergencies or mental health issues. However, keep in mind that some insurance companies will pay for couples therapy if one of the spouses has been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

The only way to be sure of the therapy's cost and insurance coverage is to speak with your therapist and insurance provider.

Outcomes from Couples Therapy

Half of married couples divorce, so if you want to improve your chances of having a successful relationship, satisfaction and increased affection, you should consider therapy. This remarkable strategy will assist you in determining the source of your trauma and mental upheaval and determine whether your partner is experiencing similar difficulties.

Additionally, therapy will enable you to be vulnerable and express your love without fear of abandonment or harm. Your relationship will gradually improve, as many couples regard counseling as the savior of their marriage.

Outcomes from Marriage Counseling

Before marriage or the onset of long-term relationship difficulties, you can invest in your spouse and your love. Premarital counseling helps prepare you for all the roadblocks and potential issues most couples encounter.

You'll be able to rely on your partner for emotional support and will be a devoted listener when they're in need.

It's also comforting to know that couples eager to study even before they marry have a greater chance of marital success and happiness. As a result, enhanced communication and closeness will inspire you to preserve the blissful marriage you sought.

A Word from the Gottman Relationship Coach

If you're still unsure how to have a better relationship, our advice should point you in the right direction. Additionally, it is always wise to invest in resources such as "Building a Life Together" and to be fully prepared to work on your marriage. Gottman Connect have built a tool called the Gottman Relationship Adviser which is the world's first proven solution to assess and improve relationships. It was developed by world-renowned psychologists Drs. John and Julie Gottman, the Gottman Method has helped millions of people like you.

Deciding if marriage counseling or couples therapy is the best course of action for you can be difficult, but resources like Gottman Relationship Coach "Building a life together" will help you stay one step ahead of the problems and one step closer to your partner. With the guidance of experts and a desire to adapt, you will rediscover your spouse and develop an even deeper and more permanent bond.

While you're deciding on the best course of action for your marriage or relationship, you might want to have fun by taking our free relationship quiz!


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