February 10, 2024

How long should marriage counseling last?

Married couple happy in therapy

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IN THIS ARTICLE: 

  • Understanding the benefits of marriage counseling 
  • Factors influencing how long marriage counseling lasts 
  • What to expect from short-term marriage counseling
  • What to expect from medium-length marriage counseling
  • What to expect from long-term marriage counseling 
  • When to stop marriage counseling
Married Couple Having a Couples Therapy

Marriage counseling is a tool that many couples use to help resolve relationship problems, improve communication, and feel like a team again. Through marriage counseling, couples can go fro feeling like tense roommates to being on the same page again. A common question that gets asks though is, “how long should marriage counseling last?”. The annoying answer is, it depends. This article will provide some information on factors influencing how long marriage counseling lasts so you can understand what to expect. 

Understanding the benefits of marriage counseling

Marriage counseling is a type of psychotherapy that is focused on helping couple relationships using many of the same psychological principles using for individual mental health counseling. In marriage counseling, couples work on improving their communication, working through issues, and creating a better understanding of each others perspectives–all within a safe a supportive environment of counseling. The main goals of marriage counseling are often to resolve conflict, and improve the emotional bond to promote a healthy relationship foundation. A trained and skilled marriage counselor uses a variety of techniques to help guide couples through conversations and compromises that would be difficult to navigate at home. (Learn more about the benefits of marriage counseling here.)

Factors influencing how long marriage counseling lasts

There are many factors that influence how long marriage counseling should last. A general rule of thumb is that the more problems that exists, and the longer you wait to get professional help, the longer marriage counseling takes. 

  1. The severity of the problems: The complexity and depth of the issues will impact how long marriage counseling lasts. Couples will big betrayals and deep-rooted issues that have been going on a long time, will find that they likely need more marriage counseling sessions. I have heard some therapists describe that for the length of time a problem has gone on, you should expect that it will take at least half that amount of time to resolve the issues. So for example, if problems have been going on for 4 years, expect to be in 2-years of weekly counseling. 
  2. Willingness of both partner to work on improving the relationship: A common concern I hear from people is that their partner is not willing to go to counseling. While there are still some ways you can improve you relationship through individual counseling or couples workshops, it always is best when both partners are willing to work on improving things together. The level of investment each partner has in the relationship and in improving the relationship will have a significant impact on whether things improve quickly or if things get dragged out for years. 
  3. Use of effective communication skills: Everyone comes to marriage counseling will different levels of communication skills, ability to navigate conflict, and cooperate as a team. Couples who already have strong skills in these areas are more likely to move through marriage counseling quickly compared to those without effective communication skills. If you don’t have string skills in this area, no worries. Marriage counseling can teach you how to have open communication, give productive feedback to each other, and work together to find compromises and solutions to problems.  
  4. ​Previous experiences of trauma: While most people go through some experience of trauma in their lifetime, there are other who have endured more than anyone should. Sometimes when there is significant abuse or neglect history or untreated PTSD, couples therapy can take much longer. This is because more time will be needed to heal the wounds from the past while also trying to improve the marriage.  (Learn more about PTSD here.)
  5. Level of commitment to the marriage: The level of commitment and emotional investment in the marriage has a big impact on how long marriage counseling lasts. Couples who are both committed and emotionally invested in the relationship tend to move more quickly through the process of marriage counseling than couples where one partner is not invested in the process. 
Marriage Counseling. Unrecognizable Black Counselor Talking To Happy Black Couple At Office

What to expect from short-term marriage counseling 

Short term counseling is usually 6-12 sessions and is best for couples dealing with minor issues. Often this is a great choice for premarital counseling, and couple wishing to take a preventative approach to problems. In short term marriage counseling, you learn some specific tips for communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

What to expect from medium-length marriage counseling

Medium length marriage counseling is usually 12-24 sessions and is appropriate for couples facing moderate relationship problems. This may also involve some communication, problem solving and conflict resolution skills. However, it will also like address possible underlying issues and work to build more emotional intimacy, trust, in the relationship.  

What to expect from long-term marriage counseling

Long-term marriage counseling typically lasts 24 sessions or more. Most coupes will be in this category, because research indicates that coupes wait 6 years on average to go to marriage counseling after problems have started. By that point, problems have gotten entrenched. When there are more long term issues, deeply rooted problems, and complex issues, long-term counseling is recommended. It involves extensive work on individual and joint healing, personal growth, and transforming the relationship. This duration allows for in-depth exploration, addressing deeply ingrained patterns, and facilitating lasting change.

Marriage counseling appointment

When to stop marriage counseling

Throughout the process of marriage counseling, your therapist will provide ongoing evaluation and feedback and will collaborate with you to see if the goals and expectations of counseling have been met. As signs of progress become apparent, you will move toward stopping marriage counseling. Signs that it is time to stop marriage counseling include: 

  1. Achieving the goals you had for marriage counseling 
  2. Improved ability to use communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills effectively
  3. Feeling more emotionally connected and having a sense of rebuilt trust in the relationship 
  4. Both partners have better self-awareness and have achieved healthier relationship coping skills 

Marriage counseling can be a great tool to help strengthen and repair a  relationship. While the duration of counseling varies based on individual circumstances, the longer you wait for counseling, the more likely the problems will have grown into complex issues that take longer to resolve. By understanding these factors that impact how long marriage counseling takes, you can be more informed about when to start the marriage counseling process and what to expect about the length of time it will take. To have the best outcomes, make sure both of you are ready to actively participate in the marriage counseling process so you move towards achieving your relationship goals. 

Looking to start Marriage Counseling?

Elizabeth Polinsky Counseling provides online Marriage Counseling, as well as weekend-long Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consult. 

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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.

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