Illustration of emotional couple wondering what is the average length of marriage counseling?

Marriage Counseling Questions:

How Long Does Marriage Counseling Take?

The Average Length of Marriage Counseling


“How many marriage counseling sessions will we have with you?” 

Meg and Kate stared at me expectantly. Nearing the end of our first free consultation session, we had already discussed my background, their hopes and goals, my approach to helping them improve their relationship, and the general logistics of marriage counseling

I looked down at the notes I’d scribbled down about their goals as they’d been talking:

All of the variables that could impact the trajectory of our work together flashed through my mind – approximately 27 variables, by my count – as I thought of how to answer the question: “How long will marriage counseling take?” 

In the spirit of radical honesty, I took a deep breath and spoke the truth with zero sugar-coating.

“I don’t know yet. We’ve only just met. I won’t know how long couples therapy is going to take until I have a better understanding of both of you and what is going on inside each of you and in your relationship that is making it feel hard right now.”

Still staring, neither Meg nor Kate uttered a word. That was not the answer they wanted. They wanted me to state with confidence,

“TWELVE. We will have twelve online marriage counseling sessions, and will discuss [xyz] specific things, and [xyz] is exactly what will happen. Then, twelve weeks from now, on September 27th, I will provide you with a certificate of ‘relationship actualization’ and your growth work will be over.” 

I exaggerate, but you get the point. People want concrete answers for questions that simply don’t have them. It’s just not how a genuinely meaningful growth process works. That’s why I’m always a little suspicious of counselors or coaches that offer set “packages” or programs. 

While I can see how there would be some comfort in the idea that there are predefined steps to growth that work for everyone, I’m afraid that it’s a false sense of control. All couples are unique. Cookie-cutter approaches are often not that meaningful. In my experience, a truly transformational growth process is experiential, organic, and different for everyone — including how long it takes to achieve.

How Long Does Couples Therapy *Actually* Take? 


While I am not able to make sweeping statements about exactly how long it is going to take for a specific couple to move through a meaningful growth process, I do believe that they (and you) deserve to have some idea of how long marriage counseling will take and of what to expect from marriage counseling. I also believe that all of my clients are entitled to have their questions about marriage counseling and relationship coaching answered thoughtfully, so they can be as informed and empowered as possible. Anyone considering marriage counseling deserves the same. 

With all that in mind, I took some extra time that day with Meg and Kate to talk through how marriage counseling works and what might potentially be involved so that they could make informed decisions about whether or not they wanted to work with me. 

I’ll share with you what I shared with Meg and Kate so you understand all the variables that impact how long marriage counseling or couples therapy should take – so you can make informed decisions, too.

How Long Does Marriage Counseling Usually Last?


I want to be clear: I made sure to assure Meg and Kate that their question was a valid and appropriate one, even though it’s challenging to answer definitively. Many people wonder how long marriage counseling takes to work and how long it’s going to last. These are important things for people to understand so they can budget their time and their money accordingly. 

I also let them know that — no matter what they’re dealing with — the fastest route to getting results in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching is to make sure that you find a good marriage counselor who is practicing evidence-based couples therapy and relationship coaching.

Using an evidence-based approach helps you know if you’re hitting milestones and making progress towards your relationship goals.

With an effective therapist, coach, or counselor who uses evidence-based approaches, you can be confident that you are moving forward as quickly as you can, despite any other confounding variables. Choosing the right professional with the right approach ensures a genuinely meaningful and transformational relationship growth experience.

Solution-Focused Couples Therapy and Relationship Coaching

Effective marriage counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching is strategic and focused on helping couples achieve relationship goals.

Without a plan and goals in mind, marriage counseling sessions can turn into opportunities to rehash conflict and talk endlessly about “the problem” without effectively moving towards a solution.

Unfortunately, some couples spend years in therapy without making significant progress as a result of a simple error in choice. If you choose to undergo marriage counseling with a therapist who has no training or experience in evidence-based marriage counseling models, you could stay stuck, too.

When to Stop Marriage Counseling

If you feel like your sessions aren’t going anywhere, you may be working with an ineffective therapist. Wishy-washy, unfocused “marriage counseling” therapists who just “hold the space” and let you “process” seldom produce meaningful results. 

While it is absolutely necessary to talk about problems and understand each other’s perspectives, good couples therapy — like good relationship coaching — must eventually lead to action. 

Couples involved with the wrong marriage counselor can stay in the holding pattern of problem-focused rehash for a long, long time without making real changes. (More about couples therapy vs. relationship coaching here.)

If you’re having that unfocused, “What are we doing here?” experience in couples counseling, your first step is to communicate your feelings to your couples therapist. Ask them what their plan is for helping you move forward. If you don’t get a coherent answer that makes sense to you, it might be time to stop marriage counseling with them and get a second opinion.

