To make a marriage last it takes commitment, perseverance and a lot of flexibility. When a marriage is working well, both partners feel supported within the relationship and its common goals, and as individual people with their own unique hopes, values and interests.
Marriage is a bond between life partners – a promise to love, care for, respect and support each other through the joys and lows of existence. Over time, the stress and monotony of daily life can take a toll on the foundation of any marriage. Feelings of detachment, anger and disappointment can taint what once felt exciting, connected and intimate.
Conflict happens in every relationship – what matters most is how you and your spouse choose to resolve your differences. Successful conflict resolution is the key to a strong and supportive marriage.
A strong body of marital therapy research shows that marriages grow, evolve and become stronger when partners consciously choose to work through problems and conflicts together as a team. Too often each partner takes up a position on an issue and is so busy defending their point of view that they’re not really hearing what their partner is feeling and trying to communicate.
At its heart, a good marriage is about mutual compromise and reciprocal support.
Marriage counselling nurtures the lifelong bond between partners and equips couples with essential communication and negotiation skills. Instead of constantly defaulting into conflict and turning against each other, married couples learn new ways of working together towards shared goals by tackling life’s challenges as a united front, a committed and caring team of two.
Benefits of marriage counselling: Create lasting change
Couples often get stuck in entrenched and rigid roles, the same tired old ways of relating that create stressful gridlocked traffic jams on the road to connection.
In marriage counselling, there’s an opportunity in each session to explore different approaches to resolving issues, then couples can take those strategies home and practice new ways of communicating and connecting with each other.
As psychotherapist and marriage expert Esther Perel has said, “the triggers that a couple argue about is not nearly as important as how they act toward one another.”
People are complex. We can all behave in hurtful ways and make choices that negatively impact on other people, and at the same time be thoughtful, loving and caring towards others. Our partners are no different: yet when resentment builds up over time, it can be hard to look past what we don’t like about our spouse’s behaviour, and remember why we fell in love and got married in the first place.
A good marriage counsellor or psychologist will hold that messy human complexity, without judgement, and focus on the personal strengths and positive attributes each spouse brings to the relationship. Specialist marriage counselling helps couples to fortify their relationship in simple yet effective ways to ensure long-term satisfaction.
The key to a lasting marriage? Couples who attend counselling together learn how to combine their unique interpersonal strengths to overcome any challenges that might otherwise destabilise their marriage. Reducing relationship distress in this way creates space for more trust, intimacy and genuine connection.
Common marital issues
Below are the some of the most common concerns that engaged and married couples seek help for at various life stages over the course of their relationship. All of these concerns can be addressed and resolved with specialist marriage counselling:
- Conflict resolution
- Communication and trust issues
- Infidelity (emotional and physical)
- Parenting concerns (including the decision to have children)
- Financial and household management stressors
- Lack of connection, growing apart
- Loss of intimacy and affection
- Blended and extended family issues
- Divergent values, interests and life goals
- Controlling or abusive behaviour
- Mismatched libidos
- Sexual difficulties
- Mental health issues for either spouse
- Previous trauma
- Chronic health issues
- Alcohol and substance use
It’s important to address ongoing concerns so they don’t become a threat to the stability and strength of your marriage.
Marriages tend to have repetitive patterns and themes to their conflict. Often what matters deeply to one person may seem insignificant or a non-issue to their spouse, and vice versa. When partners assume opposing stances on any issue and hold firm, seemingly small everyday annoyances can snowball over time to form a mountain of marital grievances and hurt feelings.
Marriage counselling is an opportunity to address core issues of importance for each partner and negotiate ways to meet each other’s relationship needs, without collapsing into endless rounds of arguments or episodes of avoidance. Under the skilled guidance of a marriage counsellor, disrupting the cycle of dissatisfaction stemming from unproductive communication creates space for change and growth within the relationship.
Immediate and long-term benefits of marriage counselling
Dramas, hardship and difficulties occur in every life, and every marriage. While marriage counselling won’t prevent stressful situations from happening, it can help couples to navigate problems successfully, and feel closer as they face life’s challenges together. Effective marriage counselling empowers couples to step out of old patterns and into new ways of relating, allowing mutual care and commitment to shine through.
One of the major benefits of marriage counselling is rebuilding trust between partners. This isn’t just about moving past events like an affair, deceit or betrayal – but trusting that your partner still loves, respects and cherishes you. Knowing in your bones that your spouse is still interested and curious about who you are as a person, and is actively committed to supporting you to grow and thrive. Marriage therapist and researcher John Gottman calls this ‘turning towards’ your partner – a crucial attachment and bonding skill many couples learn in counselling after spending so long avoiding conflict hot spots, or simply growing apart.
Research into a range of marriage counselling approaches suggest that rebuilding trust and intimacy in a marriage starts with honest, respectful communication. Results from longitudinal studies, where researchers followed up with couples for years after they participated in marriage counselling, suggest that the couples who committed to:
- learning conflict resolution skills
- changing negative patterns of relating
- working on deepening the attachment bond to their partner
were still married for years after completing counselling, and reported sustained reductions in marital distress, anxiety and conflict. Best of all, across all studies, these couples reported a significant increase in sexual and relationship satisfaction over the long-term course of their marriages.
