How Long Does Marriage Counseling Take?

It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the number of sessions a couple will need to attend to resolve their issues and achieve their goals during the process of couples therapy and marriage counseling. Believe it or not, it can be unethical for a therapist to state up front exactly how many sessions the therapeutic process will take. The most effective forms of couples therapy and marriage counseling, which are supported by research, tend to require anywhere from 12-24 weekly sessions. It’s also important to note that the presence of issues such as abuse, infidelity, addictions, trauma or psychological disorders can extend the length of treatment and therefore the number of sessions needed.

As a general rule, I tell couples to plan on attending weekly 75-minute sessions for a minimum of six to eight weeks. It is usually at this point, after six-eight sessions, that most couples have gained momentum within the therapeutic process. They can see for themselves how much progress they have made and what the process will continue to look like moving forward. The length of a session can vary, but 75 to 90-minute sessions are pretty standard for performing couples therapy or marriage counseling on a weekly basis. 50 to 60 minute sessions are generally for individuals and can be too short for couples. I prefer to see couples for 75-minute sessions unless I’m working with a couple in an intensive format.

If you and your partner are on the brink of divorce, in crisis, highly conflicted or have busy schedules that make it difficult to attend weekly sessions, you may want to consider Intensive Couples Therapy Intensive couples therapy and intensive marriage counseling can also be a great resource for those who would like to get through the process of couples therapy or marriage counseling in a shorter and more concentrated period of time.

What to Expect in Marriage Counseling?

Many couples do not know what to expect in marriage counseling or what happens in couples therapy. Prior to coming in, or at the beginning of your first session, you can expect to complete a few legal and ethical forms that are a requirement to initiate the process of couples therapy and marriage counseling (e.g., disclosure and consent to treatment). Most therapists will also ask you to fill out some sort of general history questionnaire and possibly several assessment forms. These forms give your therapist background information about you as an individual and your relationship. Taking the time to thoroughly complete this information is important; it allows your therapist to start providing you the support you need in the most efficient and effective way possible. The more information you can give your therapist in these forms, the less time they will have to spend asking you similar questions during your sessions.

Each therapist also approaches the process of couples therapy and marriage counseling in a slightly different way. In the first session, I have each partner help me understand his/her previous experiences in individual and/or couples therapy. This lets me know what has or hasn’t been successful for them individually or as a couple in the past related to therapy. This also provides me with an opportunity to address any anxiety or fear the couple may have coming into our first session, especially if they are new to the process of therapy.

It is also crucial that each partner help me understand their specific struggles and clearly establish the personal and/or relational goals they would like to achieve in therapy. Understanding a couple’s specific problems in the first session gives me the chance to start formulating a clear picture of the disconnection or conflict the couple is experiencing. Having a clear picture of the disconnection and conflict in the relationship allows us to start formulating the specific practices and process(es) that will enable the couple to engage healthier ways of relating and ultimately achieve their goals.

Establishing goals in the first session for each partner is also important. These goals enable me to focus and continually orient the therapeutic process towards what matters most for the couple. In addition, if the couple gets confused, lost or off topic during the process of therapy, I am always able to use their goals to quickly reorient us back to what matters most. Believe me when I say it is easy for a couple to get confused and off track during a session, especially when they are highly conflicted! In the first session you will also have the opportunity to give your therapist some background information about your relationship or marriage as a couple.

What Happens in Couples Therapy?

Many couples want to know what to expect in marriage counseling. Progress in couples therapy and marriage counseling is made in the very first session and in each subsequent session, but therapy is a process. It takes a little time to get a clear and accurate picture of the personal and relational issues a couple is experiencing. It is only after establishing a clear pattern of the personal and relational struggles a couple is experiencing that a clear and specific map for resolving them can be constructed.

