Marriage counseling is a type of relationship therapy that focuses on building and maintaining a strong, healthy marriage. The goals sought through marriage counseling are as different and varied as the individuals who seek them. In some cases, couples who have suffered a trauma in their relationship, such as infidelity or unemployment, seek marriage counseling in order to repair broken bonds. Other couples whose marriages are minimally stressed use counseling as a way to deepen communication and further strengthen their relationship. In still other situations, couples who are engaged to be married choose to attend marriage counseling as a way to start off on the right foot, so to speak.
The goals of a particular couple may influence the type of marriage counselor that would best suit their needs. It is important to understand what credentials a counselor may have and what those credentials mean. In addition, individuals in search of marriage counseling should meet with potential counselors in order to find someone with whom both parties feel comfortable.
Marriage counseling may be administered by a Master of Social Work (MSW). An MSW is a social worker who focuses on restoring the social functioning of individuals within a group. A counselor with a degree in social work may be best suited to couples who have had problems with domestic violence or substance abuse.
A marriage counselor may also obtain a professional degree. Also known as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor (MFCC), a licensed marriage counselor has spent three to five years studying the workings of familial relationships in depth. A licensed counselor may be helpful for couples with communication problems. An MFCC may also be particularly beneficial when children are involved.
While the techniques used in marriage counseling vary drastically depending on the individual couple and counselor involved, most counselors seek to act as a neutral entity, offering unbiased insight into problems that can be wrought with strong emotions. The neutrality of the counselor and the location chosen for therapy is important in order to avoid "taking sides" on the part of the counselor. Marriage counseling may be particularly effective when the therapist meets with both individuals separately before meeting with them together.
Research on the effectiveness of marriage counseling is a difficult area of study, as the very personal, individual nature of the subject makes it nearly impossible to compare the success of those who seek it with a control group. In general, research has shown that while many couples have found marriage counseling helpful, a majority of them still end up turning to divorce. Therapy has been found most effective for younger couples who seek marriage counseling before their problems escalate.