February 13, 2024

Navigating Love Together: Exploring Different Types of Marriage Counseling

A happy marriage


Marriage counseling is an important tool to help couples navigate the challenges of married life while strengthening their relationship for a happy and satisfying marriage. The decision to seek counseling is often fraught with challenges, reflecting the courage of couples who choose to confront and mend their issues. 

There are several types of marriage counseling and it can be difficult to choose the ideal type of marriage counseling for you. In this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons of the most common types of couples therapy so you can choose the type that most resonates with your relationship.

Here’s a short preview of our article:

middle aged couple on the sofa

The Essence of Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling is a therapeutic process aimed at improving relationships by addressing issues like communication, conflicts, and attachment styles. Its primary objectives include fostering understanding, resolving relationship conflicts, enhancing intimacy, and building a stronger emotional bond between partners.

Common misconceptions about marriage counseling often include fears that it signifies failure or that it won’t be effective. However, research suggests that counseling can be highly beneficial. For instance, a study in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy showed that over 70% of couples undergoing therapy reported positive changes.

Moreover, marriage counseling can be a proactive step, not just a reactive one. It’s about building a healthier narrative in the relationship and addressing unhealed wounds or negative patterns from childhood. 

The next section of the article will delve into the different types of marriage counseling, exploring how each approach can uniquely contribute to a couple’s journey toward a healthier relationship.

Traditional Marriage Counseling

Traditional marriage counseling typically involves working with someone who is a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) who can help you communicate openly with each other while working on finding solutions to the relationship issues bringing you to counseling.

The key aspects of these therapy sessions often include:

  • Communication Enhancement: Therapists help couples develop better communication skills, emphasizing active listening, empathy, and expressive clarity to improve mutual understanding and resolve conflicts.
  • Conflict Resolution Strategies: Techniques are taught to manage and resolve conflicts effectively, avoiding destructive interactions and promoting a healthier way to address disagreements.
  • Understanding Patterns and Attachment Styles: Couples gain insights into their relational patterns, often influenced by childhood experiences and attachment styles, and learn how to navigate them constructively.

Many types of traditional marriage counseling involve promoting effective communication, healthy boundaries in the relationship and with others, and working through underlying relationship dynamics that may have even been passed down through generational family patterns. While traditional marriage counseling has many benefits, it doesn’t have as much research to support it as the more modern-day couples counseling styles.

couple hugging

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT)

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a type of marriage counseling that helps couples identify and change negative communication patterns. The underlying theory is based on attachment, which prioritizes helping couples build a sense of emotional security in their relationship.

The focus of EFT couples therapy is to help couples identify their emotions and healthily share them. Learning to express and share emotions can help couples develop a closer emotional connection and enjoy a healthy relationship. Furthermore, communication skills are developed as couples work to understand and express their feelings effectively. 

Currently, EFT is the only evidenced-based couple therapy and has a 70-73% success rate with a 90% improvement rate. In comparison, other marriage and family therapies have about a 40-50% success rate. EFT is especially helpful for couples wanting to improve communication, trust, emotional intimacy, and connection.

Learn more about the effectiveness of EFT here.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was created as a type of therapy meant to help individuals recover from depression and anxiety. However, in recent years, this form of therapy has started to be used in marriage counseling as well.

CBT focuses on helping people change negative thoughts and behaviors. In marriage and couples counseling, CBT helps couples identify and change negative thought patterns contributing to relationship problems. By changing negative thoughts and promoting positive thinking, couples work toward seeing the good in each other and developing more positivity and goodwill between them.

Studies have shown CBT to be effective in improving marital satisfaction. For instance, a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that couples who underwent CBT-based interventions reported significant improvements in relationship satisfaction.

While effective, CBT requires commitment and active participation from both partners, and some may find the structured approach challenging.

couple hugging

Gottman Method Couples Therapy

The Gottman Method, developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, is a renowned approach in couples therapy. This form of therapy is rooted in extensive research, although there is still not enough evidence regarding its effectiveness. The Gottman method emphasizes:

  • Enhancing Emotional Connection: It focuses on deepening the emotional bond by addressing issues of trust and commitment.
  • Conflict Resolution Skills: Couples are taught effective strategies to manage conflicts and communicate more effectively, reducing negative interactions.
  • Strengthening Friendship: The Gottman Method helps couples build a strong foundation by enhancing mutual respect and affection.
  • Assessment and Tailored Interventions: Therapy begins with a thorough assessment of the relationship, followed by interventions tailored to the couple’s specific needs.

This approach to couples therapy studied the differences between “master couples” and couples headed for divorce. Drs. Julie and John Gottman created a type of therapy that taught couples looking to improve their relationship to do the same things the “master couples” did in their studies.

This form of therapy involves techniques for building friendship, managing conflicts, and developing skills such as effective communication, empathy, and conflict resolution. It has many similarities to CBT couples therapy.

Learn the differences between EFT and the Gottman Method.

Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Relationship Therapy is a type of couples counseling based on understanding unconscious decisions people make in relationships. The idea is that people unconsciously choose partners with personality traits similar to their parents.

