10 Strategies to Help Solve Your Marriage Problems

Travis atkinson.

September 17, 2021

Table of Contents

All relationships and marriages go through periods when they face problems. The secret to a healthy and growing relationship is your ability to overcome these problems. The moment you turn your back on your relationship when you encounter marital issues, it will quickly fall into despair. Solving marriage problems will not only make your relationship healthier, but also more resilient.

10 Top Strategies for Solving Marital Problems

All couples have problems, but not every couple is able to work through them. These are the top strategies to solve your marriage problems, no matter what it is that is causing the troubles.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication is the secret to a lasting relationship. All healthy and happy marriages keep their communication lines open.

If you are trying to solve your marital problems, you should not stop communicating with your spouse. Openly discuss the issues you are having so that you can come up with a resolution together. If you just sweep it under a rug, it will only develop into something more serious in the long run. 

strategies to help solve your marriage problems

2. Recognize when you’re in a gridlock

One of the most common hurdles to solving marriage problems is when you and your partner don’t see eye to eye when it comes to your marital issues. One spouse is willing to discuss the problem and the other doesn’t find it a big deal. 

When you’ve reached an impasse, it’s important to take a break. Forcing your opinion on things won’t change the situation. By taking a break, you allow time for each of you to put things in perspective.

3. Express yourself constructively 

When you are in an argument with your spouse, it is easy to let your emotions take over. You could end up saying hurtful things that only worsen the problem instead of fixing them. Try to avoid this route whenever possible. 

When discussing your marital problems, focus on being constructive. It is also important to stay on-topic and not to bring up previous issues. 

4. Break the curse of familiarity

Married couples that have been together for a long time have this false belief that they know each other deeply. However, this can often be the root of the problem in a relationship. 

Never stop asking questions or attempting to get to know your partner. This will help you understand their needs better and help avoid conflict, or understand their perspective when it comes to discussing issues within your marriage. 

There will be less conflict in your relationship if you know where your partner is coming from.

5. Make decisions together

When you are solving marriage problems, you need to approach them together and decide on the best solution as a couple. One spouse cannot be authoritarian and make decisions for the both of you. In fact, this is something that causes marriage problems in the first place. 

By making decisions together, you can both be at ease knowing that you’ve considered your partner’s feelings and concerns. Avoid the urge to insist on what you want or doing things your way. Keep an open mind and encourage your spouse to voice their opinion.

If things start to get heated between you in an argument, think of ways to deescalate the conflict and try to keep things light.

6. Acknowledge your spouse’s feelings

Have you ever experienced opening up about your feelings and then having those feelings shut down or dismissed? It’s not a good feeling. It makes you feel undervalued and unnoticed. 

You don’t want your spouse to feel this way. If you are trying to resolve conflict within your marriage, you need to encourage one another. Give your spouse a chance to speak up and make their feelings known. Even if you don’t agree with them, don’t dismiss their feelings. Instead, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand why they feel that way. Look at what you can do to address those feelings. That is what couples in healthy marriages do. 

problem solving strategies for married couples

7. Understand that it’s not a competition

It is not uncommon for spouses to feel the need to ‘win’ an argument. It feeds their ego and makes them feel good about themselves when they prove their spouse wrong about certain things. 

You should not solve your marital problems with this kind of attitude. Often, if you win an argument, your relationship loses. This should not be about who wins or loses; focus on fixing issues in your marriage so you can both be happy and healthy. 

8. Keep a positive attitude

This might sound like an obvious tip but most couples who are fighting find it difficult to stay positive. Successful couples are the ones that can maintain a positive perspective throughout their relationship even when dealing with marital issues. 

The fact that you and your partner are taking steps to address your problems is a good sign. This should inspire you to stay positive about the future of your relationship. Hold on to that positivity and find ways to save your relationship, especially if you both agree that it’s worth saving. 

9. Give your partner space

Most spouses are so desperate to resolve issues within their marriage that they end up smothering their other half. However, taking this approach when you are dealing with marriage problems will only make things worse.

Give your spouse the space to think and reflect. It will also give you the opportunity to look at things from their perspective. When you give each other space, you don’t act based on emotions but rather on logic and reasoning. 

solving marriage problems

10. Get counseling.

Counseling is a great way to solve marriage problems. It will involve a few sessions only, and is a great way to address issues within your relationship on a neutral ground. You can also get the guidance of an expert so you can work out the cause of the problem. 

The secret to success with counseling is to follow through with the plan. Any consultation you’ve done with a therapist will be of no use if you have no accountability and don’t follow through with it. It is important that both spouses take accountability for fixing their marital problems. 

If you think counseling is expensive, it’s definitely cheaper than divorce! Plus, if you are serious about solving marriage problems, this is one of the best ways to go about it. 

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A research-based approach to relationships

5 Steps to Fight Better if Your Relationship is Worth Fighting For

Kyle Benson

Your future together can be bright even if your disagreements tend to be very negative.

5 steps to fight better

Conflict is inevitable in every relationship . Psychologist Dan Wile says it best in his book After the Honeymoon : “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” However, Dr. Gottman has found that nearly 1/3 of all conflicts can be resolved with the right approach.

The popular approach to conflict resolution, advocated by many marriage therapists, is to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, listen to what they say, and communicate with empathy that you understand their perspective. It’s a decent method if you can do it.

But most couples can’t. Even happily married couples. After studying couples for the last 40 years, Dr. John Gottman has recognized that even happy couples do not follow the experts’ rules of communication.

By studying what these couples did, Dr. Gottman developed a new model for solving your solvable problems in an intimate relationship.

Step 1: Soften Your Start-Up

How a conversation starts predicts how it will end. Watch how a harsh start-up influences this conversation:

Kim: Once again, I come home from work and have to pick up after you. (criticism) Kris: Here we go again. I’m such a slob, right? I clean the kitchen counters all the time. Kim: Then why do I have to remind you to clean the dishes in the sink or take out the trash? It’s frustrating when our house smells disgusting! Don’t worry about it today. I already did it, or were you too busy browsing Facebook to notice? (contempt) Kris: Hey. Come on. I hate cleaning. I know you do, too. I have an idea. (repair attempt) Kim rolls her eyes. (more contempt) Kris: I think we need some connection. Let’s take a vacation so you can be waited on? Kim: Seriously? We can’t afford a maid, much less a vacation.

A harsh start-up begins with the Four Horsemen  and causes flooding and increased emotional distance that can strain the marriage.

Soft start-ups do not contain the Four Horsemen. When a partner starts the conversation gently, it communicates respect and causes both partners to feel positive about themselves and their marriage.

Here are some suggestions to ensure your start-up is soft:

  • Take responsibility. “I share some responsibility for this…”
  • Complain without blame and state a positive need. “Here’s how I feel…about a specific situation and here’s what I need…” (positive need, not what you don’t need)
  • Start with “I” instead of “You.” I statements are less critical and don’t make the listener as defensive as “you” statements.
  • Describe what is happening. Don’t judge or blame. Communicate what you see will help your partner from feeling attacked.
  • Be polite. Use “please” and “I would appreciate it if…”
  • Be appreciative. Recognize what you appreciate in your partner.
  • Don’t let things build up. If you do, it’ll escalate in your mind until you blow-up.

The secret to avoiding harsh start-ups is to work on the first four principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work . If your spouse tends to start conflicts harshly, make sure they are feeling known, respected, loved, and that you are willing to accept influence. So pay attention to minor bids for connection.

When “It’s your turn to take out the garbage, can you take it out please?” is ignored, your partner’s request may escalate to “What is wrong with you? Are you deaf? Take out the garbage.”

If you go straight for the jugular, you’re going to get either war or retreat on your partner’s part instead of a productive discussion. See how a softened start-up compares.

Kim: I feel like our house is a mess and we’re having family over tonight. (describing) I’m angry cause I feel like I am doing all the cleaning by myself. I should have asked sooner (taking responsibility) . I need you to help me vacuum the living room? (positive need) . Kris: I understand. I hate cleaning up too and I’d be willing to vacuum and even clean the bathroom for you. Kim: You’re such a big help. (appreciation) . Thank you love. (politeness) Kris: After the family is gone, let’s go out for our favorite ice cream! Kim: I’m so in!

Step 2: Learn to Send and Receive Repair Attempts

When Kris said, “I clean the kitchen counters all the time” Kim could have said, “You’re right, you do.” Doing this would have been a repair attempt and de-escalated the tension, allowing Kris to be more receptive to finding a solution.

Think of a repair attempt as slamming on the brakes when you see a red light. You do this to avoid a collision that could harm your marriage.

The difference between stable, emotionally intelligent marriages and unhappy ones is not that repair attempts are better, but that the repair attempts get through to the spouse. Repair attempts require two people – the person offering the repair and one accepting it.

Repair attempts often start before a repair is made. It is dependent on the state of the relationship. Happy couples send and receive repair attempts with ease. In unhappy marriages, even amazing repair attempts fall on deaf ears.

Sometimes repair attempts seem negative, “That’s not what we are talking about” or “Stop! This is getting out of control.” If your relationship is swimming in an ocean of negativity, repair attempts will be difficult to hear.

In The Seven Principles That Make Marriage Work , Dr. Gottman has a list of repair attempts that may feel unnatural at first but provide you the vocabulary to naturally repair conflict before it harms your marriage. I’d recommend starting with a low-intensity conflict when practicing repair attempts to help you resolve an issue in your marriage.

Step 3: Soothe Yourself and Each Other

In unstable marriages, conflict discussions can lead to flooding, which make repair attempts physically impossible to hear. If you or your partner feel flooded, take a 20-30 minute break and focus on the positives of your relationship by yourself. This “forced” relaxation will do wonders for your marriage.

I recommend learning how to soothe each other. Ask yourself and each other the following questions:

  • What makes us feel flooded?
  • How do we bring up issues or complaints?
  • Do we hold things in, rather than share them? If so, why do you think that is?
  • When you feel flooded, is there something I can do to soothe you?
  • How do you think you could soothe me when I feel flooded?
  • What signals can we send each other when we feel flooded so we can take breaks and soothe each other?

Step 4: Compromise

Compromise is the only way to solve marital problems. Compromise is not one person changing. It’s about negotiating and discovering ways to accommodate each other. Compromise is impossible unless you accept your partner’s flaws. Marriages can be weighed down by the “if only…” my partner was richer, sexier, or more emotionally expressive. Unlike cherishing your partner, which nurtures gratefulness for what you have, “if only” nurtures resentfulness towards your partner. This makes conflict impossible to solve.

