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Marriage counselling, marriage guidance, marital therapy) is a particular form of couples therapy and involves a married couple meeting with the psychologist, social worker or other type of mental health professional for counseling to address the dysfunction in their marriage. Married couples seek therapy for a number of reasons, most notably for sexual problems or difficulties in sustaining the relationship. Although the original purpose of marriage guidance was to attempt to preserve relationships, marriage therapy now also often acts to help couples whose relationship has broken down to extricate themselves from the relationship with as little hurt as possible.

Couples therapy (aka Couples counseling) is a term which is used specifically when the partners are not married.

It is commonly observed that many married couples who seek counseling dissolve their relationship despite their clear intention to avoid this extreme emotional trauma and expense. The most successful work in counseling involves the study of couples whose relationship has been restored and who have found a counselor capable of creating an appropriate relationship education milieu. There are many studies indicating that troubled couples have great difficulties with a "value neutral" approach, when they are diligently seeking to resolve difficulties in their marriage. The neutrality is seen as therapeutic vacuum. The dearth of table of contents entries pertaining to the restoration of marital health in psychiatric, psychological, social work, and counseling text books and journal articles indicates a specific professional de-emphasis on relationship education, restoration, forgiveness, and healing. A general denial of couples goal to restore the very positive values and experiences that characterized their relationship in the past may represent a significant part in the negative assessment of the Consumer Reports respondents mentioned below.

Occasionally, divorced couples use mediation to resolve the matters of custody, spousal support and the division of property. The use of the same professional to re-build a marriage or to end it might appear incongruous and troublesome to the majority of couples who are seeking help at a very distressed time in their lives.

Many individuals refuse to seek counseling because of the feeling that they are admitting that their relationship has failed or that locating a counselor capable of restoration can be accomplished readily. However, many couples in minimally-distressed relationships seek counseling to resolve difficult concerns, to confront problems in the context of couples therapy or to find a neutral location to improve their relationship. The most successful marriage counselors may meet with the partners separately before meeting with them together, or may even have individual counselors who meet with the partners and then have a group session with all the counselors and the partners. In common practice, though, the latter is rare, and it is over-wrought with concerns about confidentiality and cost management. Having one assistant to see each party separately, to assess strengths and weakness, and then to reconvene with both to discuss what each can do for the other to rebuild is a most helpful technique.

The internet has added new dimensions to traditional face to face counseling. It is now possible to engage in counseling sessions with therapists in other states or even other countries via web cams, email and the telephone. Websites can easily outline the service intervention approach and provide free and widely accessible readings that may challenge inappropriate and resentful assumptions about a partner, all the while re-establishing the common ground and reinforcing the strengths that brought the couple together, initially. This step, alone can be very helpful.

Assessment in couples therapy[]

Main article: Assessment in couples therapy

Therapy settings[]

Main article: Couples group therapy

Marital therapy research[]

Most studies purporting to show counseling effectiveness do not provide parallel study of placebo groups and do not track improvement that may come with the mere passage of time, in the absence of treatment. A 1995 study by Consumer Reports, with a sample size of over 15,000, while indicating some value in counseling by the North American consumers of these services, indicates substantial dissatisfaction with marriage counseling. Marriage counseling was seen as the least effective intervention offered. (Many counseling agencies will not provide longer term studies of their work, and have no means of inquiry as to the marital status of couples in subsequent years.) The type of counseling that was reported as the most valuable by consumers was Alcoholic Anonymous, a lay, peer support. The work of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education, also reports substantial improvement for couples by means outside of traditional, pathology-based psychotherapy.

Couple therapy and mental health problems[]

Counseling or therapy that is reimbursed by health insurance in the United States, requires a diagnosis of mental illness. Psychotherapy methods rarely involve instruction to the couple, or to the husband or wife regarding specific methods to correct behaviors which have led to deterioration in the marriage. This void is being met by the marriage education movement which dates its beginnings to 1995. This movement, while not seeking to supplant therapy or counseling, sees nearly all individuals and couples, including unmarried, dating couples, as capable of learning improved relationship skills, from a variety of means, including self-study. Intensive follow-up at the University of Denver has shown repeatedly, that educational efforts, when presented by lay persons, can often be more efficacious than therapy given by pathology-bound psychotherapists.