I explained all of this to Meg and Kate – much more succinctly – and the couple shared a moment of recognition. They had tried couples therapy before and even after many months, they still felt stuck. Their sessions had not felt productive. 

As Meg and Kate told me more about their past experience in couples therapy, they shared something really significant: Their “couples therapist” had actually been Meg’s individual therapist. They started seeing her together. For me, it was a sure sign that the therapist in question was not qualified to provide couples therapy. A professional, ethical, licensed marriage and family therapist would never provide both individual and couples therapy for the same people. Doing so is an undeniable conflict of interest.

Like many couples sincerely seeking help for their relationship, Meg and Kate did not know how to find a good marriage counselor. They didn’t know that most therapists working with couples do not have specialized training in couples therapy and attempt to use individual therapy interventions that don’t work with couples. They had no idea that their experience in “couples therapy” was not actually couples therapy. 

Meg and Kate spent months in sessions that were unproductive; unsurprisingly, they felt stuck. Fed up with wasting their time and money, they wanted results. Understandably and rightfully, they wanted to know how working with me was going to be different. 

First, I provided Meg and Kate with more information about how to find a marriage counselor. Then, we turned back to talking about how working with an effective couples therapist would impact the average length of marriage counseling.

If you are interested in connecting with one of the genuinely effective couples counselors at Growing Self, schedule your first free consultation meeting.

Growing Self Counseling and Coaching

Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation

If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.

How to Find an Effective Marriage Counselor

I assured Meg and Kate I would do everything in my power to ensure that their marriage counseling would be as fast and effective as it can be. After all, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist (and a board-certified coach!) who specializes in couples therapy. Perhaps most importantly, I use evidence-based models of marriage counseling.

It takes focused energy to change systems.

A solid, research-informed model creates a roadmap for therapists to guide you forward through a process laser-focused on real growth and change. While the content of conversations will be different for every couple, using an evidence-based approach helps you know if you’re hitting milestones and making progress towards your relationship goals.

Relationship growth work using couples therapy, marriage counseling, and/or relationship coaching is always a process, but if you’re wondering how marriage counseling works the first thing to know is that it should be an organized process that has distinct stages.

Because I have a coaching orientation, I also ensure that — when appropriate — my clients and I shift from “talking” to “doing.” My commitment to my clients guides my focus: helping create real-life changes, not just rehashing issues.

To help them manage clients’ expectations of how long couples therapy takes, I share information about the arc of growth. I let them know that genuine growth is never an “event;” it is a process. For it to be meaningful and truly transformational, it will always take time. (None of us can just flip a switch and change the way we think, feel, and behave). 

However, an evidence-based model will help you and your marriage counselor understand where you are in the process, why you’re in that stage, what the work of that stage is, and what you need to do to move forward to the next stage. 

If, at any point, you get stuck in that work, the evidence-based model will also help your therapist identify what the “sticking points” are, and what, specifically, you need to be doing in order to continue making progress.

You’ll know that it’s time to stop marriage counseling because you will have achieved your goals. When things are better, the work is done. 

Continuing to meet with a marriage counselor periodically for a check-in even after the work is done is a great idea, but you’ll know that you’ve been successful when your relationship feels different. You’ll be working through issues productively on your own, and you will have achieved your relationship goals. But even more importantly, your relationship will simply feel easier.

I know that last part might sound vague. For more clarity, check out this story about how successful couples therapy works.

How Many Marriage Counseling Sessions?


All of the marriage counselors at Growing Self (including me) use fairly structured, highly effective models of marriage counseling that are backed by significant research. One model I often use is called Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy. This type of relationship growth process emphasizes rebuilding the couple’s emotional connection before moving into creating behavioral change. Speaking broadly and generally, this model takes an average of 14-18 sessions to produce desired results.

Depending on the needs of the couple we’re working with, we also often utilize other evidence-based marriage counseling models called The Gottman Method and solution-focused relationship coaching strategies to help our clients create real-world change. The Gottman Model is behavioral in nature and focuses on helping couples rebuild the foundation of their relationship, restore their friendship, effectively solve problems, and communicate with each other more effectively. Changing behaviors helps couples feel more connected.

You should at least feel like you are moving in a positive direction after 8-10 sessions.

There is a lot of research on the underpinnings of the Gottman Method but not a ton of specific information about “how many sessions Gottman Marriage Counseling takes.” The Gottman Method is fairly involved; there is a lot to learn and practice. Some research cites the efficacy of a “weekend workshop plus nine follow-up sessions,” and others measure the efficacy of “twenty-one two-hour marriage counseling sessions.”

