Better Me

Is It Time to Seek Couples Counseling?

Couples in some books, TV shows and movies make love look so easy. A couple meets, they fall in love and we assume they live happily ever after. 

These romantic, imaginative stories are fun—an escape, yet they fall short of one thing: Relationships aren’t anything like a Hallmark movie. 

Healthy relationships take work and commitment. And sometimes, when you hit a rough patch, they take a willingness to get help from a professional. 

Couples thinking about counseling often have lots of questions and maybe even some doubts about it. Sometimes it’s fear about opening up to a complete stranger or denial there are cracks in the relationship. Other times it’s simply not convenient or affordable.

Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, answered some frequently asked questions to remove some of the barriers and fears about therapy to help you build a stronger relationship.

What is couples counseling?

Couples counseling can go by many names: marriage therapy, relationship counseling, couples therapy, family therapy, pre-marital counseling, re-marital counseling, LGBTQ relationship counseling and relationship coaching. 

No matter what it is called, couples counseling is the process where two romantic partners work with a licensed behavioral health specialist (e.g., marriage and family therapist, psychologist, social worker or marriage counselor) to improve their relationship. 

This form of therapy can help improve the well-being of your relationship and also the well-being of your children, family and friends. It all comes down to communication.

“The goal of a behavioral health specialist is to teach methods of communicating that allow couples to resolve their own issues during and after therapy—not to resolve issues for them,” Dr. Fox said. “Counseling gives you a framework on how to communicate with your partner in a healthy way and allows you to strengthen the relationship.”

Why do people seek couples counseling?

You may be surprised to know that it’s not just couples on the brink of divorce who seek marriage counseling. The truth is that some see therapy as a form of maintenance.

Relationships are much like cars. When they’re new, they are exciting. But over time, your car will require a tune-up—an oil change, new tires, brakes—so it can continue to run for years to come.

Some of us take great care and heed those check oil lights, while others let the tire tread wear or ignore warning lights until it’s too late. 

Relationships need tune-ups from time to time too.

“Regularly checking in with your partner is a great way to assess strengths and growth areas and build on communication skills,” said Dr. Fox. 

The reality is that some couples may miss the warning signs or be unsure when they should seek couples counseling. In many relationships, couples therapy isn’t considered until issues persist for many years. 

These issues may include: 

“Couples want to repair the relationship but don’t understand their partner’s point of view and rarely understand how their own actions contribute to the conflict,” Dr. Fox said. “Therapy gives you the tools to improve your communication, rebuild intimacy and become more self-aware about how your actions affect your partner and your relationship.”

How do I convince my partner to go to couples therapy?

There are undoubtedly some misconceptions that couples counseling is all about fighting, confronting and emotional blow-ups or is a so-called “death sentence.” 

It can be scary to be vulnerable and honest or even admit that you may have contributed to the breakdown in your relationship or communication. The truth is that couples therapy is a safe environment for you to nip problems in the bud.

“Counseling offers you an unbiased perspective in a judgment-free zone,” Dr. Fox said. “It gives you a safe space to learn more about yourself, identify patterns that reflect your behaviors and gain coping skills and effective communication techniques to lead a more fulfilling life.”

You can’t force your partner to go to counseling, and you don’t need to. Talk to them about what they want. If they want to heal and repair the relationship, then commit together to finding someone who can help. 

While individual therapy can help you learn strategies to change your behaviors, your relationship can’t improve with just one person carrying the load.

“Both partners need to go into marriage counseling willing to do the work it takes to get the relationship in a more positive place,” Dr. Fox said. “It brings ‘us’ back into the relationship, not focused on ‘you’ or ‘me.’”

What can I expect during couples counseling?

Here’s what to expect during your counseling sessions:

Talk about yourself and your relationship

The first initial sessions with your couples specialist will be spent learning more about you and your relationship. This may include filling out assessments, answering questions about your past, how you met and family, or more.

While this may seem like a waste of time or a bit uncomfortable, it’s a very important part of the therapeutic process. You can and should be open and honest. This helps your specialist better understand the issues you may be facing in your relationship.

“Really the initial part of therapy is getting to know you, but we want to get to the root of the problem,” Dr. Fox said. “You may have gone into therapy thinking your problem was intimacy but really it came down to communication.”

Set goals

Once specific problems in the relationship have been identified, you will develop goals and a timeline.

Each couple’s goals will be different. Maybe you want to understand one another better, or maybe you want to deal with anger and resentment over your partner’s affair. Your goals may even evolve as you progress through therapy.

Resolve issues

The most important aspect of resolving issues in your relationship is learning new skills. Some of these important skills are communication, trust and honesty, stress management and patience and forgiveness.

“Oftentimes, however, these skills existed in the relationship at some point but are no longer being used,” Dr. Fox said. “Therapy can give you the chance to remember how important these skills are and how they impact your relationship.”

Learning or relearning skills may require some homework on your part. “It might require you to keep a log of your emotions when arguments come up, read a self-help book or go on dates with your partner so you can increase and practice the skills you are learning in counseling,” Dr. Fox said.

Attend some one-on-ones

Not all your counseling sessions will be you, your partner and your behavioral health specialist. Some therapy may include individual therapy—and possibly even some family therapy sessions if they may be affected by the problem.

“There are some things you have to work on by yourself,” Dr. Fox said. “These one-on-one sessions give you a chance to share things you might be reluctant to share in couples therapy and work on individual skills.”

Maybe you’re working on becoming more empathetic or navigating past childhood trauma that’s seeping into your relationship.

How much does couples therapy cost?

The cost of couples therapy can vary based on the behavioral health specialist’s skill level and experience and where you live. Unfortunately, not all standard health insurance plans cover couples therapy, although some companies may cover it under your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

The good news is there are many more affordable options for therapy these days.

Without insurance, some specialists offer sliding-scale fees based on income or discounts for multiple sessions. Some specialists offer online counseling, which may be more affordable and more conducive to those with busy family and work lives. Depending on your financial situation, you may also qualify for low-cost or free mental health services.


Relationships require work and commitment. For many couples, counseling is just the thing that helps them work through struggles and endure together. It’s not always easy, but your relationship – your partner – is worth it.

For more relationship advice, check out:

Behavioral Health Relationships