Everything You Need to Know About Relationship Counseling

Relationship counseling, also called relationship therapy, includes all forms of counseling or therapy that address the relationship between two or more people with the support of a mental health professional.

Relationship counseling can be for romantic partners, children and their parents, friends, or anyone looking to address relationship issues or strengthen their relationship. Learn more about relationship counseling, types, who needs it, and what to expect.

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What Is Relationship Counseling?

Relationship counseling is any type of counseling or therapy conducted by a mental health professional and at least two or more people seeking support for their relationship. “Relationship counseling” (or “relationship therapy”) is a term for a variety of specific types of counseling.

While there are differences between counseling and therapy, they overlap, and the terms are often used interchangeably.

Counseling vs. Therapy

The differences between counseling and therapy include:

  • Counseling tends to be shorter term and has a set end date.
  • Therapy tends to be longer term and may be ongoing, without a set end date.
  • Counseling is more likely to involve guidance and education for relationship matters.
  • Therapy is more likely to involve treatment of a mental health condition of one or more members of the relationship.

Types of relationship counseling include family counseling, couples counseling, premarital counseling, and marriage counseling.

Family Counseling

Family counseling is a type of relationship counseling that involves support for relationship challenges and topics provided to two or more family members by a mental health professional. Family members may include the whole family, the parents only, the parents and a child, siblings, or any combination of family members.

The type of support provided in family counseling may include:

  • Emotional support
  • Skills training, such as healthy communication, boundary setting, and coping skills
  • Practical guidance and education
  • A safe environment to communicate and work through challenges

Couples Counseling

Couples counseling is a type of counseling that provides guidance, advice, and support for intimate partners. Marriage counseling and premarital counseling are specific types of couples counseling. However, couples do not have to be married or considering marriage to go to couples counseling.

Couples counseling can help intimate partners with:

  • Communication skills
  • Conflict prevention and resolution
  • Future planning and relationship goals
  • Challenges that impact the relationship

Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling is support provided by a mental health professional to a couple considering or planning to get married. It may include guidance and education.

This type of relationship counseling has many benefits, including:

  • Improved communication, conflict management, and coping skills
  • Preparation for life as a married couple
  • Prevention of future conflicts

Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling is guidance, advice, and support for married couples provided by a mental health professional. It is focused on issues that impact the relationship, ranging from differences in personalities to family planning to money management. Counseling providers may meet with both partners together and each partner separately.

Marriage counseling may be helpful for challenges such as:

  • Communication struggles, conflicts, or disagreements
  • Life challenges that impact the relationship
  • Loyalty or trust issues
  • Parenting
  • Physical or mental health conditions that impact the relationship
  • Sexual or intimacy problems

Married couples may also choose to go to counseling to strengthen their bond even without specific problems to address.

Who Needs It?

Relationship counseling can be for anyone facing relationship challenges or wanting support in strengthening a relationship. It can also be used as prevention to learn communication methods and other skills to avoid conflict. For example, people anticipating a challenge or transition such as retirement or children leaving home may benefit from preventive relationship counseling.

Reasons to consider relationship counseling include:

  • Wanting to strengthen a relationship
  • Facing a challenge in a relationship
  • Considering a change in relationship status (marriage, separation, or divorce)
  • Wanting to improve the ability to parent children together

Who May Consider Relationship Counseling?

Relationship counseling isn't just for romantic partners. Other people who may wish to seek relationship counseling include:

  • People who parent children together
  • Parents and their children
  • Whole families
  • Siblings
  • Any combination of two or more family members
  • Two or more friends

How It Works

Relationship counseling is a communication-based method that addresses issues between two or more people to improve their interactions and build more healthy relationship dynamics. This means it involves conversations between the people receiving the counseling and the mental health professional providing the counseling. After talking, the provider can determine what else may be needed, such as education or skills training.

Efficacy

Each person, relationship, and situation is different. The success rate of relationship counseling depends on the specific type of counseling, the people in the relationship, and what is needed. Even so, different techniques and types of counseling have been evaluated for effectiveness.

Here are some statistics of the efficacy of relationship counseling:

  • Premarital counseling has been shown to increase the success rate of marriages by 30% for couples considering or planning marriage.
  • Emotionally focused therapy, also called EFT, is a commonly used method in relationship counseling that has been shown 70%–75% effective.
  • About 90% of people who receive marriage and family therapy find that it improves their emotional health.
  • About 75% of parents who go to counseling for a child notice improved behavior in their child.

What to Expect

What to expect at relationship counseling depends on the people receiving the counseling, the provider, the type of counseling, and what is needed. It is generally short term, with a set number of sessions. For example, emotionally focused therapy is generally eight to 20 sessions. Premarital counseling tends to be shorter, with five to seven sessions.

When Should We Start?

Relationship counseling can be started at any time. Generally, the earlier it is started the better to prevent escalation and to reap benefits sooner.

It can even be used proactively to prevent conflicts. For example, premarital counseling is intended for romantic couples planning to get married so they can learn how to prevent conflict and resolve disagreements quickly and effectively when they do arise.

Online vs. In-Person Therapy

Virtual or online treatment options have become more available and common because of advancements in technology. Online relationship counseling may be more convenient, comfortable, and practical for those who find it challenging to have sessions at an office. However, some may find it less personal or struggle with technology.

The decision between online or in-person sessions is a preference. It depends on the people receiving the counseling and what works best for them.

Finding a Counselor

Relationship counseling providers can be found by asking friends and family members for recommendations, getting referrals from medical providers, and checking with insurance companies for a list of providers covered by your plan.

Some providers may be available virtually, in person, or both. It is also important for the people receiving the counseling to feel comfortable with the provider.

Summary

Relationship counseling is counseling for two or more people who have a relationship together that is conducted by a mental health professional. Some examples include couples counseling, marriage counseling, premarital counseling, and family counseling. It can be used to address issues or challenges that impact the relationship, learn skills such as better communication, or prevent future conflict.

A Word From Verywell

Relationships come with challenges, and no matter how strong and healthy the relationship, conflicts can arise. If you or someone you know is facing relationship challenges or wants to strengthen a relationship, counseling may help. Reach out to a mental health professional such as a counselor, therapist, or psychologist for support.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much is relationship counseling?

    Marriage counseling generally costs $100–$200 per hour but can range from $75 to over $500 per hour. The cost depends on multiple factors, such as the provider and the geographic location.

  • When should you start relationship counseling?

    Marriage counseling can begin at any time, even as a preventive measure before conflicts arise. It should begin at the first sign of conflict, if possible, to avoid escalation and to benefit from the results earlier.

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14 Sources
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