That said, I will share my honest observations with you, which are backed up by research studies on the efficacy of counseling and therapy in general. If you’re not getting traction (or at least a solid plan for where you are and where you need to go) after 8-10 sessions, you might consider a different practitioner or a different approach. 

It’s also worth noting that if your progress in couples counseling feels stuck or stagnant, it is also possible that you and your partner have mixed agendas for the relationship, and would be better served by discernment counseling rather than couples therapy. If one partner is feeling ambivalent about the relationship, they’re not going to follow through with the things we’re discussing in couples therapy. Feelings of ambivalence or an unspoken lack of commitment to the relationship will sabotage good couples counseling and needs to be flushed out into the open.

Furthermore, if you have been experiencing major distress in your relationship for a long time, it is an unrealistic expectation to believe that therapy will substantially improve your relationship after just eight sessions. Nevertheless, you should at least feel like you are moving in a positive direction after 8-10 sessions.  

I have also personally witnessed some couples get what they need in as little as 4-6 sessions. Generally, these are the couples who wisely and proactively decide that it’s time for couples therapy before things get too bad. In other words, these couples still like each other. Similarly, premarital counseling can be short-term and still productive.

These short-term situations often involve couples needing help with improving communication and ending constant arguing, creating more balance in carrying the weight of a shared life, increasing their emotional intimacy, getting on the same page around parenting, sharing finances equitably, and/or setting common goals. This specific, solution-focused work is often referred to as “relationship coaching.”

Other times, couples face more complicated challenges or there are underlying issues that require longer-term work. Their goals in these situations may involve changing long-standing patterns in the relationship, dealing with mental health issues, or healing trust after an affair.

Sometimes, goals may involve changing patterns that affected the individual partners long before the relationship even began. These situations can take longer to resolve.

How Long Are Marriage Counseling Sessions?

Often, marriage counseling sessions are a “standard therapy hour” – meaning 45 minutes. However, many experienced marriage counselors prefer to have at least 60-minute couples counseling sessions in order to make progress more quickly. In some situations, counselors recommend having sessions with durations of 90 minutes or even longer.

In terms of scheduling, couples working with Growing Self usually start out by attending sessions weekly before halving their frequency to every other week and then dropping off to monthly meetings – as long as they are gaining traction, making positive changes, and putting things discussed in our sessions into practice. 

As mentioned previously, some couples like to schedule periodic “check-ins” or “touch-up” sessions with us even after having great results as an investment in their high-quality marriage.

Growing Self Counseling and Coaching

Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation

If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.

Variables That Impact The Average Length of Marriage Counseling


Every couple is different and even with perfect information, it would probably be impossible to create a formula to determine how long marriage counseling will take for a given couple. That said, I’ve identified numerous variables over the years that reliably affect the length of time needed before desired results can be achieved. In my opinion, and in no particular order, these are the most crucial variables that affect how long marriage counseling takes:

  1. Proactivity: Couples who are proactive in getting involved in relationship therapy, counseling, or coaching – perhaps because they start to notice that their communication is feeling difficult or that they are feeling disconnected – can often move through the process of growth and change fairly quickly. 
  1. Engagement: How engaged is the couple with the process? Couples who are “active learners” – who think about our sessions, do their assignments, and follow through with the things we talk about — heal quicker than more passive couples. It’s important to remember that the marriage counselor is not going to solve the problems in your relationship alone. Just showing up for sessions doesn’t move the needle.

By working with an effective marriage counselor, you will get expert guidance and opportunities to have better experiences with your partner, but your ultimate success in marriage counseling depends on your ability to follow through, do what you say you’re going to do, and be open, communicative, and engaged with the process.

While a good marriage counselor can’t solve relationship problems themselves, they should be able to notice when a couple is failing to make progress and engage in conversations to find out what is sabotaging the process.

Engagement may sound similar to proactivity, but there is an important distinction. Proactive couples are those who seek professional help before their issues have gotten too deep. Couples with strong engagement may not have been proactive, but once they’ve committed to the process of healing, they’re all in. 

  1. Distress: A much more intensive process of rebuilding the relationship is often necessary when partners have:
  1. Mental Health Issues: Mental health issues can severely impact relationships. In cases where mental health issues are present and relevant, the first step of healing the relationship often requires the individual partner(s) to resolve their symptoms and become stable (through individual or family therapy) before the couple can begin to make progress as a whole. 

Of course, “Mental health issues” is a huge umbrella for a number of different specific problems. Some of the more common examples include Depression, Anxiety, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and Substance Abuse – but there are many more, too.

  1. Attachment Styles: One or both partners may have long-standing patterns of disrupted attachment styles that interfere with their ability to have healthy relationships. In these situations, it is often necessary to have longer-term support for the relationship (as well as individual therapy for the partner who is struggling).
  1. Consistency: Being committed to attending sessions consistently and frequently (weekly) will help couples move through the process as quickly as possible. 

