Couples Therapy VS Marriage Counseling: Pros & Cons

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A relationship between any two people will experience highs and lows. Be they family dynamics, workplace dust-ups or with a partner… there will be times when sharing a portion of your life with someone will result in stress between you and that other person. This is especially problematic in romantic relationships as the home is supposed to be the place of comfort. 

Therapy and counseling are excellent tools for resolving relationship conflicts. There are a couple of popular options available, depending on your unique situation, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.  When it comes to dealing with relationship issues, you’ll need to explore and compare the techniques used in couples therapy vs marriage counseling.

A Definition of Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling

Depending on where you look, some might use the terms Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling interchangeably… which is understandable. But each has distinct functions, depending on your overall goal as a “twosome”. What do you want to get out of the experience? 

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Therapy and counseling are excellent tools for resolving relationship conflicts.

Couples Therapy is a form of psychotherapy geared towards helping two partners improve their relationship. The therapy focuses largely on helping to communicate thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner with one another. It also tends to delve more into each individual’s pasts, so as to help them better understand one another.

Marriage Counseling focuses not only on the individuals, but also on the marriage as its own entity. This form of counseling focuses less on the past of the individuals and more on the current situation… and where things are heading. This is more about the future than the past.

Couples Therapy Pros and Cons

Pros of Couples Therapy

  • You don’t need to be married to try couples therapy. One of the first goals of couples therapy is to improve communication, which is done by looking into each individual’s past to learn the motivating factors for their behaviors and thought process. This allows for a lot of recovering from unresolved issues of the past for both involved.
  • Because of the enhanced communication, the relationship will strengthen and intimacy deepens.
  • Couples therapy works on coaching each individual to be a better partner for the other, strengthening the relationship from a foundation of interdependence. If you aren’t married yet, realizing you need couples therapy beforehand may help you avoid a bad marriage that wasn’t meant to be.

Cons of Couples Therapy

  • Therapy is a long-term process, and requires a commitment from each individual for the relationship to work. It is a process that is better done sooner rather than later, so that the healing can happen before damage is too severe.
  • Boundaries may become confusing. Individuals learning to set boundaries may be a little quick to draw lines in the sand rather than be supportive. New boundaries may reinforce unnecessary walls rather than strengthen the foundation.
  • It may end the relationship. Couples therapy may uncover that the relationship is extremely one-sided and motivate one partner to end things. Because it awakens what makes each of you tick, it may open your eyes to the both of you wanting two different things. The raw nature of becoming vulnerable may be too much for one person, or both, to handle. There is no way of knowing what the end result of couples therapy will be, no matter how much you may want it to help.

Marriage Counseling Pros and Cons

Pros of Marriage Counseling                

  • Since you are already married, you’re not just looking at escape… but potential divorce. So this practice focuses less on your individual baggage to shift the focus on the couple as a single unit… and the specific problem, or problems, they want to address. It is mission-driven.
  • Therapists serve as a neutral third party. They are not looking to place blame on one person or the other. It can be awkward for friends and family members to play mediator because of how close to the situation they are, as well as the natural bias that happens if it’s your friend or your spouse's family. 
  • A therapist can help coach each individual on how to best communicate with the other, including how best to hear/listen when the other is communicating. This leads to better functioning as a team unit, including better parenting. A big part of marriage counseling is looking into each individual’s actions to determine their communication styles and expectations. This can lead to the end of a lot of conflicts that happen within the marriage.

Cons of Marriage Counseling

  • Not all relationships are meant to happen, largely because many people get into relationships that were doomed from the start. Certain outside dynamics (such as complicated family relationships) have a substantial influence on the outcome of a relationship. Marriage counseling cannot resolve outside influences of a relationship, outside of offering suggestions on not being bothered by outside things.
  • Because of the learning about the individuals, unresolved issues of the past may be visited, but the choice is still made to not address underlying issues. Someone might realize why they picked up toxic traits over the years, but still decide to repeat those behaviors rather than improve, forcing the other to endure having a toxic partner or leave.
  • Marriage is put above the individual. Marriage counseling has everyone focus on the give a lot more than the take in order to make sure there is some give happening on each. What is considered best for the marriage is put ahead of what is best for an individual in the marriage. 

To Sum Up the Pros and Cons…

To sum up what we’ve discussed to this point, we’ve put together this helpful infographic comparing the pros and cons of couples therapy and marriage counseling. You may find that one applies more to your relationship than the other does. 

How to Decide Between Couples Therapy and Marriage Counseling

When deciding which option to turn to for your relationship, there are a lot of realities that need to be considered. What are you trying to improve? How much of the work to improve is on you and on the other person? How well do you think they will respond to each of these?

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Not all relationships are meant to happen, largely because many people get into relationships that were doomed from the start.

Go with couples therapy if:

  • You are each willing to put in the time for doing inner work and wish to become a better person for your partner.
  • Stonewalling or other communication problems are prevalent in the relationship.
  • There are still unresolved issues from childhood in one or both individuals.
  • You’re not married.

Go with marriage counseling if:

  • Saving your marriage is a priority above all other things, including individualism and personal self-care.
  • Family dynamics and other major outside influences have an extreme impact on the marriage.
  • You need an impartial third-party for communication.
  • You are ready to look at and accept your own actions and contributions to any marital discord.

Final Thoughts on Couples Therapy VS Marriage Counseling

Each serves such a unique purpose that a lot comes down to the needs of the situation, as well as the state of mind of each individual. Everyone has room to work on themselves. Communication is important in any relationship, be it romantic or plutonic. 

Marriage is an institution. If there is no marriage, marriage counseling would not likely address the real issues in your relationship.

If the couple is married, couples therapy may be more likely to end in divorce… given it’s more directed at helping the two of you grow (potentially apart) as individuals and focuses less on the two of you as a single entity. Still, a happy divorce does trump a miserable marriage any day.

It may be a matter of evaluation of what is truly most important. If a healthy marriage is more important than your dream career, marriage counseling may be the perfect solution. If you feel stifled and aren’t sure your partner is truly supporting who you are, you may want to explore couples therapy.

Sometimes, the question really is: What matters more – you or the relationship? That may be the deciding factor. To help you figure out what you need, check out this article on Marriage Goals for ideas that couples should aspire to.

Finally, if you want to increase your happiness and life satisfaction, then watch this free video that details the 7-minute habit for planning your day to focus on what's important.

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