Couples therapy

Written by Emily Whitton
Emily Whitton
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Nora Allali-Carling
Last updated 15th July 2024 | Next update due 15th July 2027

A romantic relationship is one of the closest forms of relationship that we have. Choosing a partner and staying together through life's ups and downs is rarely simple - if you choose to then get married, buy a home, or start a family together, this only adds to the complexity.

Here, we take a look at what relationship or 'couples therapy' is, how it can help, and what to look for in a counsellor or therapist.


What is couples therapy?

Couples therapy (also known as 'couples counselling', 'relationship counselling' or 'marriage counselling') is an effective form of talking therapy designed to resolve issues within an intimate relationship. Very few relationships exist conflict-free - whether it’s the odd disagreement, repeatedly arguing or you’ve lost the fun element in your relationship - it’s natural to start to question its longevity. When this begins to falter, our health and happiness can also suffer.

For many of us, our first instinct is to try and work through the problems alone but it can be incredibly helpful to seek outside support, whether that be through friends and family or even a professional. In contrast to counselling for relationship problems, which can be undertaken solely through individual sessions, couples counselling is a term applied to talking therapy for two people within a relationship.

Holistic psychotherapist Priya Tourkow specialises in couples counselling and psychosexual therapy. In this video, she explains more about couples counselling; the benefits of the approach and what to expect from sessions.

While the majority of the work you do will take place within the counselling room itself, it’s common that the counsellor will ask you to complete ‘homework’ in between sessions. This may be in the form of specific tasks or to discuss a topic together at home.

While couples therapy is ideally suited to couples attending the sessions together, sometimes one partner is reluctant to attend, so you can look to speak to a couples counsellor on your own, to begin with. You might find your partner wants to join you after you’ve had some initial sessions alone and it can be helpful to intersperse couple sessions with individual sessions.

It’s dynamically different to one-to-one counselling because there are three people in the room, but it shares the same values: confidentiality, a code of ethics, and a focus on you and your needs. What it’s not about is the opinions or preferred outcomes of the counsellor.

- Read more on Happiful.

What does a couples counsellor do?

The role of a couples counsellor or therapist is to facilitate change and bring about a resolution by helping you both communicate more effectively and reach your own conclusions under professional guidance. It’s important to remember that when you go for couples therapy, you won’t simply be told what to do. A couples counsellor will not give you the answers or tell you whether or not you should separate.

If you’re nervous about discussing private matters with a stranger, that’s completely natural and expected. Try to keep in mind that your counsellor is not there to criticise you; therapy should be a space free of judgement where you can explore your feelings and emotions openly.


What can couples therapy help with?

When we’ve been in a relationship or marriage for a long time, it can be easy to fall into the trap of not listening to the other person, or not communicating our needs clearly. Sometimes talking to someone objectively, with no connection to yourself or your partner, is all it takes for you to gain perspective. What couples therapy offers is the chance to speak to someone with no preconceived notions of who you are as a couple, with the expertise of skilled training behind them to guide you through your concerns.

The overall aim of couples therapy is to help you:

  • reconnect and/or rediscover moments of connection
  • understand how external factors such as family values, religion, lifestyle and culture affect your relationship
  • reflect on the past and how it operates in the present
  • communicate in a more constructive way
  • learn why arguments escalate
  • negotiate and resolve conflicts where possible

As your counselling sessions progress, you and your partner may find a way of overcoming your problems or decide it’s time to part ways. Either way, counselling will offer you the space to grow and ultimately, decide what you would like the future to hold for both of you.


Common relationship problems

There are many different concerns that might bring you to couples counselling, ranging from a lack of communication to a betrayal or affair. 

Some common issues that can be explored through couples counselling include:

This list is not exhaustive and every situation is unique. Whatever your concern is, speaking to a professional is often a helpful step forward.


What should I look for in a couples counsellor?

Whilst there are currently no legal regulations in position to stipulate what level of training a couples counsellor or therapist needs, it’s highly recommended that you check that the person you seek is experienced in couples counselling.

A diploma-level qualification (or equivalent) in couples counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills. Another way to ensure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors.

On Counselling Directory, we only list qualified professionals. Learn more about our proof policy and when you’re ready, take the step to find a counsellor near you.

When is couples therapy recommended?

Every couple is different, so when you choose to seek help will depend on the nature of the issue you’re facing. If you’re concerned about your relationship and feel you’re unable to reach a conclusion alone, it’s likely that you’ll benefit from couples therapy.

For some, the suggestion of couples counselling is considered a 'last resort' to save a relationship. While this is sometimes the case, you don’t have to wait until things get really bad between you before considering couples therapy. Many couples use therapy sessions as a way to keep their relationship healthy and address any underlying concerns that may become conflicts in the future.

Can couples counselling fix a relationship? 

Couples therapy ultimately aims to help people understand themselves and their partners better. As mentioned above, it can be preventative as well as a 'last option', however, it's important to note that couples counselling only has the best chance of success if both parties are willing to commit to working on the relationship. Sometimes, the best option for couples may be to separate. Couples therapy can support partners in navigating this process.


Further reading

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