Main article: Couple therapy and alcohol abuse
Main article: Couple therapy and drug abuse

Journals in the field[]

See also[]

References & Bibliography[]

Key texts[]


  • Baucom, D. H. & Epstein, N. (1990). Cognitive Behavioral Marital Therapy. New York, NY: Brunner-Mazel.
  • Gottman, J. M. (1995). The Marital Clinic. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Halford, W. K., & Markman, H. J. (1997). Clinical handbook of marriage and couples interventions (pp. 679-693). Chichester, England UK: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Jacobson, N.S., & Christensen, A. (1996). Acceptance and Change in Couple Therapy: A Therapist's Guide to Transforming Relationships. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Jacobson, N.S., & Gurman, A. S. (1995). Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Johnson, S. M. (1996). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Marital Therapy: Creating Connection. New York, NY: Brunner-Mazel.


  • Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N., Sayers, S. & Sher, T. G. (1989). The role of cognitions in marital relationships: Definitional, methodological and conceptual issues. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57(1), 31-38.
  • Baucom, D.H., Shoham, V., Mueser, K.T., Daiuto, A.D., & Stickle, T.R. (1998). Empirically supported couples and family therapies for adult problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 66, 53-88.
  • Baucom, D.H., Sayers, S.L., & Slier, I. G. (1990). Supplementing behavioral marital therapy with cognitive restructuring and emotional expressiveness training: An outcome investigation. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 58(5), 636-645.
  • Bradbury, T.N. & Fincham, F. D. (1990). Attributions in marriage: Review and critique. Psychological Bulletin, 107(1), 3-33.
  • Bray, J. H., & Jouriles, E. N. (1995). Treatment of marital conflict and prevention of divorce. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 21(4), 461-473.
  • Carstensen, L.L., Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (1995). Emotional behavior in long-term marriage. Psychology and Aging, 10(1), 140-149.

Coché, J. (1995). Group therapy with couples. In N.S. Jacobson & A.S. Gurman (Eds.), Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy. New York: Guilford.

  • Davila, J., Bradbury, T. N., & Fincham, F. D. (1998). Negative affectivity as a mediator of the association between adult attachment and marital satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 5, 467-484.
  • Feld, B.G. (1998). Initiating a couples group. Group, 22, 245-259.
  • Fincham, F.D., & Beach, S.R.H. (1999). Conflict in marriage: Implications for working with couples. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 47-77.
  • Halford, W.K., Sanders, M. R., & Behrens, B. C. (1995). Self-regulation in behavioral couples therapy. Behavior Therapy, 25(3), 431-452.
  • Hahlweg, K., Revenstorf, D. & Schindler, L. (1982). Treatment of marital distress: Comparing formats and modalities. Advances in Behaviour Research and Therapy, 4, 57-74.

Holzworth-Monroe, A., & Jacobson, N. S. (1985). Causal attributions of married couples: When do they search for causes? What do they conclude when they do? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(6), 1398-1412.

  • Karney, B. R., & Bradbury, I. N. (1995). The longitudinal course of marital quality and stability: A review of theory, method, and research. Psychological Bulletin, 118(1), 3-34.
  • Kobak, R., Ruckdeschel, K., & Hazan, C. (1991). From symptom to signal: An attachment view of emotion in marital therapy. In S. M. Johnson & L. S. Greenberg (Eds.), The Heart of the Matter: Perspectives on Emotion in Marital Therapy (pp. 46-74). New York: Brunner-Mazel.
  • Kurdek, L. A. (1999). The nature and predictors of the trajectory of change in marital quality for husbands and wives over the first 10 years of marriage. Developmental Psychology, 35(5), 1283-1296.
  • Lakoff, R.S. & Baggaley, A. (1994). Working with couples in a group: Theoretical and practical issues. Group Analysis, 27, 183-196.
  • Mohr, D. C., Moran, P., Kohn, C., Hart, S., Armstrong, K., Dias, R., Bergsland, E., Folkman, S. (2003). Couples therapy at end-of-life. Psycho-oncology, 12, 620-627.

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