Compromise is about accepting influence from your partner. Research shows that men tend to struggle with this more than women. If you are willing to accept influence, working with each other becomes way easier.

Step 5: Address Emotional Injuries

Arguments can leave emotional wounds even when a couple resolves an issue. This is perfectly normal and requires talking about or “processing.” Sometimes it’s about how you were fighting, not what you were fighting about Dr. Gottman has a powerful exercise on page 188 in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that will help heal these emotional injuries.

Mastering these general problem-solving skills will lead you to discover that many of your problems will find their own solutions. Once you can overcome the barriers that have prevented clear communication, difficulties are easier to resolve. But remember: these solutions work only for problems that can be solved. If compromise seems impossible, then the problem you are struggling with is likely perpetual .

If you want more tools to help you solve your solvable problems and manage the perpetual ones, subscribe below and get your free copy of the popular guide 7 Signs Your Relationship Will Last.

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Kyle works in The Love Lab where he nerds out on the science of relationships. When not highlighting research on a Sunday morning in his bathrobe, Kyle enjoys writing for his blog  Kylebenson.net  where he takes the research on successful relationships and transforms them into practical tools for romantic partners.

problem solving strategies for married couples

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12 Strategies to Cope with Common Marriage Problems

Last Updated: January 20, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was written by Moshe Ratson, MFT, PCC and by wikiHow staff writer, Hannah Madden . Moshe Ratson is the Executive Director of spiral2grow Marriage & Family Therapy, a coaching and therapy clinic in New York City. Moshe is an International Coach Federation accredited Professional Certified Coach (PCC). He received his MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from Iona College. Moshe is a clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), and a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF). There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 28,091 times.

When you’re dealing with problems in your marriage, it can sometimes feel like you’re all alone. Fortunately, there are many ways you can communicate with your spouse and come up with solutions to solve your problems together. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can cope with your marriage problems to talk with your partner and work toward fixing your relationship, one step at a time. This article is based on an interview with our licensed marriage and family therapist, Moshe Ratson, MFT, PCC. Check out the full interview here.

Communicate about issues in your relationship.

Open communication is the key to any healthy relationship.

  • You can bring up issues in the relationship by saying something like, “Hey honey, could we sit down and talk later this evening? I have a few things I’d like to chat with you about, just to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Focus on one issue at a time.

Bringing up all your problems at once can feel overwhelming.

  • For example, if you want to talk about your intimacy (or lack thereof) but also about your stress levels, pick one and save the other for a different time.

Try to understand your partner’s perspective.

Listen closely, and try not to interrupt.

  • Show that you’re listening to your partner by asking follow-up questions like, “Interesting. Can you tell me more?” or, “I’m not sure I understand. Could you explain that again?”

Come up with solutions together.

The goal is to reach a decision that benefits both of you.

  • For instance, if the issue is that you feel you do more chores around the house than your spouse does, you might create a chore list that you both work on throughout the week. That way, you can both see how many chores the two of you are doing, and you both feel like you’re equally contributing to the household.

Accept the things you can’t change about your partner.

There may be recurring issues that crop up over time.

  • For example, maybe you like to clean up the house at the end of each day, while your partner prefers to do a big cleanup at the end of the week. You two might discuss this a lot over your relationship, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing—it’s just a difference in preferences.

Forgive your partner if you can.

Hanging onto anger and resentment isn’t great for your marriage.

  • Remember that forgiveness isn’t telling your partner that their actions are okay—it’s allowing yourself to move on instead of hanging onto old feelings.

Divide household tasks.

Division of labor is a huge point of contention in most relationships.

  • It might help to make a list of what the both of you do day by day. That way, you can see how many tasks each of you are doing throughout the week.

Talk about your parenting styles.

How you raise your children is very important to talk about ahead of time.

  • You could say something like, “I think it’s important that we talk about how we’ll raise our child. Do you want to discuss some things with me?”

Show love to your partner every day.

Express your appreciation for your partner whenever you can.

  • It helps if you know your partner’s love language . For instance, if their love language is physical touch, they might appreciate a shoulder rub or a massage. Or, if their love language is acts of service, you might do some chores around the house.

Make romance part of your daily life.

Act like you’re dating your spouse again to bring the spark back.

  • Have breakfast in bed together
  • Surprise your partner with small gifts
  • Plan a weekend getaway trip
  • Give your partner compliments
  • Have a candlelit dinner at home

Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities.

It can be easy to focus on the negatives in your relationship.

  • If it helps, you could even make a physical list on paper to look at every time you need a pick-me-up. For instance, your list might say: makes me breakfast on Sundays, is a great parent, is very patient with the kids, is an awesome cook.

Work on yourself.

Examine your own contributions to any issues in the relationship.

  • For instance, if you and your spouse often fight when you have to stay late at work, you may be dedicating too much time to your job and not enough time for your spouse. You could work on that by reevaluating your schedule and prioritizing quality time with your partner.

Commit 100% to your spouse.

Make sure you’re fully invested in making your marriage work.

  • It’s not uncommon to start looking for a “way out” of the marriage when things get tough. Keep in mind, though, that almost all long-term relationships go through rough patches at one point or another, and most of them make it through to the other side.

Focus on other things that make you happy.

If you can’t find happiness in your marriage right now, find it in your hobbies or friends.

  • You can also focus on self-care and do things that don’t take much time at all. Spend 10 to 15 minutes soaking in a bubble bath, reading a good book, taking a walk, or listening to music.

Go to couple’s counseling if you need to.

Some marriage problems are hard to fix on your own.

  • A couple’s counselor can also give you real, concrete tips to help you work through your specific problems as a couple.

How Do You Save Your Marriage? . By using this service, some information may be shared with YouTube.

Expert Q&A

You might also like.

Separate from Spouse While Living Together

  • ↑ Moshe Ratson, MFT, PCC. Marriage & Family Therapist. Expert Interview. 18 September 2019.
  • ↑ Jin S. Kim, MA. Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Expert Interview. 14 May 2019.
  • ↑ Moshe Ratson, MFT, PCC. Marriage & Family Therapist. Expert Interview. 7 August 2019.
  • ↑ https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/relationships-and-communication
  • ↑ Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C. Licensed Certified Social Worker – Clinical. Expert Interview. 15 October 2021.
  • ↑ https://smartcouples.ifas.ufl.edu/media/smartcouplesifasufledu/docs/pdfs/10-Rules-for-Constructive-Conflict.pdf
  • ↑ https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/Keys-to-Happier-Marriage-Include-652
  • ↑ https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Fincham-Forgiveness_in_Marriage_and_Future_Directions.pdf
  • ↑ https://www.npr.org/2022/09/16/1123560719/splitting-chores-partner-roommate
  • ↑ https://www.parentingcounts.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/information-for-parents-parenting-styles.pdf
  • ↑ https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/10_pillars_of_a_strong_relationship
  • ↑ https://www.joinonelove.org/learn/stop-playing-the-blame-game-take-responsibility-in-your-relationship/
  • ↑ https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/when_are_you_sacrificing_too_much_in_your_relationship
  • ↑ https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-survive-in-an-unhappy-marriage-and-thrive#survival-tips
  • ↑ https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/could-your-marriage-benefit-from-counseling

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Why marriage counseling? A guide to therapy for couples

Despite its ability to improve many relationships, the stigma surrounding marriage counseling still affects some couples’ decisions to attend. Some individuals may believe marriage counseling should only function as a “last resort” before separation or divorce, but this is typically untrue. Marriage counseling can be helpful for any couple, even those who aren’t experiencing challenges related to relationship satisfaction. In addition, counseling can be customized to fit the particular needs of a specific relationship, with multiple therapy options available for couples to choose from. 

What is marriage counseling?

Marriage counseling, also known as couples therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that typically aims to help married couples resolve conflict, enhance their communication skills, and strengthen their relationship. Marriage counseling can provide a safe and supportive environment for couples to explore their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors while learning new ways to improve their relationship . 

Types of couples therapy

Different types of marriage counseling are available, each with its unique approach and techniques. Depending on your concerns or the areas you’d like to progress in, a marriage counselor may employ one or more of the following types of therapy to offer guidance and support. 

Cognitive-behavioral couples therapy (CBCT)

The goal of cognitive-behavioral couples therapy is to identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior that may be causing problems in a relationship. CBCT therapists work with couples to help them develop more positive communication styles, learn problem-solving skills, and develop strategies to manage conflict.

Behavioral couples therapy

Behavioral couples therapy is based on psychological theories of operant conditioning. This type of therapy aims to support couples in reducing negative behaviors such as criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling through techniques such as behavioral shaping, behavioral rehearsal, acceptance, and communication skills training.

Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT)

Emotionally-focused therapy centers on helping couples improve their emotional bond. Since relationship problems often stem from a breakdown in the emotional connection between partners, improving this connection in EFT may lead to more positive interactions and greater relationship satisfaction. 

Solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT)

Solution-focused brief therapy aims to teach couples how to find solutions to specific challenges within their marriage rather than analyzing past obstacles. In SFBT, the therapist helps the couple identify their strengths and resources and take practical steps to improve their relationship. This type of therapy is often more appropriate for couples facing a specific problem like financial disagreement rather than a fundamental concern—such as differing values or infidelity. 

Imago relationship therapy

Imago relationship therapy is a type of couples therapy that seeks to assist partners in understanding each other's needs and healing past wounds by exploring childhood experiences and patterns of relating. It uses a structured dialogue process and a variety of exercises to allow partners to improve their communication patterns and create a more conscious and loving relationship.

The Gottman method

Developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman, the Gottman Method uses a structured approach, including assessments, interventions, and homework assignments, to help couples identify and address their unique challenges and develop practical skills for a long-lasting relationship.

Why marriage counseling? Signs you may need marriage counseling

If you and your partner face any of the following challenges, marriage counseling may be worth considering.

Problems with communication

Lack of communication, miscommunication, and negative communication patterns are a few common challenges that may lead a couple to seek counseling. If you and your partner have trouble interacting effectively or feel like you're not being heard or understood, it may be time to seek counseling.

Constant conflict

Experiencing conflict in a marriage is normal, but if you and your spouse regularly argue and can’t find a solution, you may benefit from marriage counseling. A marriage counselor can teach you strategies for avoiding conflict and managing disagreements in a healthy, productive way. 