Most couples are surprised to find that the specific problems they are struggling with and want to fix, are often just symptoms of other underlying issues or needs. These surface level problems, as they are often called, are very good at distracting couples from seeing and addressing their underlying concerns and needs. In many cases it is the couple’s underlying longings, fears and needs that are the root cause of their distress. In a simple manner of speaking, this is what a therapist helps couples do in a safe, supportive and collaborative space. We help couples get underneath the surface of attacking, defending or shutting down in order to address the underlying core issues and needs that are causing their distress and disconnection.

What happens in couples therapy is a question I get often. Couples therapy and marriage counseling tends to follow a general pattern of progression. In the beginning of therapy the focus is on safety, ensuring each partner is physically, mentally and emotionally safe. The next area of focus is helping a couple contain and resolve conflict. When in conflict, couples are often only focused on attacking or defending their point of view, shutting down altogether, and there is little to no room for understanding their partner’s perspective and experience. Once conflict is reduced, engaging skills and practices for effective communication and understanding can become the focus.

As a couple has the opportunity to express and understand each other’s thoughts, feelings and needs in safe and non-conflicted ways, the process of establishing trust can begin. As trust is gradually rebuilt and effective communication continues without the presence of continued conflict, deeper perceptions, feelings and needs can be expressed. As a couple continually engages the process of sharing their inner experiences with openness and receptivity, the couple has moved into creating connection. As connection is deepened and a couple is willing to move through the fear of expressing their core emotions and needs, they can begin to experience new forms of intimacy and passion within their relationship or marriage.

Couples Therapy is About You

It is important to know that not all couples move through the entire process of relationship therapy noted above. Every couple that enters the process of therapy has their own unique struggles and specific goals they would like to achieve. Some couples enter therapy and just want to stop fighting; once conflict has been resolved they terminate therapy. Others couples want better communication and understanding in their relationship, but choose not to work on intimacy. Some couples come in and only want to work on emotional or sexual intimacy. It is a therapist’s responsibility to respect this, to meet a couple where they are at and to collaborate with them throughout the process to achieve their specific goals. Goals are also fluid and can change throughout the process of therapy.

It’s also important to note that the presence of issues such as abuse, addictions, infidelity, trauma or psychological disorders can also influence the general process and progression of couples therapy and marriage counseling. Issues such as these will often require additional individual therapy for one or both partners during couples therapy. It should also be mentioned that it’s not uncommon for a couples therapist to meet with both partners individually at various times throughout the process of therapy if needed. For most couples therapists it is a standard practice to meet with each partner individually for the second session/week of couples therapy.

How Much is Marriage Counseling & Utilizing Insurance

The cost of marriage counseling and couples therapy can vary and there are several factors that can determine the rate. A few of these factors include the length of the session, the experience and qualifications of the therapist and whether you are utilizing insurance. The length of a couples therapy session is typically 75-90 minutes. There are some therapists that see couples for 45-60 minute sessions, but this is usually the length of time for an individual session and I do not recommend these shorter sessions. The education, training, experience and licensure your therapist has, specifically in couples therapy and marriage counseling, will also determine your fee.

If you pay a therapist directly, this is known as “out of pocket” or “private pay”. If you utilize your insurance, you would pay a “co-pay” for each session and your co-pay is set by your insurance provider. You can visit our Rates Page to get a general idea of the private pay rate for a 75-minute couples therapy session in our local area. Please note that our rates will most likely be similar to other therapists who specialize in couples therapy and marriage counseling. Even though we are experts in couples therapy and marriage counseling, with advanced training, experience and certifications specifically in couples therapy and marriage counseling, we work hard to keep our rates competitive so our services remain affordable.

If you plan on using insurance for couples counseling, it is important that you first check with your insurance provider to see if they specifically cover couples therapy. There are many insurance providers that do not cover couples therapy or marriage counseling. You should also know that there are several reasons why many couples therapists and marriage counselors do not work with insurance companies. I highly encourage you to take the time to educate yourself on the pros and cons of using your insurance for marriage counseling and other mental health services.

Did You Miss Our Previous Article in the Series?

If you missed our previous article in the relationship series and you want to know how to find the best couples therapist and relationship counselor for you and your partner, visit 3. The Best Marriage Counselor & Couples Therapist.