Going to marriage counseling sporadically is like going to the gym once every three weeks.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical couple and two scenarios with varying consistency:

  • Scenario A: The couple meets with their marriage counselor once a week, consistently
  • Scenario B: The same couple meets their marriage counselor sporadically – every other week or every third week, for example

It won’t surprise you to read that Scenario A is going to produce vastly
better results than Scenario B. Even with the same number of sessions
(and the same total cost, financially speaking), Scenario A is simply
superior because progress can be made in a steady, consistent
manner. Meanwhile, Scenario B will likely involve stopping and starting
the process often, resulting in a one step forward, one (or two… or
three) steps back situation. 

It takes focused energy to change systems.

Going to marriage counseling sporadically is like going to the gym once
every three weeks; it’s not enough to get results. It’s frustrating for
everyone. If you want to have successful marriage counseling, just do it
and be consistent. Make it a priority. 

Pro tip: Choosing online marriage counseling can make it much easier
to be consistent.

  1. Ambivalence about the relationship: Sometimes there is ambivalence about continuing the relationship from one (or both) partners. Part of them wants to stay in the relationship, but part of them may fantasize about leaving. 

In these cases, both partners need to work to get on the same page before embarking on the repairing-the-relationship part. Truthfully, repairing a relationship requires commitment, effort, and occasional discomfort. If you are not sure that you want to be in the relationship at all, it’s really hard to muster up the level of motivation needed.

Inexperienced or unqualified marriage counselors make the mistake of assuming that if a couple is sitting on their couch that means they want to work on the relationship. This is not always true. Couples often have mixed agendas for the relationship, and if you jump right into “relationship fixing” it will feel mysteriously unproductive – and may even make things worse. 

Marriage counseling can only be successful once ambivalence is directly confronted and resolved through discernment counseling and people are sure they want to put the effort into repairing the relationship. Figuring this out can be a process in itself and is one variable that can add time to the overall process of marriage counseling.

Please note that this list of variables is not meant to be comprehensive. There are many more variables that affect how long marriage counseling takes. This is just a short list of several variables that I’ve found to be particularly important with the couples I’ve worked with.

How Long Should Marriage Counseling Take: It Varies


Now that you know some of the key variables that determine how long marriage counseling takes, you probably understand why I couldn’t give Meg and Kate a certain answer when they asked me how long it would take for me to help them.

At that stage of my time with them – the very beginning! – I didn’t know them well enough or understand the history of what had been happening between them. I didn’t yet know how deep their pain went, if either of them had been unfaithful, if either of them was a trauma survivor, or if either of them had mental health issues. 

Until I knew how those variables affected Meg and Kate’s relationship, I wouldn’t be able to give any “4-6 sessions” or “8-12 weeks” type of answers.

Effective Marriage Counseling Requires a “Relationship Assessment”

If we accept the idea that we need to identify some key variables in order to know how long couples therapy takes for a given couple, the logical next question is: How do we identify those variables?

The best answer we have in marriage counseling is called the “Relationship Assessment. Relationship Assessments allow therapists, counselors, and coaches to get to know couples better; these assessments involve disclosing important relationship issues, relationship goals, your strengths as a couple, and also your growth opportunities. Typically, it takes at least a couple of sessions to complete a Relationship Assessment. 

I explained all of this to Meg and Kate. I told them that I would have a much clearer picture of how to help them achieve their goals and at least a ballpark idea of how long it would take after getting to know them better and conducting a relationship assessment.

Meg and Kate nodded in unison. It made sense to them, too. We scheduled our first official couples therapy session for the next week. As they were about to sign off (remember, this was online marriage counseling), Meg commented about how different this experience felt already compared to their previous counseling efforts.

The Truth About How Long Marriage Counseling Takes


How long does marriage counseling take? Part of it depends on the therapist. Part of it depends on the approach. A big part of it depends on you, your partner, and the effort you’re willing to put into it. At the end of the day, however, marriage counseling is worth it. Couples therapy does work.

Genuinely transformational growth work is never a quick-fix and you might not see results immediately. It is important to manage your expectations about what the process of marriage counseling involves. 

At the same time, you should expect to feel like you are on track towards progress. The process of marriage counseling is not linear; it can have twists and turns. But hang in there: You will never regret investing time and energy into the success of your relationship through productive marriage counseling.

I hope this advice was helpful to you!

Sincerely,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


Meet a Few of Our Marriage Counselors


We have tried working with other marriage counselors before but this feels way more productive. I love it that our marriage counselor gives us worksheets and homework assignments to do between our sessions.
— Marriage Counseling Client

Growing Self Counseling and Coaching

Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation

If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

If you’re considering getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching you probably have questions! Get your marriage counseling questions answered, right here.