Loss of intimacy

If your marriage lacks emotional or physical intimacy, marriage counseling can help you and your spouse address this and reconnect. A marriage counselor can teach you how to communicate your needs, preferences, and boundaries while offering mutually-agreeable solutions for improved intimacy and connection. 

Difficulty with trust

Lack of trust is a common reason many couples seek counseling. It may be difficult to trust your partner if you’ve experienced betrayal in a past relationship. Trust problems may also arise if one or both partners have broken trust in the relationship, such as through infidelity or dishonesty. A marriage therapist can help you process and work through these challenges and rebuild the trust in your relationship.

Life transitions

Life transitions can significantly strain a marriage. If you're going through a major life transition, such as a new job, a move, or the birth of a child, counseling can help you navigate these changes while still maintaining a strong relationship.

Different goals or values

Over time, some couples grow apart due to changing life goals or values. If you and your partner struggle to find common ground on this subject, counseling can help you explore these differences, find compromises, and move forward together. 

Contemplating separation or divorce

Whether due to a significant betrayal or an extended period of disconnect, some couples reach a point where separation or divorce seems like the right option. If you're considering ending your marriage or separating, counseling can provide a neutral space to discuss your concerns, explore your options, and make informed decisions about your future.

Family problems

A life partnership often involves navigating complex family relationships involving children and in-laws. Couples counseling can assist couples who are navigating these types of challenges within a marriage. At the same time, family therapy may be beneficial when a married couple wants to involve other family members in their counseling sessions. 

Benefits of marriage counseling

Every relationship is unique, and a couple’s goals and relationship dynamics may affect their experience with marriage counseling. Often, couples enter therapy for a specific reason and find that other aspects of their relationship improve as they find new ways to relate. Here are a few commonly-reported benefits of marriage counseling.

Enhanced communication skills

One of the primary goals of a marriage counselor is to teach couples how to communicate more effectively, express their needs and feelings, and listen to their partner with empathy and understanding. 

Conflict resolution

In counseling, couples can identify and resolve conflicts constructively and develop strategies for managing disagreements in a healthy way in the future.

Increased intimacy

Counseling can help couples rebuild intimacy, deepen their understanding and connection, and reignite their passion and love for one another.

Enhanced problem-solving skills

Conflict can be inevitable, and it can be important for couples to understand how to move past disagreements as a team. Counseling teaches couples problem-solving skills and communication strategies for addressing challenges and making decisions together.

Increased self-awareness

A marriage counselor can help couples better understand themselves and their partner and learn how to recognize and manage their emotions and behaviors.

Strengthened commitment

Counseling can be beneficial for couples seeking to renew their commitment and develop a shared vision for their future together.

Often, marriage therapy is what you make of it. If both you and your spouse are dedicated to improving your marriage, you typically have a higher chance of achieving the desired results . 

The role of a marriage counselor

A marriage counselor is typically a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) . This type of therapist is specifically trained to act as a neutral party and help couples identify and address relationship conflicts without “taking sides” or passing judgment. Marriage counselors are trained in various therapeutic techniques and interventions aimed at helping couples develop effective communication and problem-solving skills. 

A marriage counselor offers guidance and support as couples navigate challenging conversations and may intervene if they notice negative or unhelpful communication patterns. Often, a marriage counselor will give their clients “homework” and may provide resources and referrals for additional support as needed. Overall, the role of the marriage counselor is to provide a safe and supportive environment where couples can work toward building a stronger, healthier, and more fulfilling relationship together.

Marriage counseling techniques

Depending on a couple’s needs and goals for therapy, a counselor may use any number of techniques in a marriage counseling session. These techniques are often intended to improve the couple’s communication skills or help them develop healthier habits in their marriage. Here are a few common couples counseling techniques :

  • Narrative therapy can help couples reframe relationship obstacles in a beneficial way by reshaping narratives surrounding their marriage and experiences.
  • Reflective listening is a common communication technique that teaches couples active listening skills. 
  • Identifying love languages can teach couples how to identify, understand, and meet one another’s needs.
  • Building positive communication is central to many therapeutic approaches, as healthier communication patterns can reduce conflict and increase relationship satisfaction.
  • Scheduling quality time is a common therapeutic technique that asks couples to prioritize quality time together with the goal of deepening connection and affection.
  • Enhancing physical intimacy is another facet of marriage counseling that can help couples improve and expand upon nonverbal communication patterns such as romantic touch and sexual intimacy.

Finding a marriage counselor

If you’re experiencing marital strain and believe you and your partner could benefit from counseling, you may consider finding one locally or taking your search online. You can speak with a counselor through an online platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. Online couples therapy offers a way to attend marriage counseling from the comfort of home, or anywhere with a strong internet connection. This may be beneficial for couples with busy schedules, careers that require frequent travel, or long-distance relationships. It may also be ideal for couples that struggle to secure childcare for in-person appointments. Regardless of the concerns you might be facing in your marriage, a therapist can help you and your partner address them and come up with some productive next steps. 

The efficacy of online marriage counseling

Research into the outcomes of couples counseling has shown that various types of couples treatment have proven to be effective, specifically in their ability to reduce relationship stress . Furthermore, studies on the efficacy of online therapy consistently show it to be as effective as face-to-face modalities, and research that specifically explored the effectiveness of online couples therapy found the same.

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Overview of the Gottman Method

Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals.

problem solving strategies for married couples

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

problem solving strategies for married couples

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What the Gottman Method Can Help With

  • Effectiveness
  • What to Expect

What Are the Three Main Components of Gottman Method Therapy?

What is the gottman repair checklist, things to consider.

  • Getting Started

The Gottman Method is a type of couples therapy developed by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Interventions used in the Gottman Method are research-based and grounded in the Sound Relationship House theory, which specifies nine elements of a healthy relationship.

The Gottman Method aims "to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy, and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship."

Gottman Method Background

The Gottman Method is based on decades of research. Over more than 40 years, John Gottman has performed hundreds of empirical studies with over 3,000 couples. During that time, he and his colleague Robert Levenson performed a series of longitudinal studies that found that some marriages end in divorce while others succeed due to the way couples interact.

Married couples' interactions are fairly stable over time, and approximately 69% of problems between partners are never resolved due to differences in couples' personalities.

Of course, every couple argues and has negative interactions. Still, Gottman found that it's the way couples navigate conflict and the emotions they express that will ultimately determine who stays together and who divorces.

First, couples who stay together experience at least five positive interactions for every negative interaction during conflict. In addition, couples who broke up exhibited a high level of behaviors that Gottman refers to as the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," which include:

  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling , or withdrawing from interaction

Gottman's research led to his work with his wife, Julie Schwartz Gottman, which resulted in creating the Sound Relationship House theory and the interventions employed by the Gottman Method.

Gottman Method Techniques

The Sound Relationship House theory is the foundation of the Gottman Method . It uses a house as a metaphor for a secure marriage. The theory identifies seven "floors" that a couple can move through to improve their relationship, along with two "weight-bearing walls," which are essential to holding the couple together. These are as follows:

  • Build love maps: This is the first floor of the Sound Relationship House and involves couples getting to know one another's inner psychological worlds.
  • Share fondness and admiration: On this floor, couples learn to overtly express appreciation and respect for each other to strengthen their bond.
  • Turn towards, not away: This floor involves learning to notice when one's partner is seeking attention, affection, and comfort and responding accordingly.
  • The positive perspective: This floor helps partners learn to see one another positively, enabling them to see errors as matters of circumstance, not failures of the individual.
  • Manage conflict: On this floor, couples learn to manage conflict through a three-step process. First, partners take each other's feelings into account. Next, partners learn to discuss their problems. Finally, when a partner starts to feel overwhelmed during conflict, they learn techniques to self-soothe to keep their cool.
  • Make life dreams come true: The second to last floor centers on supporting and championing one's partner in their dreams and goals.
  • Create shared meaning: The top floor mirrors the first floor in that it involves understanding an inner world, but in this case, it's the couple's inner world and entails uncovering the rituals and stories that have shared meaning for them.
  • Trust and commitment: The two weight-bearing walls of the Sound Relationship House help couples work through the seven floors. Trust enables couples to believe they can rely on one another and feel like they're a team, and commitment means couples have agreed to stick together and improve their relationship.

Clearly, each floor of the Sound Relationship House represents an opportunity for couples to develop new skills that will strengthen their relationship. Gottman therapists use this theory to drive their work with couples.

Based on his research, John Gottman maintains that even though couples feel their individual relationships are unique, marital conflicts fall into just two categories: resolvable conflicts and perpetual conflicts. Since a majority of conflicts are perpetual, the Gottman Method specifically centers on helping couples work on learning to live with this kind of conflict.

Given The Gottman Method takes this as its focus, it can help with a wide array of relationship issues , from frequent arguing to infidelity and emotional distance, which may seem unique but at their core are often the result of perpetual conflicts.

The Gottman Method can even help couples who don't feel their level of conflict is problematic but are looking to understand their relationship better. The therapy is designed to help people at any stage of their relationship and regardless of race, class, or cultural identity. Research has shown it is also effective for same-sex couples.

Benefits of the Gottman Method

The Gottman Method is unique in its focus on perpetual versus resolvable conflicts. Understanding this difference is part of how this form of therapy can help couples positively change their relationship. By learning new ways to deal with perpetual conflicts, couples can replace negative conflict patterns with healthier ones.

Also, because the Gottman Method is backed by rigorous research, many of the interventions are specific. They include actionable steps that help couples leave each session understanding what to do to continue to work on their issues outside of therapy.

Moreover, learning these steps will help couples in the long term. Even after therapy, they can continue to apply these skills and techniques, preventing them from falling back into their former negative patterns.

Gottman Method Effectiveness

Studies have demonstrated that the Gottman Method is highly effective. In addition to seeing an individual therapist, the Gottman Institute also offers workshops and retreats.

A randomized clinical trial assessed couples one year after taking either a one-day and two-day workshop or after a workshop followed by nine sessions of Gottman Method couples therapy. The trial found all to be effective. Although the most effective option, which also resulted in the least relapse, was combining a two-day workshop with nine therapy sessions.

Similarly, a study on Gottman Method couples therapy found that after 10 sessions, it was an effective treatment for improving married couples' relationships, compatibility, and intimacy.

What to Expect With the Gottman Method

Couples therapy using the Gottman Method starts with an assessment, which begins with a joint session between the couple and the therapist.

The therapist speaks with each member of the couple individually. In addition, couples may complete questionnaires developed as part of the Gottman Method. Together, this will enable the therapist to form a thorough picture of the relationship that they can then use to provide feedback to the couple on the stability of their partnership and decide on the interventions that will be most valuable to the couple.

