Research-Backed Advice

How to Prep For Your First Marriage Counseling Session

Highlight reel (TL;DR)

  • Any marriage can benefit from marriage counseling.
  • Prior to your appointment, prepare by doing your research, communicating with your spouse, and thinking through your goals.
  • Find a therapist by tapping into online resources or crowdsourcing trusted friends.

Every marriage can use a tune-up from time to time. Whether your long-term relationship is in dire straits or things are hunky-dory, visiting a marriage counselor can be a welcome resource. Licensed marriage and family therapists are skilled at helping clients work through past trauma, resolving current hang-ups, and preventing future conflicts.

Feeling like it’s time to get yourself (and your spouse) to a therapy couch?

Here’s how to prep for marriage counseling to get the most out of the experience.

What is marriage counseling? 

True to its name, marriage counseling involves seeing a therapist to work through issues in your marriage. It’s unique from individual counseling in that the goal is to work on the marital relationship, not just personal issues. 

You’ll typically visit your counselor as a couple. That said, they may occasionally request to see you (or your partner) individually to work on specific issues that apply to you alone or to discover if there are things you’d like to discuss privately before bringing them up in couples therapy.

Research shows that marriage counseling really can work! In a 2017 study in The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, people who went through emotionally focused couples’ therapy (EFT) continued to have greater relationship satisfaction 24 months after their final session. Another study found that couples therapy was an effective treatment for relationship distress. 

4 things to do before your first marriage counseling session 

If you and your spouse are ready to work on your relationship with a professional, these steps can help pave the way for the best first session.

Communicate about expectations beforehand 

Going to therapy is often all about getting on the same page as your partner—and that starts even before setting foot in a counseling office.

A consensus among many expert articles we’ve read online (like this one) is that communicating your expectations before you go to marriage counseling is a key way to ensure you benefit from it. Would you like to have a more satisfying sex life? See eye to eye on parenting? Sort through extended family drama? Identifying your key issues will help you communicate more effectively with your therapist and, ultimately, help you work through your conflicts more efficiently.

You and your spouse can also set expectations about how you’ll incorporate therapy into your schedules. Try hammering out details on which days and times work for your schedule and whether you can make time for weekly appointments. This way, you’ll know you can both show up, physically and mentally, to your sessions.

It’s also smart to set expectations around the work you’re both willing to do in counseling. Are you prepared to do any “homework” your therapist suggests, and can you agree to accept their advice, even if it’s uncomfortable? Having ground rules like these keeps you committed to the process.

Think about your personal goals

Shared goals are, of course, the backbone of marriage counseling. But your own personal goals matter, too. If there are things you’d like to see change in your relationship — but know your spouse disagrees with — that’s okay. Before your first counseling appointment, simply gather up your goals mentally or by writing them down. You can share them with your therapist on your own or with your spouse present, depending on your comfort level.

Understand the commitment involved

We’ll be honest: Seeing a therapist with your spouse might not make you feel lovey-dovey from the get-go. Therapy can bring up difficult emotions and expose uncomfortable truths. In other words, sometimes it can feel bad before it feels good — so be prepared for some discomfort as you pursue a healthier relationship.

Marriage therapy can also require a serious time commitment. Before you take the plunge, understand that this could be a lengthy process. Relationship progress can’t be rushed, so try leaving your expectations of timeline open-ended. 

Consider, too, what financial investment you’re willing and able to make. Some insurance providers cover marriage counseling, but if coverage isn’t possible, discuss with your spouse how much you’re willing to pay for therapy (and for how long).

Do your research to find a therapist

Finding a counselor who’s the right fit for you and your spouse may increase the likelihood of your success in therapy. According to the American Psychological Association, feeling connected with your therapist is essential for getting the most out of the process. 

Rather than picking someone out of a random lineup, do your research to find a counselor who’s a good match. Check for specialties that suit your needs (such as sex, trauma, or faith-based therapy), and verify whether a provider takes your insurance. 

How to find a marriage counselor 

So, how do you find a marriage counselor that works for you and your spouse? 

If you have insurance, you can start by combing through your in-network providers and their specialties. Or check out Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist searchable database. It allows you to sort counselors by details like location, gender, and price.

Sometimes, word of mouth is an even better way to find your ideal therapist. If you have trusted friends or family members who have been in couples counseling, consider asking them for their recommendations.

The final word

Starting marriage counseling may feel daunting, but once you and your spouse have gotten onto a therapist’s couch, you may be surprised at how naturally the experience flows. 

Do what you can to prepare for couples therapy, then trust the process. 

Sarah Garone
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