What is the Difference Between Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling?

What is the Difference Between Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling?

Since the 1970s, the number of marriage therapists has increased fifty-fold, catering to approximately 1.8 million people in the United States. Couples therapy and marriage counseling are used interchangeably by many therapists; however, there are several key differences. 

Marriage counseling focuses on the ‘present’ and mainly addresses specific pain points such as communication gaps and responsibility sharing. Couples therapy is more holistic and concentrates on underlying relationship issues and even individual problems. Choosing between couples therapy vs marriage counseling leaves many people confused. 

This article sheds light on key differences between marriage counseling and therapy for a stronger and healthier relationship. 

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: A Basic Understanding

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling A Basic Understanding

What is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy addresses underlying problems in a relationship by evaluating past behaviors and patterns. It is more inclusive in the sense that it targets various couples with different relationship histories and timelines. Couples therapy is also more expansive as it aims to address the key areas of contention in a relationship which may include personal problems as well. 

What is Marriage Counseling?

Marriage counseling is more focused on the ‘present’ problems a married couple may face such as lack of communication or misunderstanding responsibilities. Marriage counseling is more conventional as it targets only married or soon-to-be married couples. The scope of counseling is to make the couple aware of their responsibilities in marriage and prepare them for the future. 

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: Key Differences

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: Key Differences

Many therapists and people still maintain that couples therapy and marriage counseling are ‘two sides’ of the same coin. However, there are some profound differences between the two. 

1. Underlying Methodology

Therapy and counseling are two distinct terminologies that dictate the underlying methodology between couples therapy and marriage counseling. Therapy is used to treat inherent conditions that cause problems and mental health issues in everyday life. On the contrary, counseling is used to treat specific issues via professional advice and assistance. 

2. Time Commitments 

Most marriage therapy sessions take 12 to 50 sessions with equal time divided between individuals and the couple. Marriage counseling requires less time commitment and is concluded once set objectives such as addressing communication gaps are resolved. Couples therapy requires more time and sessions as it includes exploring inherent problems that may be emotionally draining for the couple. 

3. Involvement

Couple involvement and willingness are necessary for successful marriage counseling and couples therapy. In couple therapy, a high degree of involvement is required by both partners to delve into their past problems to unearth the core issue. In marriage counseling, the couples are less involved as conversations are focused on the present surface-level issues. 

4. Objective

The objective of marriage counseling is to reconcile any past problems that may cause friction in the marriage. In couple therapy, the objective is to dig deep into the past behaviors and patterns of the couple to treat present issues. It is also important to note that marriage counseling revolves around the institutions of marriage while couples therapy includes all couples. 

Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: When to Seek Treatment

Couples can find it difficult to decide in choosing the right time for couples therapy vs marriage counseling. Negative stigmas associated with therapy and counseling can further discourage couples. There are many overlapping reasons however several signs can hint it is time for couples therapy or marriage counseling.

1. Seeking Treatment in Couples Therapy 

  • Lack of Communication: Absence of healthy communication with constant arguments about non-issues. 
  • Negative Feelings: Having constant negative feelings about their partner without any cause. 
  • Toxic Behavior: Exhibiting toxic or abusive behavior including unfaithfulness, cheating, or divorce threats. 

2. Seeking Treatment in Marriage Counseling  

  • Connected through Children: Staying together only because of children.
  • Intimacy Issues: Avoiding intimate conversation and emotions for long periods.
  • Hesitancy: Being hesitant and doubtful about future marriage responsibilities and commitments.

Exploring the Benefits of Couples Therapy

Couples therapy can benefit couples by strengthening their relationships and instilling confidence. 

1. Strengthening the Relationship 

Couples strengthen their relationship by exercising empathy and understanding about their inner biases and leanings. Moreover, individuals become more compassionate about their partner and learn to appreciate the small things in life through therapy. They proactively work together to address present problems for a healthy relationship. 

2. Exploring Yourself

Individuals explore themselves by analyzing past problems and irregular behavior patterns. Moreover, the therapist also assists in identifying past trauma or abuse that may be causing potential problems in the relationship. By looking at past traumas through a guided lens, individuals learn to overcome them with various tools provided by the therapist. 

3. Improving Communication

Communicating is an important tenet of a modern relationship and is considerably improved via couples therapy. Fostering a relationship by improving intimacy and companionship helps enhance communication. Couples also engage in meaningful discussions about various problems and find meaningful ways to solve them.

Exploring the Benefits of Marriage Counseling 

Exploring the Benefits of Marriage Counseling 

Marriage counseling can also enhance future relationships by improving the present problems such as financial issues or affairs. 

1. Reconciling Differences

Couples can reconcile differences between themselves by becoming more compassionate. Similarly, a therapist can foster meaningful conversations between couples which is otherwise more difficult. Couples also find new ways to rekindle the lost flame and become more intimate with each other. 

2. Preparing for a Healthy Future 

One of the key takeaways from marriage counseling is getting ready for a healthy future. Couples take responsibility for future goals and plans by understanding present issues with each other. Specific and valuable conversations help identify potential issues and assist in concerted efforts for united goals and plans.

3. Pre-Marital Advice 

Many people ask, is couples therapy only for married couples? The answer is no! According to one study, individuals who underwent pre-marital counseling had a 30% higher chance of a successful marriage. Pre-marital counseling can help individuals prepare themselves for marriage responsibilities and create a strong bond with their future partners. 

Are Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling Effective?

Are Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling Effective?

Couples therapy and marriage counseling are indeed effective. It positively influences 70% of couples receiving treatment. Couples become more considerate and emphatic for each other leading to positive outcomes in a communal life. By using different strategies like conflict management, couples find themselves more confident in a relationship. 

Choosing a Couples Therapist or a Marriage Counselor

Couples therapy and marriage counseling are regulated in the U.S. by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. You should choose a counselor who is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Likewise, it is recommended to find a therapist or counselor who exclusively works for couples and specializes in marriage counseling and couples therapy. 

Key Takeaways
  • While marriage counseling concentrates on present concerns like communication and duty sharing, couples therapy examines underlying relationship issues, including prior behaviors and habits.
  • Marriage counseling focuses more conventionally on married or soon-to-be married couples, whereas couples therapy is more comprehensive and inclusive, appropriate for a variety of relationships.
  • Couples therapy typically involves a lengthier time commitment (12 to 50 sessions) and focuses on deeper issues, while marriage counseling is more focused on present issues and is shorter in duration.
  • The benefits of couples therapy include better communication, self-discovery, and relationship building; benefits of marriage counseling include resolving conflicts and offering premarital guidance.
  • Both couples therapy and marriage counseling are proven to be effective resulting in healthier relationships. 
  • It is advised that you choose a therapist who specializes in couples; ideally, this person will be licensed as a professional counselor (LPC) or licensed marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and recognized by organizations such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.