Gottman Method interventions are designed to improve three primary areas of a relationship:

  • Ability to manage conflict
  • Creating shared goals

As a result, in therapy, couples will learn to improve interactions to move from negative to positive and deepen emotional connection

Gottman Method therapists don't just focus on improving skills within the relationship but also use the research on which the therapy is based to educate couples about the components of healthy relationships . This gives couples increased insight into their relationship dynamics and tools for maintaining their relationship in the long term.

The repair checklist is a list of phrases that you can use during certain situations that can help you better express how you're feeling, apologize more effectively, let your partner know you appreciate them, and more.

One of the key things to consider before deciding to see a Gottman therapist is your commitment to working on your relationship. The Gottman Method can be rigorous and intense, and therapists expect couples to continue to use the skills they learn in therapy outside of sessions. As a result, those who aren't prepared to focus on improving their relationship in this way may not benefit from the Gottman Method.

In addition, the Gottman Method is not recommended for couples that suffer from physical domestic violence. While this form of therapy can help with many relationship issues, couples counseling can't change patterns of physical violence. Instead, this issue should be handled by a domestic violence specialist, a shelter, or the police.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database .

How To Get Started With the Gottman Method

If couples therapy seems like too big a commitment, the Gottman Institute currently offers a two-day workshop , two-day couples retreats , webinars , and a self-paced online coaching program. Workshops and retreats can be completed in-person and online, giving couples extra flexibility. These options will get you started with the Gottman Method and may even be all you need, depending on the level of help you're seeking.

The Gottman Institute offers a directory of Gottman-certified couples therapists for those who want to do couples therapy. In addition to being licensed therapists with an MA or PhD, Gottman therapists have undergone additional training through the Gottman Institute and attained certification in this particular method of couples therapy. In addition to in-person sessions, many Gottman-trained couples therapists are also available for online sessions .

About The Gottman Method . The Gottman Institute . 2021.

Research Overview . The Gottman Institute . 2021.

Gottman JM. What Predicts Divorce? . Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1994.

What is The Sound Relationship House? . The Gottman Institute . 2021.

Gottman JM.  The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work . New York: Crown Publishing Group; 2002.

Garanzini S, Yee A, Gottman J et al. Results of Gottman Method Couples Therapy with Gay and Lesbian Couples .  J Marital Fam Ther . 2017;43(4):674-684. doi:10.1111/jmft.12276

The Gottman Institute.  The Empirical Basis For Gottman Method Therapy . 2013.

Davoodvandi M, Nejad SN, Farzad V. Examining the Effectiveness of Gottman Couple Therapy on Improving Marital Adjustment and Couples' Intimacy .  Iran J Psychiatry . 2018;13(2):135-141.

By Cynthia Vinney, PhD Cynthia Vinney, PhD is an expert in media psychology and a published scholar whose work has been published in peer-reviewed psychology journals.

5 strategies to help solve problems in your marriage

Image: A couple holds hands

Perpetual problems — every relationship has them, but not every couple knows how to work through them.

A perpetual problem endures because you and your partner fundamentally see the situation differently, according to Michelle Peterson, founder of the marriage blog #staymarried .

“It’s one of those things where you bring it up, you try to work it out, and it just stays in your relationship,” Peterson tells NBC News BETTER.

Peterson, 39, is the executive director of a nonprofit, and her husband Tony, 41, is a software designer. The couple live in Somers, Wisconsin, and have been happily married for 11 years with three young daughters.

Like any couple, the Petersons experience perpetual problems, but have learned how to live happily in spite of them. Here’s how.

Michelle and Tony Peterson

They recognize when their relationship is in gridlock

If you and your partner can’t see a disagreement eye to eye no matter how much you talk about it, you’re probably experiencing gridlock, Peterson says.

“I said the same thing over and over again, and he’s still not budging — that is a symptom of gridlock,” she says.

In the past, Peterson often failed to recognize when her relationship was in gridlock, believing she could change her husband’s perspective or behavior, she says.

“What’s really happening is you’re at an impasse altogether, because you’re dealing with something that fundamentally you’re not agreeing on,” she explains.

When they hit gridlock, the couple takes a break

If a perpetual problem in your relationship turns into gridlock, Peterson says, it’s important to understand that fighting isn’t going to solve anything.

If an argument gets heated, Peterson says, she and her husband take a break.

The rule is simple: When one partner asks for a break during an argument, the other must honor it, she explains. After about 30 minutes, she says, they’ll calmly revisit the issue.

“Usually, you can be more clear headed and understanding once you’ve been able to temper down your emotions,” Peterson says.

Get past “the curse of familiarity”

When the couple realized they needed a third-person perspective, they began seeing a marriage counselor in 2015. Peterson was surprised to hear her husband tell the therapist things she never knew.

“He shared things that were so insightful to me that I never considered asking about,” she says.

Peterson says the “curse of familiarity” had prevented her from asking questions that would have helped her understand him better.

“You’re with somebody long enough, you think you know them, and so you forget to dig a little bit or to ask better questions, or to get curious about each other,” she says.

The truth is, you live with a person, you don’t live with a solution.

Seek to understand each other better

Peterson says she no longer focuses on solving problems in her relationship. Instead, she says she strives to understand where her husband is coming from.

“The truth is, you live with a person, you don’t live with a solution,” she says.

To better understand your partner, it’s important to spend quality time with them alone, says Peterson.

Each night, the couple dedicates 15 minutes to talking alone. They go outside on their deck with no electronics to distract them, she says. Peterson calls it their “nightly debrief.”

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is, it doesn’t matter how cold it is — if it’s super cold we’ll just bundle up extra — but we go outside, no devices, just the two of us, for 15 minutes,” she says.

Give your partner space to make up their own mind

In the past, Peterson would automatically assume certain situations were problems. Now, she says, she no longer makes those assumptions. Instead, she asks her husband what he thinks.

“I’m approaching him not like I already have the answer,” she says, “but [with], ‘Hey, what do you think about this? Does this feel like a problem to you?’”

For example, the couple recently moved into a new apartment that didn’t have a washer and dryer. Peterson wanted to buy their own appliances, but her husband saw things differently. Instead, he takes the family’s laundry to a laundromat once a week on his free time.

Since her husband doesn’t see it as a problem, Peterson decided not to push the issue.

“He needs to decide for himself he doesn’t want to go to the laundromat anymore,” she explains.

She says seeking to understand each other, rather than trying to solve perceived problems, has made the relationship stronger despite their fundamental differences.

“I don’t know any non-corny ways to say this,” Peterson says, “but we like each other.”

How to survive perpetual problems in a relationship

  • Recognize when you're at an impasse. If you are having the same fight over and over, there is probably a fundamental difference you simply can’t agree on.
  • Know when to take a break. Recognize that fighting and arguing won’t solve anything. If things get heated, ask your partner for a break, take 30 minutes, and revisit the issue with a clear head.
  • Get past “the curse of familiarity”. Don’t assume that because you’ve been with someone for a long time that you know and understand everything about them. Be curious and ask questions.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s important to take time each day to talk. This gives you an opportunity to get to know each other’s perspective.
  • Create space. Don’t assume that a situation is a problem that needs to be solved. Instead, talk to your partner to see how they feel about it. If they don’t see it as a problem, give them space to come to their own conclusion.

MORE RELATIONSHIP ADVICE

  • How one couple saved their marriage by asking this simple question
  • How thoughtful communication can improve your marriage, according to a divorce attorney
  • Why this marriage counselor says a "good enough marriage" is one that lasts a lifetime

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram .

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Couples Therapy for Adults Experiencing Relationship Distress: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2014 Oct 17.

Cover of Couples Therapy for Adults Experiencing Relationship Distress: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines

Couples Therapy for Adults Experiencing Relationship Distress: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines [Internet].

Appendix 4 summary of included couples therapy interventions, behavioural couples therapy 3.

Behavioural couple therapy (BCT) is based on the assumption that relationship distress and related conflict results from an unfair relationship bargain, whereby partners fail to negotiate a fair exchange of preferred responses. There is a resulting sense of injustice, which leads to conflict. The aim of BCT is therefore to help partners develop communication and problem-solving skills to negotiate a mutually perceived fair relationship.

Behavioural therapy, with cognitive and emotion-focused goals 14

This therapy is primarily behavioral with integration of cognitive and emotion-focused goals. It includes guided discussions of ongoing conflicts and reviewing the couple's patterns.

Cognitive Behavioural Conjoint Therapy 6

Cognitive-behavioral conjoint therapy is a manualized intervention for PTSD designed to simultaneously reduce PTSD and associated symptoms and enhance relationship satisfaction. Therapy includes both in-and out-of session exercises including psychoeducation, couple specific goal setting, focusing on positive experiences, enhanced dyadic communication, and attention to activities that lead to behavioral and experiential avoidance and concurrently double as shared rewarding activities for the couple. The therapist guides the couple to investigate how trauma has influenced thoughts related to trust, control, emotional closeness, and physical intimacy and to challenge any appraisals that influence individual and relationship functioning.

Cognitive Existential Couples Therapy 19

Cognitive Existential Couple Therapy was adapted from Cognitive Existential Group Therapy and aims to address key existential and functional themes including the death anxiety, fear of recurrence and living with uncertainty, coping with cancer treatments and their side effects, the impact of the diagnosis and treatment on the couple’s relationship, including sexual impact, relating with medical and other professional staff, family concerns, body image and self-image concerns, and lifestyle effects and future goals.

  • Congruence Couples Therapy

Congruence Couples Therapy is an integrative, humanistic model developed for working with pathological gamblers and their spouses. It is based on the principle of congruence, and aims to work towards alignment of four dimensions of functioning: intrapsychic, interpersonal, intergenerational and universal-spiritual. This framework guides the intervention to increase attending, awareness, acknowledgment, and alignment with the pathological gambler and their spouse. 17

Conjoint Intimacy Enhancing Therapy 5

Conjoint Intimacy Enhancing Therapy focuses on improving couples’ ability to comfortably share their thoughts and feelings regarding cancer, promote mutual understanding and support regarding their own and one another’s cancer experience, facilitate constructive discussion of cancer concerns, and to enhance and maintain emotional intimacy. Techniques were drawn from cognitive-behavioral and behavioral marital therapy, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program and from Gottman and colleagues’ communication skills intervention and were adapted to the context of dealing with prostate cancer.