In Imago therapy, couples identify the unconscious beliefs, relationship patterns, and relationship expectations that may be impacting their relationship. By making the unconscious conscious, couples can work towards healing and growth. Imago therapy is an ideal therapy for couples looking to improve trust, intimacy, and communication.

Imago Relationship Therapy, while beneficial for many, does have its drawbacks:

  • Complex Concepts: The theory behind Imago can be complex and might be challenging for some couples to fully grasp or relate to.
  • Time-Intensive: This therapy often requires a significant time commitment, which might not be feasible for all couples.
  • Focus on Childhood Experiences: The heavy emphasis on childhood experiences and their impact on adult relationships may not resonate with everyone.
  • Emotionally Intensive: The deep emotional work involved can be overwhelming, particularly for those who are uncomfortable with intense emotional exploration.
Photo of Couple Embracing Each Other

Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT)

Solution-Focused Therapy is known for its ability to be brief. This form of therapy was originally designed for use in individual therapy, but it can also be applied to couples. Instead of building skills or healing from the past, the focus is on finding solutions to specific problems.

In solution-focused therapy, a marriage counselor assists couples in discovering effective solutions that have worked in their relationship, especially within the therapeutic setting. This approach involves identifying the couple’s strengths and resources, which are then leveraged to develop practical solutions to their specific problems.

Solution-focused therapy is particularly beneficial for couples who are grappling with a distinct issue and are seeking focused assistance to find a resolution. This type of therapy is action-oriented, emphasizing positive change and practical outcomes.

However, this approach might focus more on quick solutions rather than delving into deeper, underlying issues that could be influencing the relationship. For couples with deep-rooted or multifaceted problems, solution-focused therapy may not adequately address all aspects of these issues.

Discernment Counseling

Research indicates that couples wait an average of 6 years after problems start to go to couples counseling. By the time they do go to marriage counseling, the damage is so extensive that about one-third of them decide to divorce within the first few sessions.

Discernment counseling is a brief type of marriage counseling that focuses on helping couples decide whether to commit to trying to improve the relationship through marriage counseling or to separate. Sessions usually have a duration of 2 hours, with a maximum of 6 sessions in total.

The primary goal is to decide the future of the relationship. Discernment counseling is most helpful for couples in severe distress who are unsure about whether they want the relationship to continue. In discernment counseling, the marriage counselor helps the couple explore their options and decide about their relationship’s future.

Discernment counseling might not be effective in situations of severe conflict, abuse, or where one partner is completely disengaged. The process can sometimes lead to more uncertainty if couples are unable to make a clear decision about their relationship’s future.


Integrative Approaches

People who have an integrative approach to marriage counseling often combine different therapeutic techniques. This approach might blend elements from Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Emotion-Focused therapy, the Gottman Method, and others.

  • Flexibility: This approach allows therapists to be flexible and responsive to the specific dynamics and challenges of each couple.
  • Evidence-Based: Research supports the effectiveness of integrative approaches. For example, a study in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy highlighted the success of combining different therapies for better outcomes in couples counseling.
  • Challenges: The main challenge with this approach is ensuring that the therapist is proficient in multiple methods and can effectively blend them to suit the couple’s needs.

While integrative counseling can be more flexible and customizable, it can also mean that the therapist knows a little bit of everything but may not be specialized enough to address your specific concern.

Online Marriage Counseling

Due to the increasing use of technology, and especially how frequently tele-therapy was used during the COVID-19 pandemic, online marriage counseling has become increasingly popular. Online platforms offer convenience, flexibility, and the ability to connect with therapists from anywhere in the world.

Online counseling can be an especially great option for couples with busy schedules or who live in more rural locations. Most of the types of couples counseling can be modified to fit an online counseling context.

Choosing the Best Type of Marriage Counseling

Choosing the best type of marriage counseling involves understanding the unique needs and dynamics of your relationship. It’s about finding a therapeutic approach that resonates with both partners and addresses the specific issues you face. Whether it’s improving communication, resolving conflicts, or healing from past hurts, the right type of counseling can make a significant difference.

Options range from traditional face-to-face sessions and specialized methods like Emotionally-Focused Therapy to more modern approaches like online counseling. It’s crucial to consider factors like the therapist’s expertise, the method’s success rate, and your comfort level with the therapeutic process.

Elderly married couple at therapy

We will be transparent and state that our view is that EFT is the best type of marriage counseling for most couples. We believe this approach to couples therapy has the strongest research to support it.

Find How Emotionally Focused Therapy Works.

Our therapists have a passion for aiding couples to resolve conflicts, improve communication, and foster deeper emotional connections. Their approach focuses on exploring patterns, attachment styles, and underlying emotions to strengthen the bond between partners.

Setting up an initial consultation with the marriage counselor to determine if it will be a good fit can help you decide what type of marriage counseling may be best for you.

Looking for Marriage Counseling?

Communicate & Connect Counseling works with therapists who provide online Marriage Counseling, as well as weekend-long Marriage Intensives, throughout the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. Click the button below to schedule a complimentary consultation. ​

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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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