Marriage Counseling QuestionsHow Long Should Marriage Counseling Take?
How Long Does Marriage Counseling Take?
By Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, LMFT, BCC
Many people wonder how long marriage counseling takes to work. Ideally, good marriage counseling should be strategic and always focused on helping a couple achieve their goals for the relationship. Without having a plan, and specific goals in mind, marriage counseling sessions can turn into opportunities to hash through recent problems as opposed to focusing on solutions.
And couples can do that for a long, long time without making real changes. Unfortunately, some couples in marriage counseling with therapists who do not have specific training or experience in evidence based marriage counseling models can literally spend years in therapy… sometimes making little progress.
The solution to this problem is to find a good marriage counselor who uses evidence-based models of marriage counseling. This allows the therapist to guide couples through a process that will lead to real growth and change. While the content of the conversations will be different for every couple, using an evidence-based model allows the marriage counselor to make sure that the couple is hitting the milestones they need to repair their relationship.
The how long marriage counseling takes is largely determined by:
- The model being used by the therapist
- The goals of the couple
- The specific needs of the couple
- Other variables that affect the length of time marriage counseling takes
The Growing Self Marriage Counseling Model: Effective
The marriage counselors of Growing Self follow a highly effective, short-term model called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy that generally requires 8-16 sessions to complete. We often incorporate behavioral techniques from another evidence based marriage counseling model, The Gottman Method, as well as solution focused relationship coaching strategies to help our clients create real-world change. These are all short-term forms of marriage counseling.
The Goals of Marriage Counseling: Results-Oriented
Some couples get what they need in as little as 4-6 sessions. These are often situations in which couples need help with improving communication, or solving day to day problems around responsibilities, parenting, finances, or common goals. This specific, solution focused work is often referred to as “relationship coaching.”
Sometimes, 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, or healing trust after an affair. Sometimes goals may involve changing patterns that were in the partners long before the relationship even began. These situations can take longer to resolve.
However, the average course of successful marriage counseling with us takes about 12-16 sessions.
In terms of timing of the sessions, couples usually start out by attending weekly, then every other week and dropping off to monthly meetings as they get traction, start making positive changes, and focus on putting into practice the things we discuss in our sessions. Sometimes, even after couples are “done” and have successfully made many positive changes in their relationship, they still like to schedule periodic “check ins” our “touch up” sessions with us as part of their investment in having a high quality marriage.
How Long Should Marriage Counseling Take: Can Vary
Sometimes, over the course of marriage counseling, it is discovered that part of the problem affecting the relationship is that one or both partners may be struggling with more serious issues. For example, Depression, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or Substance Abuse can have a major impact on the functioning of the couple. Furthermore, one or both partners may have very long-standing patterns of disrupted attachment that interfere with their ability to have good 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).
Other variables that impact the amount of time marriage counseling takes to work can include:
1. Learning style: A big variable is how engaged a couple is with the process. Couples who are “active learners” — thinking about our sessions, doing their assignments, following through with the things we talk about — are going to heal quicker than more passive couples. Its important to remember that the marriage counselor is not going to solve the problems in your relationship. Just showing up for sessions is not going to move the needle.
You will get expert guidance, and opportunities to have better experiences with your partner from your marriage counselor, but your 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.
2.Commitment to the process: Being committed to attending sessions frequently (weekly) will help couples move through the process much more quickly. A marriage counselor can meet weekly with a couple for 8-10 sessions, move through the process efficiently, and are basically done in two months. Or, we can see a couple sporadically– every other week, or every three weeks, and start and stop the process so many times that it takes the better part of a year to repair their relationship. It’s like going to the gym once every three weeks. It’s frustrating for everyone, and generally much less effective. If you want to have successful marriage counseling, just do it, and be consistent. Make it a priority.
3. Ambivalence about the relationship: Sometimes one (or both) people in a relationship is ambivalent about continuing in the marriage. Part of them wants to stay in the relationship, but part of them may be fantasizing about leaving. In these cases, time must be spent making up their minds about the relationship before embarking on the repairing-the-relationship part. Because, 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 motivation to try that hard.
Only once ambivalence is resolved and people are sure they want to put the effort into repairing the relationship, can marriage counseling be successful. Figuring this out can be a process in itself, and is one thing that can add time to the over all process of marriage counseling.
How long does marriage counseling take? Part of it depends on the therapist. Part of it depends on you. But at the end of the day, successful marriage is worth the effort you put in. Marriage counseling is not a quick-fix, and you might not feel better immediately. But the process is healing and helpful, and it works.
The Love, Happiness
& Success Podcast
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is trained as a Psychologist, a Marriage and Family Therapist, and is a Board Certified Life Coach. She is the Founder of Growing Self Counseling and Life Coaching in Denver, Colorado.
Dr. Bobby is the host of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, and the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love.”
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M. A., LMFT
Meagan Terry is a relationship specialist. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over nine years of experience in helping couples reconnect, and enjoy each other again. In addition to working one-on-one with couples, she teaches our Lifetime of Love premarital and relationship class.
Teresa Thomas, M.A.
Marriage Counselor, Couples Therapist, Premarital Counselor
Teresa is positive, solution-focused marriage counselor and family therapist with years of experience in helping couples get to the root of their issues, so that they can improve their communication and build a strong foundation for their family.
Dr. Georgiana Spradling, MFT
Marriage Counselor, Couples Therapist, Relationship Coach, Premarital Counselor
Dr. Georgiana is a multilingual Marriage and Family Therapist, Emotional Intelligence Coach and Life Coach with over twenty years of experience in helping couples learn how to communicate and negotiate more fulfilling relationships with each other. Whether your preferred language is English, Spanish or French, her strategic, results-oriented approach to relationship coaching, and couples therapy will move you forward.
M. A., LMFT
Jessica is a dynamic marriage and family therapist with over 8 years of experience in helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.
Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT
Marriage Counselor, Premarital Counselor, Relationship Coach, Dating Coach, Life Coach, Therapist
Brenda Fahn specializes in helping couples create healthy, happy relationships. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, with a positive, direct style and over fifteen years of experience. She teaches our "Lifetime of Love" premarital / relationship class.
Anastacia Sams, M.A., N.C.C., LMFT-C
Marriage Counselor, Family Therapist, Life Coach, Therapist
Anastacia has gentle, yet powerful way of helping couples and families flourish. She uses Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy to help restore your bond. Her authentic, effective approach can help you both hear each other's "noble intentions" and restore your love, trust and respect.
Stephanie Manning, M.A., LMFTC
Marriage Counselor, Premarital Counselor, Parenting Coach, Relationship Coach, Life Coach, Therapist
Stephanie Manning has years of experience in helping couples communicate more effectively, find new solutions to old problems, repair their strong bond, rebuild trust after affairs, successfully blend families, and parent joyfully together.
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