Couple-Based Cognitive-Behavior Therapy 9

A staged approach is followed to teach the couple how to manage the patient’s anxiety during exposure, in particular through practicing partner-assisted exposure and response prevention, including the use of emotional expressiveness techniques to enhance productive communication during exposures. The couple is guided through the development of learning strategies to facilitate decision making about reducing symptom accommodation and implementing alternative non-OCD-focused behaviors.

Couple Dialectical Behavioural Therapy 8

Couple Dialectical Behavioural Therapy emphasizes the role of deregulated emotions in the breakdown of communication and the escalation of conflict. It focuses on creating a variety of ways to validate inherently valid things that partners express in particular by matching the form and function of communication. One of the main goals is to reduce negative patterns and develop constructive patterns of communication and interaction.

  • Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is based on the assumption that relationship distress and related conflict results from insecure attachment, which leads to insecurity among one or both partners that their attachment needs will not be met. The aim is therefore to help partners understand this insecurity and develop ways to modify interaction patterns and emotional responses to promote development of a secure emotional bond. 3 , 22

Hope and Forgiveness Focused Therapy 16

Hope therapy is designed to change irrational beliefs and offer a more optimistic view of change, under the assumption that hope can ensure positive change. Hope-related therapy is a short, semi-structured form of treatment. The goals are to strengthen relationships and reduce the rate of divorce by focusing on goals, past achievements, positive and healthy coalitions through solution based and cognitive-behavioural techniques. 16

Forgiveness therapy focuses on relieving feelings of resentment and anger. It focuses on several factors, including: awareness/discovery and unveiling of anger; decision and commitment to forgiveness, acting and compensation, and discovery and relief from emotions. It targets the cause of conflict and aims to ameliorate accumulated anger that might otherwise cause severe problems between spouses.

Problem focused therapy 14

This therapy has a problem-focused orientation with a central emphasis on focused communication training around the identified problem. Communication training can play a central role, incorporated with guided discussions of ongoing conflicts and reviewing the couple's patterns.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy 20

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is an insight oriented form of couples therapy, designed to help couples explore how difficulties have arisen in their relationship and what interferes with changing them. It promotes looking at what lies behind current difficulties and paying attention both to conscious and unconscious factors.

Psychotherapy 21

Psychotherapy included both group and individual couples therapy. Group couples therapy was eclectic, incorporating elements from behavioral therapy, system therapy, dynamic approaches, and nonverbal disciplines including psychomotor therapy, art and activity therapy.

Traditional Behavioural Couples Therapy 10

Traditional Behavioural Couples Therapy follows a staged approach to form new rules and boundaries in terms of the relationship, promote the practice of individual emotion regulation skills, teach couples to use appropriate emotional expressiveness skills for both speaker and listener, and inform couples about anxiety and depressive symptoms.

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  • Cite this Page Couples Therapy for Adults Experiencing Relationship Distress: A Review of the Clinical Evidence and Guidelines [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; 2014 Oct 17. APPENDIX 4, Summary of Included Couples Therapy Interventions.
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  • Behavioural Couples Therapy
  • Behavioural therapy, with cognitive and emotion-focused goals
  • Cognitive Behavioural Conjoint Therapy
  • Cognitive Existential Couples Therapy
  • Conjoint Intimacy Enhancing Therapy
  • Couple-Based Cognitive-Behavior Therapy
  • Couple Dialectical Behavioural Therapy
  • Hope and Forgiveness Focused Therapy
  • Problem focused therapy
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Traditional Behavioural Couples Therapy

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How Does Couples Counseling Work?

  • Counseling vs. Therapy
  • What It Addresses
  • Practitioners

Types of Couples Counseling

How to prepare for couples counseling, benefits of couples therapy.

Couples counseling, also known as marriage counseling, is a type of counseling for intimate partners. It involves the exploration of any conflicts between the partners, is often short-term, and focuses on specific problems. Other goals of couples counseling are improving communication and interactions and strengthening relationships.

Couples counseling is sometimes referred to as couples therapy or marriage therapy, but the terms "therapy" and "counseling," actually, are different.

What Is Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy is treatment by the same therapist for two people in a committed relationship dealing with problems that affect the relationship.

SDI Productions / Getty Images

Couples Counseling vs. Couples Therapy

“Counseling” and “therapy” are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are differences in meaning between the two .

Therapy (also known as psychotherapy or talk therapy ) is used to treat mental health conditions or patterns of behavior, thoughts, or emotions that are dysfunctional. In couples therapy, the process may address a condition such as anxiety or depression of one or both partners and how that condition impacts the relationship.

Couples counseling, on the other hand, is generally more focused on relationship challenges like balancing responsibilities and future expectations.

Both couples therapy and couples counseling can help to improve communication and interactions between partners and to strengthen the relationship.

Key Differences

Couples counseling tends to be short term, while therapy can be longer term. Counseling is generally focused more on the present and making adjustments to overcome current problems while looking into the future, and therapy may explore more of the past to make adjustments to benefit the present and future.

Despite the differences, there is a lot of overlap between the two and professionals all work differently. For example, some mental health professionals provide both counseling and therapy.

What Couples Counseling Can Help With?

Couples counseling can address a wide variety of issues relating to relationships of intimate partners. This may be specific relationship challenges, such as arguing or having different plans for the future, or problems of one partner that affect the relationship as a whole, such as unemployment.

Couples counseling may address one or more of the following:

  • Affairs and infidelity
  • Communication problems
  • Blended families
  • Emotional distance
  • Financial challenges
  • Future planning
  • Getting ready for marriage
  • Infertility or decisions about having children
  • Major life adjustments
  • Parenting conflicts
  • Physical and mental health challenges
  • Responsibility disagreements
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Substance abuse
  • Unemployment

Additionally, couples counseling is an option for couples with no specific problems to address but want to strengthen their relationship.

Couples counseling involves conversations between romantic partners and a professional who provides counseling. They will generally discuss a specific problem or issue that is the reason for seeking counseling, as well as goals for working together. The process then involves strategies and learning skills to improve the relationship, such as communication skills, problem-solving skills, and strategies for discussing differences and overcoming problems together.

Is Couples Counseling Always Done Together?

Each partner may talk with the counseling professional individually before meeting together. Depending on the situation, counseling and talk therapy may both be undertaken together.

Professionals Who Practice It

Couples counseling can be provided by licensed professional counselors and other mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers . It is also provided by religious and spiritual leaders, including pastors, ministers, priests, rabbis, and chaplains.

Requirements for counselors and other mental health professionals vary by state. This means the services mental health professionals provide, including counseling and therapy, may be different depending on state education and licensing requirements.

There are different approaches to couples counseling. The approach used may depend on the couple, their challenges and goals, and the training of the provider. Additionally, multiple approaches may be used with the same couple or in the same session.

  • A behavioral approach to counseling considers the environment and how it reinforces or impacts thoughts and behaviors to guide changes that benefit the couple.
  • A humanistic approach to couples counseling focuses on bringing awareness to the uniqueness of the individuals to achieve goals.
  • An integrative approach to couples counseling uses multiple methods to serve the needs of the couple and situation.
  • A psychodynamic approach to couples counseling considers influences from the past to bring increased awareness to dynamics that are impacting the couple in the present in order to facilitate change.

To prepare for couples counseling, the first step is to find a mental health professional. Primary care physicians , family practitioners, insurance providers, and friends and family may be able to provide referrals or recommendations. It is a good idea to ask questions at the time you schedule your first appointment.

Questions to Ask Before the First Appointment

  • What can I expect at the first appointment?
  • Is the first session for both partners or one individual?
  • What should I/we bring?
  • Are there any forms to fill out before the first appointment?

If you plan to use your insurance to pay for some or all of your counseling, consult with your insurance provider to see what types of services are covered and what providers are in your network.

While couples counseling is not a guarantee that the relationship will last, many couples find benefits that help them resolve issues and strengthen relationships. Intimate partners can establish or grow better communication, honesty, and trust, which are the foundations of healthy relationships.

Additionally, couples counseling can help to improve feelings of security in the relationship, increase positive feelings the partners have toward each other, enable couples to cooperate with one another, decrease stress, and provide the couple with tools to overcome future challenges together.

A Word From Verywell

Relationships can be challenging, even when both partners are fully committed and have the best of intentions. If you and your partner are going through a phase with increased problems or struggles, or even if you just want to strengthen your relationship with one another, you may benefit from couples counseling.

Reach out to a mental health professional specializing in couples counseling to find out if they provide support for the specific challenges you and your partner are facing. If your partner is not open to seeking help, you can get relationship support on your own.

American Psychological Association. Couples counseling.

American Psychological Association. Couples therapy .

American Psychological Association. Psychotherapy .

Mayo Clinic. Marriage counseling .

Michigan Counseling Centers. Counselor vs therapist: What's the difference and which is best for you?

William and Mary School of Education. Counseling theories and approaches .

Association for Humanistic Counseling. About AHC .

Counselling Directory. Integrative counselling .

Cleveland Clinic. 5 signs you may need marriage counseling .

By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.

Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

  • Relationships

The Art of Solving Relationship Problems

A six-step process for putting problems to rest..

Posted January 17, 2011 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

Kate was annoyed at the amount of money Tom spent on new fishing equipment. She offhandedly mentioned it to him once, decided to drop it, but then spent the weekend snapping at him about all sorts of little things. Tom knew what was upsetting Kate, but rather than saying anything, decided to keep quiet and ride it out.

Sara and Matt are always fighting about the kids. Sara thinks Matt is too easy on them, while Matt thinks Sara acts like a drill sergeant, unable to ever cut them any slack. The kids feel caught in the middle and play one parent against the other.

Problems are bound to arise in any relationship, and each couple finds its own way of handling them. Kate, for example, gets upset about what Tom is doing, but has trouble being direct and clear about what is bothering her. And Tom has learned over the years that if he lays low, he can wait for it to blow over. Because Sara and Matt are unable to get on the same page with parenting , they become polarized, with each overcompensating for the actions of the other, and using their children as a battleground for their own struggles.

Unfortunately, their children are ultimately the losers in their struggle. Other couples are even less open and say they never argue. Instead they silently agree to avoid confrontation and push their problems underground, creating anxiety and stifling intimacy .

Unsettled problems are a major source of stress , stress that can not only undermine your relationship, but your diabetes management as well. Research has shown that successful relationships are not those that necessarily have fewer problems, but those that have found effective means of solving the problems that come up.

Here is a six-step process for tackling and solving those problems in your relationships.

