Couples Series Part III: Does Couples Therapy Work?

Nov 25, 2022

When you’re stuck in what feels like unresolvable arguments, it’s only natural to seek a solution. Since you’ve tried everything else, perhaps you’re now turning to professional help. What else do you do when the person you love most is also one of your biggest sources of stress? 

Since you’re both already exhausted, naturally, you’re hesitant to invest even more time, energy, and now money. It’s smart to be cautious, so you will, of course, ask does couples therapy work. Is there any benefit to this thing I’ve seen on TV and in movies so many times?

To me, this is a bit like asking to do treadmills work. As a therapist, that’s sort of how that question sounds to me, as it doesn’t totally make sense. Other questions come, such as, what do you mean by ‘work?’ How do you plan on using it? How often? What are your goals?

And while I hate to be a stereotypical therapist, I’m going to answer the question of does couples counselling work by putting questions right back at you:


Are you willing to put in the work?

Buying a treadmill doesn’t contribute to heart health more than giving a counsellor your credit card numbers. What does help is learning to acknowledge hard feelings that have been ignored and tolerating some discomfort. If you can do this, the relief afterward of ‘cleaning out the closet can be extraordinary.


Can you commit to a number of sessions?

Nobody has ever hopped on a treadmill for 20 minutes and jumped off, ready to run a marathon. Likewise, it has taken years to establish your patterns. This will not be cured in a 50-minute meeting. Committing to several months is necessary in most cases to achieve a profound sense of reward for building safe connections and stronger trust than ever.


Can you accept that small wins become big ones?

Whether it is physical fitness or the health of a relationship, it’s the small things repeated daily that create BIG change. Your therapist will help you to learn how sending small messages of care and support (in your partner’s language—not just yours, as we tend to do) becomes a habit, instilling the shared experience of wow, my person really gets me. They see me for who I am. Do this 100 times and tell me you have the same relationship as when you were constantly fighting to be right.



Does Couples Counselling Work?

If you can shift your perspective to some of the prompts above, then I can answer the initial question. YES, couples therapy works. But just like $200, running shoes don’t make you a runner; we need you to show up at the starting line.

If you can manage that, our team will help with the rest.


What is the Success Rate of Couples Therapy?

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, couples therapy has a positive impact on 70% of couples.

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists also reports that 90% of couples who complete therapy with a skilled couples therapist experience improved emotional well-being.

However, you have to maintain realistic expectations. While some couples may choose to end their relationship, therapy is still considered successful if it helps the couple navigate the transition more healthily and constructively.

Couples therapy requires effort and patience, not a quick fix, but a journey that requires time and dedication from you and your partner.


Factors Impacting the Success Rate of Couples Therapy


Commitment to participate in sessions

Active participation and commitment from both of you are crucial during a couples therapy session. You have to be willing to put equal effort together.

Remember, you and your partner are against the problem, not you against your partner.


Individual Mental health and well-being

If any of you have mental health issues and unresolved personal trauma, it may affect your couples therapy process. Communicating openly is difficult; you may even hold yourself and not address your issues. 

I highly recommend you address these individual issues alongside couples therapy. 


Issues Complexity and Severity

You might be dealing with issues that involve multiple layers and intertwined dynamics. And those issues might be chronic or major life changes that have strained the relationship with your partner. And this, in the long term, might negatively impact relationship stability and satisfaction. Finding common ground is not easy, but it may require longer couples counselling sessions to achieve the goals.


Therapist Competence

One of the not spoken factors that will affect the success of couples therapy is therapist competence. Now, each therapist may have a different approach, but their competence plays an important role in the success of couples therapy. 

Always look out for therapist skills and if they employ evidence-based techniques.


How Does Couples Counselling Work?