Below are problem areas that marriage counselling targets to achieve better communication between spouses, resulting in the positive marriage traits that are associated with lasting commitment and connection:
A strong marriage requires determination and dedicated focus. Old patterns are hard to shift, and neuroscientific research tells us that while old habits don’t die – we can replace them.
Our brain has infinite potential to create new habits: neural pathways in the mind that develop when we choose to behave and relate in different ways. Practiced often enough, the stronger these positive patterns of relating become.
When we commit to personal change in counselling, we’re also working on the foundations of our marriage. In time, the relationship skills we learn become the ‘new normal’ default mode for both partners – and the marriage functions from a satisfying baseline of open communication, loving kindness and trust.
How does marriage counselling work?
In the first session of marriage counselling, couples will often present with some long-term frustrations or ongoing stressors that have spiked into a feeling of immediate and overwhelming crisis ‘today’. This ‘today’ crisis might have triggered their motivation to seek the help of a marriage counsellor to reduce relationship distress. Yet the crisis point is often the outcome of stagnant, entrenched patterns of relating between two people bringing different life experiences, beliefs and attitudes into the marriage.
By addressing the underlying points of disconnect, couples can be confident in moving forward that they are equipped to deal with any other crises that life puts in their path.
A skilled marriage counsellor holds a safe, impartial space for married couples to approach the current deadlocked conflict, put it into context, and move the focus from blame and defensiveness to a shared sense of understanding and reconciliation. By cultivating a sense of curiosity about one’s partner and self, new insights about each other’s motivations and behaviours start to emerge.
A good marriage counsellor helps couples to find a common sense of purpose within the relationship. By healing past hurts and bringing the future into focus, couples can move into a new marriage paradigm: it’s no longer me against you, but us against the problem. We will move through this, and we will do it together – stronger than ever before.
Specialist marriage therapy psychologists and counsellors
Find a Life Supports accredited relationship specialist in your area
Life Supports accredited marriage support psychologists and counsellors are highly qualified and experienced. We are committed to helping you and your spouse to genuinely connect with each other whilst exploring innovative yet practical ways to achieve and maintain marital satisfaction.
Marriage counselling services may be subsidised through Medicare or your Private Health Insurer. Please read Medicare rebate for counselling services or Private health insurance for counselling services for further information.
Marriage Counselling FAQs
What is the success rate for marriage counselling?
According to the American Psychological Association, marriage counselling using up-to-date techniques has a roughly 75% success rate, but success varies depending on the practitioner and the types of issues the relationship is tackling. One of the most important factors determining the success of marriage counselling is a willingness to change, so attitude is particularly important.
What percentage of couples go to marriage counselling?
Evidence suggests about 44% of all couples who get married today attend couples therapy before they’ve actually wed. Marriage counselling is extremely common and can be sought at all different stages in a relationship. Your relationship doesn’t need to be on its last legs for you to seek counselling – in fact, counselling can be a great way to identify issues before they become unmanageable. Conversely, no matter how bad things seem counselling may still be able to help you repair – or rebuild – your marriage.
What does pre-marriage counselling consist of?
Pre-marital counselling is all about preparing a couple for marriage; helping establish each other’s boundaries, values and ideas about the future of your relationships. It can be a really powerful way to ensure the stability of your marriage, and field against any uncomfortable surprises or frictions.
How to know if you need marriage counselling
There is no set point beyond which your marriage is ‘troubled’ enough to warrant counselling. In reality, marriage counselling can be just as effective as a preventative measure – to keep your marriage strong and healthy before issues arise – as it can be to help heal existing problems. Some signs you may benefit from marriage counselling, however, include:
- You rarely talk
- Or, you talk a lot but it’s often highly confrontational
- You keep the peace because it’s easier than getting into an argument
- Your relationship is lacking affection or intimacy
- There has been a sudden change in the nature or quality of your relationship
- When a partner is having an affair (or contemplating one)
- When similar arguments and issues keep coming up without resolution.
Does marriage counselling help infidelity?
While infidelity can be an extremely destructive force in a marriage, there is powerful evidence that marriage counselling can help couples come together again even after a betrayal. A 2000 study by Dr. Shirley Glass, for example, found that 71% of couples seen in therapy after an infidelity stayed together.
Counselling can be particularly helpful after infidelity because it opens up a safe, mediated space for couples to talk honestly about the reasons behind the affair, and to address issues affecting both partners. This can help both partners to process the infidelity and move on in a healthy way.
Wiebe, S. A., Johnson, S. M., Lafontaine, M. F., Burgess Moser, M., Dalgleish, T. L., & Tasca, G. A. (2017). Two‐year follow‐up outcomes in emotionally focused couple therapy: An investigation of relationship satisfaction and attachment trajectories. Journal of marital and family therapy, 43(2), 227-244.
Wiebe, S. A., Elliott, C., Johnson, S. M., Burgess Moser, M., Dalgleish, T. L., Lafontaine, M. F., & Tasca, G. A. (2019). Attachment Change in Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy and Sexual Satisfaction Outcomes in a Two-year Follow-up Study. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 18(1), 1-21.
Carr, A. (2019). Couple therapy, family therapy and systemic interventions for adult‐focused problems: the current evidence base. Journal of Family Therapy, 41(4), 492-536.