Step 1: Define your problem and solution. Sure, you know you're upset, but what exactly are you upset about? Kate might be mad about the new fishing gear, but is it about spending the money, the fact that Tom didn't talk to her about it ahead of time, or that perhaps it's another reminder that he spends almost every weekend with his friends fishing and that they don't do things together as a couple? Sara realizes that she is upset with Matt always undermining her, but is more worried about the fact that the kids are confused and playing them against each other.

Take time to clearly define what bothers you the most. Figure out how you feel and why. Anger is a common reaction, but try and go one further step and ask yourself what is it that worries you or hurts your feelings. Many psychologists consider anger a reaction to other emotions lying beneath.

Sure, Kate feels angry, but actually she feels hurt that Tom doesn't seem to want to spend more time with her. Sara gets annoyed, her annoyance is masking her worry that the kids are becoming manipulative. To be able to talk about these underlying emotions, rather than your anger, gets to the core of your true feelings, and is easier for the other person to hear and understand.

But problem-solving is more than just an airing of complaints. Next, you need to be clear about what you would like to be different in positive, concrete and specific terms. Suppose Kate realizes that what she really wants is for her and Tom to do more as a couple. Rather than complaining and saying to him that he is spending too much time fishing, or merely saying that she wants to do more with him, she could say instead that she would like him to have more time to do things with him as a couple and wonder whether he would be willing to leave two Saturdays a month for them to do things together. Sara might say that she is afraid that the kids seem confused about what is expected of them, and would like Matt to map out with her a chore list for the kids that they can both agree upon.

Step 2: Plan a time to talk. OK, you've done your prep and are clear on the problem and your solution. Now pick a good time to talk - not when your partner just walks in the door after work, not after you've both have had a couple of cocktails on a Friday night and are tired, not 10-minutes before you have to pick your daughter from soccer—but a time when you both are likely to be calm, relaxed and able to listen. If you are not sure, send your partner an email or write a note suggesting a time and giving a preview of your discussion. ("Matt, I'm worried about how we are handling the kids. Could we sit down on Saturday morning before the kids get up and talk about this?") This gives your partner a heads-up about your concerns and schedules a time that will work for both of you.

Step 3: Talking and listening. OK, take a deep breath. Start by talking about your view of the problem, your worry, your solution—"Tom, I know I seemed upset but the new fishing equipment but I realized that what was bothering me about it was...;" or, "Matt, I'm worried about the kids and think it's important that we both be on the same page." Talk about you, not your partner. Use "I" statements ("I feel like I'm always walking on eggshells when I'm around you," or, "I think that it would be wonderful if you could do more together,") rather than "you" statements ("You never say anything positive, you always seem angry.") Talking about yourself helps keep your partner from feeling attacked or blamed, and getting defensive and angry in return.

Managing a conversation is a bit like driving a car. You want to keep in mind where you are going and stay on the road. You steer the conversation, just as you do when driving, by making subtle adjustments as you go along. If Kate sees that Tom is getting upset she can stop and check it out—"Tom, you're looking upset. Did I just hurt your feelings?"—rather than ignoring his reactions, plowing ahead, and leading them both into an emotional ditch. Do your best to sound calm.

problem solving strategies for married couples

Strong emotions stir defensiveness in the other, and undermine the problem-solving process. If your partner does start to get angry or defensive—"What about you ... Last week you did ..."—get quiet. While you're probably tempted to defend yourself, doing so at this point is like throwing gasoline on fire. Your goal is to put out the emotional fire in the room and you do that by simply listening. If you don't fuel the fire with more words, your partner will eventually calm down.

If, however, it seems that both of you are getting worked up, that emotions are getting too high, if the conversation is beginning to feel like a power struggle with one of you needing to win or get the last word, it's important to stop before the situation gets out of hand. The best way to do this is by saying as calmly as you can that you want to take a break and cool off and that you'd like to try again in a half-hour, an hour, or after dinner.

Be clear it is a time-out and that you want to talk again. Don't just say, I don't want to talk about this anymore, and walk out of the room. This kind of cut-off will only make the other more anxious and angry and escalate the process. When you are both calm, try again. If the conversation quickly heats up again, stop and take another break until both of you are absolutely calm. Control the temperature of the conversation.

If things have gone well and your partner is able to listen to what you have to say, ask for their reactions. Tom may say that he understands how Kate feels and wants to do more as a couple, but quite honestly, he says, he wants to do something more active than the car trips or the going to the movies that they've done in the past. Matt may think that a chore list a good idea, but he is particularly frustrated by the kid's inconsistent bedtimes.

The goal is to hear each other out. Don't worry about over-talking if the talking is sincere and productive. Resist the "Yes, but" response, and instead focus on "Yes, and"—accepting and building on each other's ideas. See each other as on the same team, working together for the relationship. Make sure you understand exactly what the other is saying—"Tom, what exactly would you rather do together?" or, "Matt, what time would you like the kids to go to bed?" Keep it clear, keep it concrete, keep it calm.

Step 4: Decide on a plan. If you are both in agreement about the problem, it's time to agree on a plan of action. Again make it as specific as possible and time-limited, and try to address each of your worries and preferences. Tom agrees to not go fishing next Saturday; Kate agrees to try out Tom's idea of going hiking on a new trail. Sara and Matt agree to map out a short list of chores and bedtimes for each of the kids. They will talk together with the kids next Saturday morning, then try it for a week. Write down the plan just so it is clear to both of you.

A "let's try it" attitude is better than obsessing over the ultimate solution. The willingness to work together is more important than the decisive plan. If at any point in the planning, you feel like your partner is going along with and passively agreeing, check it out—"Are you really OK with this? I can't tell how you're feeling." Don't march ahead until you know the other is on board.

Step 5: Evaluate. Try out your plan and evaluate. Did Tom and Kate both enjoy the hike on Saturday? Were Sara and Matt able to back each other during the week when the kids started to complain about the chores? The evaluation is about honesty and fine-tuning. Kate and Tom did like the hike, but Tom really missed seeing his buddies on Saturday and would rather do it again on a Sunday. The new chores and bedtimes seemed to work OK, but Sara and Matt decide to continue for another week to see how well the kids settle into the routines, and then discuss it again. Again, keep changes clear and concrete.

Finally, try and give each other feedback about the talking process itself: It helped me to have us write out the plan; what did you think? Did you feel like I was giving you a hard time when we first started talking? Again you are both learning a skill. Knowing what worked and what didn't will make your future efforts at problem-solving more effective and comfortable.

Step 6: Say what you like. Researchers have found that if you want to create a positive and supportive environment for your relationships you need to give each other four times more positive comments than negative ones. What this means is that you can never give each other enough compliments and support: Thanks for talking, I appreciate your trying this out, I'm glad we are doing this together. This support helps you from slipping back into old patterns and encourages you to keep up the new ones.

When you first started learning to drive, you probably felt overwhelmed and awkward and went all over the road at first. Learning to steer your conversations will at first feel much the same. Don't get discouraged. With practice, you will get better.

And if, in spite of your best efforts, your conversations get too explosive, if you need help figuring out exactly what it is that is bothering you, or if you feel overwhelmed by the number of problems you're worried about, consider seeking professional help. A couples or individual counselor can provide a safe environment for sorting out problems and discussing difficult topics, and can coach you on specific things to try at home. Your mental health association, your physician, the yellow pages, and online searches can lead you to qualified professionals in your area.

Keep in mind that you really can't make a mistake. If a conversation goes off course, circle back and try it again. Your goal is not to do it right but to do it differently—to plow new emotional ground, to speak as honestly as you can, to be open to compromise. With patience and persistence and pats on your own back, you'll be able to put your relationship problems to rest.

Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W.

Bob Taibbi, L.C.S.W., has 49 years of clinical experience. He is the author of 13 books and over 300 articles and provides training nationally and internationally.

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Marriage Counseling Toolkit: 30 Couples Therapy Worksheets

marriage counseling

Indeed, according to the American Psychological Association (2020), between 40 and 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce.

Nevertheless, there are many approaches, often relatively straightforward, that have been shown to improve relationships. Research has identified that even increasing the number of positive interactions over negative ones can improve marriage stability (Budiharto, Meliana, & Rumondor, 2017).

Whether facilitated through one-to-one therapy, books, or mobile apps, the marriage counseling tools and approaches discussed in this article can strengthen marriage’s emotional bonds and improve overall relationship satisfaction.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients build healthy, life-enriching relationships.

This Article Contains:

20 helpful questions for your sessions, 4 couples therapy worksheets for your clients, 3 activities and exercises, assessment methods and questionnaires, extra marriage counseling tips, a look at useful apps, our useful resources, a take-home message.

In Gottman and Silver’s excellent book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (1999), John Gottman describes how, after observing a couple’s interaction for only 15 minutes, he can predict the likelihood that they will remain together.

And, surprisingly, he is almost always right. When researchers tested his predictions, he was 91% accurate.

So, based on decades of research and interviewing thousands of couples, what did he conclude was the secret behind a happy marriage?

“ Happily married couples aren’t smarter, richer or more psychologically astute than others ,” he says. It is simpler than that. In successful marriages , partners are more positive than negative about one another. And this emotional intelligence can be seen, even in relatively short interactions. After all, a positive attitude radiates through all areas of the relationship: play, romance, learning, and adventure.

With that in mind, marriage counseling provides a vital opportunity to observe couples’ interactions, assess where conflict arises, and agree on the steps required to meet both partners’ needs.

Key questions

The couple should put together a list of questions they have for each other to make the best use of time in each marriage counseling session.

The following questions can be shared during couples therapy, but they should be encouraged to come up with a personalized list in advance of the session:

  • What are the biggest problems in our marriage?
  • Do we want to stay together?
  • Is this a temporary phase (or is it something more permanent)?
  • When did these problems start?
  • Do you believe we can save our marriage?
  • Do you love me, and if so, in what way?
  • What do you love most about me?
  • Do you trust me?
  • Is there anything you don’t trust about me?
  • Are you satisfied with our degree of intimacy?
  • Are you seeing anyone else? Do you want to?
  • Do you feel you can talk to me about anything?
  • Is there anything from our past that still bothers you?
  • Why do you want this to work out?
  • What do you expect from our counseling sessions?
  • Do you see a future?
  • What can I do to make our marriage better?
  • Where do you see our marriage in one/five/ten years?
  • Do you know how much I love/respect/admire you?
  • Are you/we willing to make the changes needed?

