Home Love & Relationships Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: What’s the Difference?

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: What’s the Difference?


It’s never easy when your relationship starts to struggle. This can happen due to a lack of communication. Or, struggles in the bedroom. Or, a fundamental disconnect in love languages. In any case, it is useful to make a difference between couples therapy vs. marriage counseling.  That way you can see what works for you best. 

In these cases, a struggling relationship can feel like it’s beyond saving. However, there are tools that can aid you, such as couples therapy and marriage counseling.

These two crucial services often get treated as interchangeable. However, they aren’t, in fact, the same. What’s the difference between couples therapy vs marriage counseling? How can you tell which will be more useful than the other? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy is, in essence, a process designed to follow your relationship issues back to their root causes. Couples therapy brings both people together to look over their past arguments and their own past traumas to determine where their issues spring from. This is not intended to place blame. Rather, it’s to help the couple in question understand where they stand and what they need to address to bring their relationship closer.

This often involves extensive amounts of therapy for all parties involved, individually and as a group. It requires more work, both within the therapy sessions and at home. (1)

What Is The Main Focus Of Couple Therapy?

Couple therapy is a type of psychotherapy that can help you to improve the relationship you have with your partner with the use of different therapeutic interventions. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) will work with you as a couple and will try to resolve the conflict and gain insight into your romantic relationship the whole therapy will usually focus on the following elements:

1. Focus on one clearly defined problem you have ( lack of communication, the problem with intimacy, jealousy, etc..)

2. Focus on the therapist on the relationship itself, not on each individual separately

3. Focus on the change of the relationship early in the treatment and use interventions focused on the change and solution itself

4. Focus on clear formation of the objectives of the treatment

Couple Therapy Proved To Be Effective In 97% Of The Cases

American Association of Marriage and Family conducted research and it was found that 97% of treated couples got the needed help from the therapy. (2

Couple therapy helps you to rebuild your relationship and can address different issues such as the feeling of disconnection, a marital affair, recurring conflicts, external stressors, etc.…

Couple therapy can also address a specific issue or a health condition such as anxiety or depression, which can affect the relationship, while marriage counseling is more focused on problems in the relationship related to future expectations, emotional balance, or responsibilities the partners have in the relationship itself.

Couple Therapist-Can Use Various Approaches And Techniques

When you come to couple therapy, always come with an open mind and be ready to break down the communication barriers. Couple therapists may use various techniques that they borrow from different forms of therapy to improve your relationship and engage you in self–improvement.

There are different types of couple therapy that include various approaches and these include:

Narrative therapy

This therapy focuses on people telling their stories in a narrative way, actually rewriting their stories. This will help them find that one single story cannot express their whole experience, and there are always inconsistencies. For this therapy, both partners should feel that the relationship is falling due to their faults, and one study from 2016, has found that it is very effective in improving the cooperation between partners. (3)  

Imago relationship therapy

This therapy is developed by Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt and Dr. Harville Hendrix and emphasizes the relationship between childhood experiences and relationships in adults. It tends to understand the childhood traumas and tries to help the couples to be more empathetic and understand each other. When troubles from your childhood repeat, you cannot have secure relationships with your loved ones. (4

Emotionally focused therapy (EFT)

This therapy tends to improve the bonding and attachment to your partner. It was developed by doctors Les Greenberg and Sue Johnson in the 1980s and it is focused on love as the root of the main attachment bond Gottman method is a method developed by John Gottman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Washington, and is based on relationship difficulties caused by 4 main issues and factors that according to him may lead to divorce: defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling of the partner and criticism of their personality. (5

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This couple therapy tends to identify and change the negative thoughts with more objective and realistic thoughts which will positively affect the person’s behavior.

Psychodynamic couple’s therapy tries to understand the deeper emotions and mental processes of you and your partner which will help you make better choices in your life. It is a less intensive and shorter process than psychoanalysis.

Ellen Wachtel’s approach

It focuses mainly on the positive aspects of the relationship and on self-reflection and not on the blame. The goal of the relationship is to help each other while reaching what both partners are longing for. (6

Behavioral therapy

This therapy is based on the principles of behaviorism, and it is action-based and reinforces the positive behaviors that promote stability and satisfaction.

6 Different Couples Therapy Exercises And Activities

You can try these activities together to rebuild and improve your relationship with your partner.

Find deeper topics to engage with

Our modern lives make us busy and we are caught up with our daily needs so we do not have time to communicate with our partners. You should start conversations on deeper themes and avoid asking surface – levels questions all the time like “What’s for dinner”?

Express appreciation

One of the best ways for your communication to start working is by expressing gratitude which can improve your appreciation through in-person conversations, texts, or putting a sticky note with a personal message where your partner can find it.

Identify your partner’s love language

Each one of us has a preferable way of expressing love and receiving love. the 5 love languages are based on this conception and include:

  • Spending quality time with a partner
  • Physical touch
  • Giving and receiving gifts
  • Words of affirmation like I trust you.
  • Acts of service

Fill your intimacy bucket

When in a relationship, you must understand the emotional need of your partner. There are different types of intimacy, and you must fill the intimacy bucket from time to time with different types of intimacy exercises. You can start exploring, doing different things together like socializing with the same friends, going to the same yoga classes, and adding a dash of romance to your relationship with a 6-second kiss. 