Couples therapy involves a series of psychotherapy sessions with a trained couple therapist. Here is how couples counselling works:

  • First, your counsellor will assess your situation to understand your needs better and tailor the sessions accordingly. Then, they will work with you to identify and address the main issues.
  • Once you identify the issues, it’s time to set goals for therapy. Together, you’ll establish goals such as rebuilding trust, improving communication, developing marital conflict resolution skills, or enhancing intimacy. These goals will help measure your progress and keep you on track.
  • During therapy, your therapist will utilize various techniques, exercises, role-playing, or other therapeutic strategies to facilitate emotional expression and connection. You’ll also receive homework that includes communication techniques and implementing marital conflict resolution strategies. These assignments aim to reinforce learning, promote skill development, and apply what you have learned in therapy in your daily lives.
  • Your therapist will be there to guide you and provide ongoing support, evaluation, and feedback. They will help you navigate through challenges and ensure that you make sustainable positive changes. Additionally, they will review the progress made and evaluate any necessary adjustments to ensure your goals have been addressed.


What do You Talk About in Couples Therapy?

Wide topics are discussed based on the concerns and dynamics of your relationship in couples therapy. However, some common issues are: 

  • Communication patterns and techniques to stop communication breakdown.
  • Strategies for understanding each other’s perspective, finding compromises, and resolving conflicts.
  • Address love languages, emotional and physical intimacy, and affections.
  • Impact of the breach of trust, betrayal, and work towards rebuilding it.
  • Address and heal from past issues and trauma if it exists. 
  • Clarify expectations such as responsibilities, financial obligations, and career goals.
  • Understand the family dynamics of both partners and how it may have affected the relationship.
  • Major life changes such as moving, having children, or changing employment may have strained the relationship.
  • Learn to establish healthy boundaries and respect each other’s autonomy while maintaining a strong connection.
  • Identify and address unhealthy behavioural patterns or habits that contribute to conflicts.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate successes and positive changes for continued growth.


How Often Should You Go to Couples Therapy?

I recommend coming weekly (or at least every second week) in the early stages of couples therapy. Once you reach some stability, sessions may become less frequent. Yet, the therapist will adjust your session frequency as you progress or if you need more support. 

Generally, couples therapy sessions are scheduled:


Most sessions are done weekly, especially if couples deal with significant relationship challenges to maintain consistent progress and support. 


If your issues are less urgent, your schedule makes attending weekly sessions difficult. 


In cases when the couple has made significant progress yet for check-in and to address any emerging issues. 

Intensive Sessions:

Therapists might schedule multiple sessions per week for couples with extreme challenges and seeking more rapid progress. 

As Needed:

Some couples might decide to have sessions as needed based on when challenges arise or when they feel they need extra support.


Can Couples Therapy Save a Toxic Relationship?

Couples therapy is extremely great and beneficial to resolve almost all issues, but the degree of toxicity in a relationship matters.

It cannot ‘save’ the toxic relationship with characteristics of gaslighting such as manipulation, control, and abuse, but it can help reduce ‘toxic’ patterns of resentment and misunderstanding. Instead, I’d outright recommend signing up for individual counselling in such cases. 

Having said that, toxic relationships also involve negative patterns of behaviour that couples therapy can help recognise.


How Long Does Couples Therapy Last?

Generally, couples therapy lasts from a few months to several months or even a year. There’s no fixed timeline, as each situation is very different from one another. 

I have listed the general duration of therapy that may give you some ideas:

Short-Term Therapy:

Short-term couples therapy will last from three months to six months, providing enough time to address issues such as communication issues, trust issues, parenting, or financial issues. 

Long-Term Therapy:

Couples with deeply rooted issues, such as healing past wounds and addressing complex dynamics, will require six months to even a year. 

Tune-up Therapy:

Some couples opt for tune-ups whenever they feel like maintaining positive changes or even addressing any emerging issues even after making progress in therapy. 



The answer is very clear – that couples therapy works. It all comes down to whether you are willing to do it and if you can commit to it. Couples therapy is a journey that needs active participation, commitment, and a shift in perspective.

Don’t miss the chance to continue exploring the topic of marriage counselling with the next post in our Couples Series Part IV: What to expect from marriage counselling?

Did you miss our previous post in the Couples Series?
Click here to catch up on Couples Series Part II: Does Marriage Counselling Work?

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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