Asking questions can help uncover important underlying issues and benefit from the relationship therapy environment’s safety  to help the couple discuss, move forward, and overcome their difficulties.

marriage counseling toolkit

Emotionally intelligent marriages are more likely to succeed. But what do they look like?

While Gottman’s research identified that happy marriages were rarely a perfect union, they all shared several crucial factors.

A happy marriage builds upon (Gottman & Silver, 1999):

  • Friendship rather than fighting Deep friendship is at the heart of the marriage.
  • Sound relationship High levels of trust and total commitment maintain the relationship.
  • Capacity to repair A healthy companionship supports repair following disagreements and conflict.
  • Marriage purpose A partnership has a purpose, where each supports the other’s hopes and dreams.

On the other hand, when a quarrelsome couple in a less emotionally intelligent marriage is arguing over who should take the trash out, it most likely signifies deeper issues.

According to Gottman, “ most marital arguments cannot be resolved. ” After all, how can you change another’s fundamental values or personality? Still, learning to understand what underpins disagreements and how to live with them can  lead to a happier marriage with shared meaning and a sense of purpose.

So how do we do this?

Working together – completing questionnaires, reading books, or attending counseling sessions – can strengthen marriages, overcome difficulties, and reduce negative attitudes (Gottman & Silver, 1999; Babcock, Gottman, Ryan, & Gottman, 2013).

And yet, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to couples therapy, so try out the following worksheets with your clients and see what works well. Their success may vary depending on personalities and the state of the marriage.

Seeing the good in a partner

When things are difficult in a relationship and resentments build up, it is easy to forget the qualities we first saw in a partner.

Share the Valuing My Partner Worksheet to remind the client what first attracted them to their partner.

Getting to know your partner

Learning more about your partner early in a relationship (or as part of a building exercise in a long-term relationship) can be fun and rewarding:

  • The About Your Partner Worksheet can either be completed during a conversation between partners or independently and used in a subsequent counseling session.
  • The Relationship Qualities Worksheet captures what each partner enjoys, what they would like to do in the future, and their longer term goals. Use the questions during couples’ therapy to build a bank of positive feelings and a list of activities to revisit as a couple.

Changing the sentence’s subject

The overuse of “you” during an argument or sensitive conversation can lead to escalation or withdrawal by the other person.

The Turning “You” into “I” spreadsheet helps each partner practice changing the subject of statements from “You” to “I” to avoid blame and facilitate a more reasoned discussion.

Once practiced, the couple can use such statements in the future when discussing sensitive issues with a partner.

10 Habits couples therapists say always end a marriage – Check Facts 360

To provide optimal assistance to your clients, guide them through the following activities and exerices.

Characteristics of successful clients

Marriage counselor Marina Williams has spent countless hours with couples in couple’s therapy seeking help for their marriages. Based on her experience, she provides each with a list of characteristics she has identified in her most successful clients.

Share the following list (modified from Williams, 2012) with your clients. Ask them to review each point and consider whether they can commit to the task:

  • Make your appointments a priority. The most successful clients attend every appointment.
  • Be willing to take risks and try new things. You are going to learn new skills, some of which may seem unfamiliar at first. Commit to trying them out.
  • Prepare for each session. This is a vital opportunity for your marriage; take it. Come prepared with a list of what you want to discuss and any changes since the last session.
  • Provide direct and honest feedback. Be open and honest about what is and is not working.

History and philosophy of your relationship

Couples sometimes need to reconnect with why they are fond of each other; looking back at their shared history can help.

Ask the couple to complete the  Relationship History and Philosophy Questionnaire . Use it to remind the couple why they first got together and how they view marriage (Gottman & Silver, 1999).

Coping with your partner’s pain

Gottman’s extensive work with couples led him to an important conclusion. Happy couples live by the maxim “ When you are in pain, the world stops, and I listen .”

The  10 Tips for Coping With Your Partner’s Upset (modified from Gottman & Silver, 1999) can help partners be there and yet maintain their mental wellbeing, whether the negativity is directed at them or someone else.

Couples compatibility

Couple compatibility and areas of conflict

The Gottman Relationship Checkup questionnaire provides valuable insight into couple compatibility and areas of conflict that require attention.

It compares partners’ scores on several different elements of their relationship, including romance, emotional connection, commitment, values, and goals.

Once both partners have taken the questionnaire (usually it takes about two hours to complete), the therapist reviews the results before offering actionable recommendations.

Assessing marital conflict

Marriage requires balance and understanding between partners; when lost, conflicts arise and needs are forgotten.

As Gottman explains, each person in a marriage brings their own quirks, personalities, opinions, and values. It is, therefore, no surprise that conflicts arise. However, once recognized, it is possible to focus on and adjust coping strategies and regain marital balance.

Most couples are subsequently satisfied with their marriages and are no longer overwhelmed by points of contention (Gottman & Silver, 1999).

The following questionnaires drill down and capture the concerns and issues of each partner for discussion within counseling:

  • The Marital Conflicts Questionnaire identifies conflict points and their triggers before exploring potential resolutions and how each partner is left feeling.
  • The Resolving Marital Conflicts Questionnaire goes deeper, recognizing successful and unsuccessful coping strategies. Use it during couplea therapy to promote discussion regarding the best approach to resolving conflict  in the future.

For example, allow time to think before responding and reduce statements that blame and criticize.

Think of your relationship as the infrastructure of a house. There are certain foundational pillars that support your home. In the case of relationships, these are trust, commitment, and friendship. Without these pillars, the house (i.e., your relationship) can collapse (Gottman, 1999).

To visualize this, The Sound Relationship House Theory was developed. This theory distinguishes nine elements of a healthy and nurturing relationship, two of which represent the walls of the house, and seven of them are different levels of the house. These nine elements are:

  • You believe your partner has your best interests at heart and that they value you as much as themselves.
  • You believe your relationship is a lifelong journey, for better or for worse.
  • You are interested in what goes on in your partner’s life, and you know about their current worries, stresses, joys, and dreams.
  • You are generally fond of each other and accept and celebrate your differences. You enjoy each other’s interests and points of view.
  • You make an effort to turn towards your partner when they try to connect with you.
  • Your relationship has a generally positive feeling/vibe. Problems are approached with a sense of positivity and friendliness.
  • You and your partner deal with arguments gently, maintaining respect for one another, and use humor at times to keep things light.
  • You and your partner support each other’s life goals and dreams.
  • Your relationship is a blend of both your values, culture, and beliefs. You are on the same page and navigate life with a sense of unity.

Using these, examine the soundness and stability of your relationship. Ask yourself: Is the foundation of trust and commitment strong enough to hold up the rest of the house levels in your relationship?

problem solving strategies for married couples

Need more? Have a look at the following valuable tips.

The important first session

While marriage counseling is important to you as a professional, it may also be the difference between building a happy marriage or losing your clients’ relationship.

The first session is, therefore, likely to be difficult for a couple. They will be nervous and uncertain about how marriage counseling will affect them.

The following four steps can be built upon or modified as required but offer a useful starting point for your initial meeting with clients (modified from Williams, 2012):

  • Form a connection with the clients. A warm smile and initial small talk can help subsequent engagement in the session. Subtle mimicking of the clients’ body language (so long as it is not inappropriate or aggressive) can make them feel a sense of rapport and similarity.
  • Gather information. Ask each partner what has brought them to counseling, their professions, medical history, and backgrounds. Inquire about the history of their relationship difficulties, specific behaviors, and feelings involved.
  • Educate the clients about the process of marriage counseling. Explain that each session is structured with assignments given out weekly. Allay fears by confirming that you will not be taking sides or judging. It is not about who is right or wrong, but instead is about forgiveness and growing as a couple.
  • Offer hope  by expressing confidence that the marriage can be saved. Do not provide guarantees; there are many factors involved, most of which are outside your control. If the couple leaves the first session feeling that things are likely to get better, they will begin to fix what is broken.

Avoid becoming overwhelmed

Whether discussing conflict within the relationship (or outside), it can be enormously beneficial to reach a state of calm. However, using phrases such as “ calm down ” will have the opposite effect and should be avoided.

Instead, it can be useful to discuss the feelings openly regarding being ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘flooded’:

  • What makes us feel overwhelmed? When does it happen?
  • Can we change how we bring up issues?
  • Do we store up conflict, rather than discuss it?
  • What can I do to soothe you?
  • What can you do to comfort me?
  • Can we develop signals to let each other know when we are feeling flooded?
  • Can we agree on an action when flooding happens? For example, take a break.

There are many relationship apps available. They include questionnaires, daily challenges, and even provide the opportunity to connect with an online counselor.

We have included four of the best options below. Try them out with your clients and find one that motivates them in a fun way to grow in their relationship:

1. Love Nudge

Love Nudge App

The app is based on the New York Times bestseller The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary Chapman. (Available on Amazon .)

Find it in the Apple App Store or Google Play store .

2. Lasting: Marriage Health

Lasting Marriage Health App

Find it in the Apple App Store .

3. ReGain – Couples Therapy and Counseling

Regain

The ReGain app enables couples to get on-demand help from relationship counselors. Your client can talk with the counselor on their own or invite their partner through the app.

We have many tools and exercises available to help clients grow as an emotionally intelligent couple.

As well as being enjoyable and entertaining, they offer deep insight into both the relationship and the individuals involved, leading to the formation of stronger relationship bonds and a more resilient and happy marriage.

Try out the following with clients:

  • A valuable skill in any relationship, is being able to manage anger. Use the Anger Exit and Re-Entry Routines worksheet to help couples move from conflict to constructive communication.
  • How to Improve Communication in Relationships – 7 Essential Skills is an excellent resource for couples therapy to improve their communication.

In any relationship, healthy communication is a cornerstone of success. To work on improving communication, have a look at these recommended articles:

  • Your Complete Nonviolent Communication Guide
  • What Is Assertive Communication?
  • 49 Communication Activities, Exercises, and Games

Not only are married people more likely to have higher life satisfaction, but they also have lower levels of stress and an increased life expectancy.

However, as with all areas of life, it is easy to become overwhelmed by stress and conflict and lose the ability to see the positives.

And yet, this is where marriage counseling can be of most help. Indeed, there is a wealth of tools and approaches available to strengthen marriage bonds through increased emotional intelligence, communication , coping, and conflict resolution.

However, the challenge as Gottman sees it – based on his wealth of experience – is for therapists to get deep into the heart of what makes a relationship lasting and happy (Gottman & Silver, 1999). While it is crucial to keep communication lines open and improve problem-solving skills in marriage, emotional intelligence must also be fostered.