The bucket list includes the following types of intimacy:

  • Emotional
  • Sexual
  • Experimental
  • Intellectual
  • Social

Make a list of things your partner can do to make you happy

You can write a list of things you like your partner can do to make you happy and means that they care for you, like showing interest in what you are doing during the day, practicing gratitude, and more cuddling in your free time. It doesn’t mean that they should do all those things every day, but maybe once per week, to help build communication and trust.

Stop with your phubbing behaviors

According to one study, around 25 % of participants said that smartphones distracted their attention and negatively affected their relationships because they decreased communication. (7

Find a nice setting far from the electric devices and feel free to unplug completely and feel the presence of your partner.

What Is Marriage Counseling?

Marriage counseling, like what is offered at Naya Clinics, is a shorter-term service. Rather than focusing on the root of your troubles, it focuses on finding solutions for the present issues. It works to give the couple tools to handle conflicts with rationality. Compromise and improving communication are crucial elements of counseling for married couples.

You can receive marriage counseling even before a marriage takes place. In fact, it might even prove beneficial to receive it so that you can head off any communication breakdowns in the past.

7 Signs That Show And You Know That Marriage Counseling Might Help Your Marriage

When you are in a marriage, it is completely normal to argue and not agree on some things, but it is very important not to poison your relationship secretly. In addition, what is important is to know and understand that life is no longer just about you. 

Often times you do not know what is going on in the mind of your partner and that is the right moment when you might need a marriage counselor and a therapist. There are some signs you can notice when you might need marriage counseling, so keep reading to find them and see whether your relationship and marriage are struggling.

1. When both partners had an affair or just one of them had an affair

When one of the partners has an affair, it takes time to forgive and move forward. To forgive someone requires a lot of commitment and effort and a lot of work, but the right therapy is possible. It is important for both partners to be honest and determine that the best way for both is to move forward.

2. Communication is all the time negative

When communication is becoming worse and worse, it is very hard to go back in the right direction. When the communication is negative, the other partner may feel depressed, insecure, depressed, and want to stop the conversation. When things are left unsaid and there is too much silence, then is the right moment to seek help and a marriage counselor. 

3. Your partner lies and keeps secrets

Total honesty is the goal of every marriage, although in some cases, small white lies are acceptable when sharing compliments on your husband or wife. But, when it comes to significant lies, this can cause big problems in a relationship and it means that you do not trust your partner, do not care what he or she thinks about some things, and do not like sharing information or feelings with them. 

4. Your Relationship Lacks Intimacy

 You will probably try to maintain the level of intimacy you had in your relationship, 

the first years of your marriage, but if you struggle to have any kind of intimacy, then it is the right time to seek a marriage counselor to bring back the forgotten flames. 

5. When divorce is the only solution to the problems

When there is too much argument or constant fights, a short break is helpful. But unfortunately, in most cases, it doesn’t resolve the problem. And when just a night out of home turns into a temporary separation and more absences, it means that you need a marriage counselor. When the partner returns home, the problem persists, but it is usually not talked about. 

6. When you stay in the marriage because of the children 

Children are very intuitive and intelligent and always know when something is not right in their parents’ relationship this can affect them very negatively, and they will usually have trouble at school and bad grades. So staying in an unhealthy marriage and believing that you should stay in the marriage for the sake of the children always requires the help of a marriage counselor. 

7. One of you lies about the finances 

This is a major cause of distress and untrust in a relationship. You should always tell how you spend your money if you want to have a healthy relationship. You cannot spend money from shared accounts, make secret purchases, or apply for loans without the consent of the other partner. This problem can be a tricky one, and it might be unstoppable, so you would always think that it can be resolved easily, but it requires, in most cases, help from a marriage counselor. 

How Long Does Marriage Counseling Last?

The length of the marriage counseling may vary, and it depends on the treatment method and technique the therapist has chosen. 

Some couples need a small push to start communicating, while others need a long – term therapy. Short-term therapy may require four or five sessions if the couple strongly commits to the treatment.

Most therapists recommend weekly sessions to improve and speed up the whole process. However, the right timing is the most important, and you should always seek help when you think you need it because, for some couples, marriage counseling may be real divorce counseling as they have already decided it is finished. Unfortunately, most couples wait too long to go to a therapist, and according to some experts, couples usually wait for six years before they ask for help.

Another thing is to always look for a therapist you feel comfortable with because you may have to cancel the counseling if you do not feel comfortable. 

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: What’s the Difference?

Now that you understand what each of these services offers individually, let’s talk about how they compare. What’s the real difference between couples therapy vs marriage counseling?

First, it’s a difference in scale and focus. Couples therapy tends to be much more in-depth and runs for much longer, as its goal is to reach the root of the relationship’s problems. Marriage counseling, on the other hand, focuses on mending communications and bringing forth compromises. (8)

Couples’ counseling activities often involve taking deep and painful dives into past traumas and exploring the mismatches between their child-rearing and financial styles. Marriage counseling activities will focus more on taking heated emotions out of the equation and approaching their present issues as a united team.

Looking for More Relationship Tips?

Before today, you might have wondered about the differences between couples therapy vs marriage counseling. Now that you know, you might find yourself looking for more relationship tips and advice.

If you need all the help you can get to repair, boost, or welcome your love life, then why not check out our blog? We update each day with more articles designed to help you find and keep the love of your life.

David Smith