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What is Marriage Therapy?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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Marriage therapy is also called couples therapy or family therapy. Counseling sessions typically begin with the therapist meeting the family. A marriage therapist then analyzes the relationships between family members. He or she studies how the people in a family relate to each other. Practitioners of marriage or couples therapy may be marriage and family therapists, social workers or psychologists.

Family or marriage therapy is a type of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is designed to help people cope with problems in their lives — especially in the area of relationships. The main philosophy of family or couples therapy holds that the family as a whole should participate in the therapy. The blame is not placed on one family member over another, but rather the situation is examined by the psychotherapist and the couple when the thoughts and feelings of each person are expressed. The therapist usually suggests which behaviors each person could change in order to make the marriage partnership more peaceful and beneficial to both parties.

Therapists try to look at the relationship problems of those in marriage therapy objectively. They ask questions of the couple in therapy to help each family member think about his or her behavior and how it may affect another family member. In this way, communication is an important part of the therapy. Sometimes, there is a serious issue to deal with in a marriage such as domestic abuse. The police or other law enforcement authorities may have to be involved in that case, but marriage therapy may be able to help prevent abuse in some cases as well as allow both parties to communicate with each other about the severity of the problem.

Ultimately, marriage therapy helps the couple discover whether the relationship is worth saving or if the parties would be better off apart. If other family members such as in-laws are identified by the couple as being part of the stress on their marriage relationship, the therapist may include these relatives in the therapy since marriage therapy is based on understanding family dynamics and relationships as a whole. Of course, feelings have a lot to do with whether a couple should or will remain together and a marriage therapist usually addresses this by delving into discussions about whether the couple is in love or feels neutral about each other. Stressors in a marriage such as infidelity, money problems, substance abuse and sex issues may be able to be worked through by a couple with the help of marriage therapy and a qualified therapist.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By gravois — On Apr 30, 2012

I had a terrible experience in marriage therapy. Our therapist was clearly aligned with my wife and together the two of them teamed up on me and going to therapy was like getting jumped by a gang of thugs.

I will admit that a lot of the problems in the marriage were coming from me. But I thought that this was supposed to be therapy, not a public lashing. We never worked through anything I just got yelled at and scolded. And now the marriage is over. We still had to pay the marriage counselor for all that worthless therapy

By jonrss — On Apr 29, 2012

My church offers Christian marriage therapy. I have not been though it myself (I am single) but I have spoken to the minister who runs the program and he has told me a little about what they try to do. Of course, every case is different depending on the marriage.

Christian Marriage Therapy tries to blend the best practices of modern counseling with the many teachings in the bible about marriage and love. It recognizes, correctly, that neither approach can be complete. Change and reconciliation must come from faith so it is important to maintain the connection to scripture. But at the same time simply reading the bible is not enough to fix big problems between a man and a woman. It helps to have a trained and sympathetic counselor.

By whiteplane — On Apr 29, 2012

My wife and I sought out marriage family counseling after we were both revealed to have been unfaithful. And we are still married. I give a lot of that credit to out therapist.

The atmosphere in our home had become very toxic. We were both very hurt and confused and there was no line of communication between us. We had a lot to talk about but no way to talk about it because we were so heart sick.

My wife set up an appointment with a therapist and we slowly started to work through things. The therapist was kind, patient and most important, understanding. There was no judgment. She was on the side of our marriage, not one of us independently. It took about a year but things got better and now my wife and I are happy and very much committed to one another.

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