Use the tools provided with clients to increase the positive interactions, grow closer as a new couple, and recover some of the misplaced love, affection, kindness, and empathy in a longer lasting marriage.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Relationships Exercises for free .

  • American Psychological Association. (2020). Marriage & divorce. Retrieved September 28, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce.
  • Babcock, J. C., Gottman, J. M., Ryan, K. D., & Gottman, J. S. (2013). A component analysis of a brief psycho-educational couples’ workshop: One-year follow-up results. Journal of Family Therapy, 35(3) , 252–280.
  • Boyce, C. J., Wood, A. M., & Ferguson, E. (2016). For better or for worse: The moderating effects of personality on the marriage–life satisfaction link. Personality and Individual Differences, 97 , 61–66.
  • Budiharto, W., Meliana, M., & Rumondor, P. C. (2017). Counselove: Marital counseling Android-based application to promote marital satisfaction. International Journal of Electrical and Computer Engineering , 7(1) , 542.
  • Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work . London: Seven Dials an imprint of Orion Publishing Group.
  • Gottman, J. M. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy . W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Williams, M (2012). Couples counseling – A step by step guide for therapists . Viale Publishing.

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Robin Wilson

The passage provides a balanced view of marriage, highlighting both its advantages and challenges. It also offers practical solutions to improve relationships, such as increasing positive interactions and utilizing counseling tools. The inclusion of free Positive Relationships Exercises as a resource is a helpful addition for those looking to strengthen their relationships.

Janell R. Cline

I think this article is fantastic! As someone who works as a relationship coach, I have been searching for questionnaires and I am delighted to have stumbled upon this article. The information and references provided are excellent!

Luis Daniel Salcedo

It’s amazing all the resources and knowledge that you share in this article. Thank you so much.

Witness Zakaria Ndlovu

Thanks for marriage advices that brings me from negative attitudes in marriage to positive attitude of marriage, thank you so much.

Richard Faison

This article is amazing! I am a relationship coach and have been looking for questionnaires, I’m so glad I came across this article. Great info and references!

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The secret to lasting love? Sometimes it's OK to go to bed angry

Andee Tagle

Andee Tagle

Illustration of two people in a romantic relationship seated across from one another at a fancy restaurant. They both appear to be angry about something and have a little dark angry cloud hovering over their respective heads.

If you love someone, learn how to fight with them.

Counterintuitive though it may seem, that's the advice of world-renowned relationship researchers and clinical psychologists Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman.

"Conflict really has a purpose," says John Gottman, "and the purpose is mutual understanding."

In the 40 years they've dedicated to the study and practice of fostering healthy, long-lasting relationships, the Gottmans have found that the happiest and most successful couples don't avoid conflict, fear or anger – they just know how to fight fairly and productively.

The Gottmans' new book, published in January, Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection , is a guide to doing just that. It aims to teach couples "how to have conflicts that don't push them apart but instead produce connection and compassion for one another," says Julie Schwartz Gottman.

Pulling from decades of relationship research and thousands of hours of interviews and therapy sessions with couples, the Gottmans identify some of the most common fights — and offer research-backed solutions for coming out the other side stronger.

1. 'The Flood'

Illustration of a couple, one partner stands in a giant glass of water, barely able to keep their head above water, while the other partner hovers over the top of the glass, pointing at them saying "blah, blah, blah." Then, the partner in the glass says, "Enough, I need a break." The other partner says, "oh, sure." The person in the glass stands up and says "I'm going for a walk. Be back in 30."

What it is: According to the Gottmans, feeling "flooded" is the state of being psychologically and physically overwhelmed during a conflict.

"When you feel deeply attacked and there's no way out, people will move into flight or fight" mode, in which stress hormones course through the body, says Julie Schwartz Gottman. As a result, "they cannot think straight. They cannot hear well. It's a terrible state to be in."

What this conflict looks like in real life: Your friend says something insensitive to your girlfriend over dinner. "You never back me up!" she complains on the way home. "You're supposed to be on my side!"

You try to defend yourself, but she won't let you off the hook. Your heart rate rises. Your palms go sweaty. You turn away and go silent, refusing to respond to anything she has to say.

How to handle this type of conflict: Put your fight on pause, say the Gottmans.

This idea may seem strange for couples who follow the adage "never go to sleep angry." But the Gottmans say if one or both partners are "flooded," taking a break is the best way to keep a bad argument from getting worse.

So the next time you feel your jaw clench or your stomach drop during a spat, stop the discussion and ask your partner to take a break. A pause can be as short as 20 minutes or as long as 24 hours – aim for enough time that you'll both have cooled down, says Julie Schwartz Gottman.

Once you agree on a timeframe, get out of each other's space and – here's the hardest part – don't think about the fight, John Gottman says.

Instead of feeling like a victim, dwelling on what your partner said or planning out your argument, Julie Schwartz Gottman says it's important to spend this time away from your partner doing something self-soothing. Read a book, listen to a podcast, go for a run – do anything that will give your body "a chance to metabolize all the stress hormones" and allow you to come back to the conflict with a calm body and a clear mind, she says.

2. 'The Standoff'

What it is: A "standoff" is a disagreement in which both sides feel they have to "win" the argument, says John Gottman. It's a common problem. In a 2020 study of over 40,000 couples beginning couples therapy, the Gottmans found that 84 percent of the heterosexual couples they interviewed said they were struggling with an inability to compromise.

What it looks like in real life: You and your partner have reached an impasse about where to send your son to school. You feel strongly about the local public school down the street. But your partner wants him to attend private school like he did.

How to handle this type of conflict: To get out of gridlock and find some common ground, the Gottmans suggest doing an exercise they created for couples in therapy who can't find a compromise. They call it the "Bagel Method" – named because of its shape. It's designed to help people in relationships understand the core of their desires in a disagreement and find the validity and beauty in their partner's point of view.

To do the "Bagel Method" exercise, each partner draws two concentric ovals on a piece of paper. In the inside oval, write down what you absolutely cannot compromise on regarding the issue. Write down what you can compromise on in the outside oval.

Two partners involved in a romantic relationship stand on either side of a larger-than-life, hovering bagel, contemplating its meaning. Writing on the bagel says "things you are flexible on." Writing in the middle of the bagel says, "non-negotiable things."

So, the inside oval for you might say: "my son will have a quality education," "he will stay connected to the local community" and "we're supporting public education." Your outside oval might say: "maybe we can move him to private school during high school," "he can get involved in the local community in other ways" and "we can ask him when he's old enough to weigh in on the decision."

Then, compare and contrast your "bagel" with your partner. Ask each other why the things in the inner circle are so important to you. Discuss where your flexible areas overlap and workshop some possible compromises. Here, that might look like sending your son to private school but enrolling him in local after-school soccer, then assessing how things are going after a year.

The Gottmans say after doing this exercise, couples are often surprised by how much flexibility they have and how much compassion this creates between them.

"It's so important to understand that your partner is not your clone. They are a different human being with a different internal world," says Julie Schwartz Gottman. So, conflict is an understandable and healthy part of being in a relationship, say the Gottmans. When it happens, just remember it's possible to "communicate with love and affection, even when you disagree."

3. 'The Bomb Drop' (The Harsh Startup)

Illustration of a couple sitting across from one another at a fancy restaurant. The partner on the left says "mmm, good soup," not realizing that their partner is about to launch into a fight. In the next panel, the partner on the right yells, "You are so selfish! You always think of only yourself, and I don't feel heard!" While the partner on the left stares on in shock.

What it is: This fight is characterized by a harsh startup, attacking your partner with anger and criticism, often out of the blue and without context for the other person, says John Gottman – hence the name.

What this conflict looks like in real life: Let's say you and your partner are trying to save up, but you get the credit card bill and find they've overspent again. As soon as your husband walks through the door you yell, "I can't believe how irresponsible you are!"

How to handle this type of conflict: Starting a conflict with negativity like this often portends poor outcomes, say the Gottmans. In fact, their research shows that the first three minutes of a fight determines not only the way a conversation will go but also the future of a relationship. The 1999 study looked at the behavior of 124 newlywed couples and found that when couples began a fight with negative emotions like criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling, they were very likely to break up down the road.

So if you and your partner want to go the distance, the Gottmans suggest starting your disagreements with a gentler approach. "What that means is you point your finger not at your partner, but at yourself," says John Gottman.

In order to do that, try using the Gottman formula, developed in response to that 1999 study, for soft start-ups: Say: "I feel (emotion) about (situation/problem) and I need (a positive and specific action your partner can take to help improve the situation)."

A couple sits across from one another at a fancy restaurant. Rather than launching into a fight, the partner on the right uses a formula to share her needs, stating "I feel" "situation" "positive need."

So, "You're so irresponsible with money!" transforms into: "I feel really stressed (the emotion) about our budget this month – it looks like we're going to be short again (the situation). Can we sit down together and plan how to cut some of our expenses (the positive need)?"

Hurling blanket accusations or criticisms gives your partner no choice but to go on the defensive. But this approach creates space for your partner to understand the issue and show up for you, says Julie Schwartz Gottman.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Audrey Nguyen and Clare Marie Schneider. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. The visual editor is Beck Harlan. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at [email protected].

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Problem-solving for Couples [PDF]

It’s not always easy to work with your spouse or partner when problems arise. Sometimes it might even seem like struggling to work together is the problem. But if you both clearly identify your issues, brainstorm solutions, and commit to taking action together, you can learn to navigate challenges as a team. Use the worksheet below to help get things moving in the right direction.

Published on : October 1, 2018

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D’Zurilla, T. J., & Nezu, A. M. (2010). Problem-solving therapy. In K. S. Dobson (Ed.) Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies, 3rd edition, (pp. 197-225). New York, NY: Guilford Press

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Baucom, D. H., Epstein, N. B., Kirby, J. S., & LaTaillade, J. J. (2015) Cognitive-behavioral couple therapy. In A. S. Gurman, J. L. Lebow, & Snyder, D. K. (Eds.) Clinical Handbook of Couple Therapy, 5th Edition, (pp. 23-60). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Grant, A. M., & O'Connor, S. A. (2010). The differential effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions: A pilot study with implications for practice. Industrial and commercial training, 42(2), 102-111.

Nezu, A. M., Nezu, C. M., & D'Zurilla, T. (2012). Problem-solving therapy: A treatment manual. Springer Publishing Company.

White, M. (2007). Maps of narrative practice. New York:NY, WW Norton & Company.

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