Couples counseling has gotten a bad rap as a last-ditch effort to save an already-failed relationship.
But recent studies find that couples therapy can be very helpful in making relationships better, stronger, and longer-lasting—including if you are not married. After all, marriage rates among millennials have reached historic lows, and more and more young women are having children with partners to whom they are not married.
In short: People are still in relationships, and relationships are hard. We're just not getting married as often, but that doesn't mean that relationship or couples therapy is not useful for unmarried partners.
Here is how to know whether relationship counseling / couple's therapy is right for you.
Couples counseling that uses Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) is 75% effective, according to the American Psychological Association's report of more than 25 years of research. Outcome studies have included couples therapy for high-stress clients such as military couples, veterans with PTSD, parents of chronically ill children, and infertile couples. Results are also positive and substantial across different cultural groups.Psychology Today
Online couples therapy is growing in popularity. BetterHelp is A+ rated from the Better Business Bureau, and offers unlimited online couples counseling starting at $35/week for unlimited sessions by text, phone, video or email. Get connected with a couples' counselor at BetterHelp today and get 10% off for Wealthy Single Mommy readers >>
- Stages of a relationship: dating vs. relationship vs. serious relationship
- Relationship problems
- How do I save my relationship?
- Can you go to couples therapy if you’re not married?
- Online relationship counseling
- Should you go to a couple's counselor?
- When not to go to couples therapy
- How to a find couples therapist
- How to find an LGBTQ therapist
- What is the cost of couples counseling?
- Free online couples counseling
Stages of a relationship: dating vs. relationship vs. serious relationship
While nearly all therapists who work with couples welcome those who are married and those who are not, it typically makes sense to seek professional guidance only when you are in a relationship — opposed to with someone you are dating.
What does ‘in a relationship' mean?
Whether you are straight, LGBTQ, monogamous, polyamorous or identify as another non-traditional identity, being in a relationship with someone — opposed to dating — can be deemed someone to whom you are committed to a future together. This is a partnering that you both hope and plan to last a long time—even for the rest of your lives.
What's a serious relationship?
Typically, a serious relationship means not only that you are committed to a long future together, but that future includes investment in other parts of your lives: Introductions to, and integration with friends and family, possibly living together, combining households or finances, having children together, adopting pets, and being each other's emergency contact or next of kin.
The extent of integration of lives depends on each couple, and can be an issue to discuss in therapy!
There are as many ways a relationship can have troubles as there are relationships. Relationship and marriage therapists report that couples seek counseling for these types of frequent relationship conflicts:
- Lack of sex—or disagreements about frequency or type of sex
- Money struggles [Related: 17 steps to financial success as a single mom]
- Kids—how to discipline, inequity of parents' care for them
- Blended families and co-parenting
- Household chores
- Quality of time together / romance
- Premarital counseling
- Jealousy—of other men/women, as well as time and energy spent on work, friends, family, kids
How do I save my relationship?
If you fear an end is near for your marriage or serious relationship, here are some ideas to consider:
- Check your love languages, and find ways to connect based on what your partner needs.
- Laugh together. Whether watching a movie or show that cracks you both up, attending standup, or reminisce about a shared funny memory gets the endorphins going, blood pressure down, and otherwise makes scientifically proven improvements in both your moods — which can bring you back together.
- Touch and have sex. Connecting physically — both in bed, and in casual touching — is what makes a couple's relationship different than other relationships in your lives.
- Do things to support the other person even if you don't understand or agree. Indulge in your boyfriend's picky way of loading the dishwasher, or agree to watch tennis with your wife even if you don't care about the sport — just because she does care. Accept that neither of you will change your opinions on these matters, but you do these favors because you care about the partnership.
- Don't expect your partner to be your everything. Studies find that when members of a relationship have emotional support from friends and family members, they are less reliant on the romantic connection to 100% fulfill them — and that makes the relationship stronger.
- Agree on household chore division — as one UCLA study found couples who clearly define who does what around the house are more satisfied in their marriages.
- Consider therapy … keep reading.
David Grammer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. He says that couples therapy works best for partners who are not on the brink of divorce or breakup.
“Couples often consider couples therapy when it is too late in the game, as a last-ditch effort to save the relationship,” Grammer says. Typically it is far more effective to get into therapy when the conflict is not so intense and there aren't so many resentments built up. Often one person in the couple wants to try therapy and the other doesn't, that individual should go anyway because it will help them communicate with their partner and evaluate the relationship.”
Counseling for couples not married: Can you go to couples therapy if you’re not married?
Whether you are married or not, straight or gay or LBGTQ, couples counseling is more or less the same for all couples — the only difference is that not-married couples may be fighting about whether or not to get married, and married couples have divorce looming over them.
Couples in counseling should expect to share their own personal histories about their families, past relationships, mental health, substance use, and other important factors — as well as details about the relationship dynamic, struggles, joys, and what each partner experiences inside the relationship.
Couples in therapy should go in with an open mind, and expecting to take equal responsibility for their half of the partnership, including the stresses and challenges. Love languages, lifestyle, external stresses like career, health and caring for sick parents that affect the partnership.
Many religious organizations offer premarital counseling, but you can benefit from professional therapy sessions before you make a big relationship commitment, says Dr. Patricia Celan, MD, BA, a psychiatry
resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.
“While you may have been on cloud nine throughout your
relationship prior to getting engaged, problems can occur once you settle
into your long-term commitment,” Dr. Celan says. “Couples therapy before you run into conflict is a good way to understand each other and learn to communicate effectively when you inevitably run into bumps along your path of marital bliss.”
Online relationship counseling
A therapist near you may offer online couples counseling, or you can seek marriage and relationship therapy through an online counseling platform like BetterHelp.
Online therapy can be a great solution for all kinds of therapy. Compared to traditional face-to-face counseling, online therapy benefits include:
- Convenient. Because sessions are done by video, text, phone or email (your preference), there is no travel time, and you and your boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband or partner can join in the session from different locations if your schedules require it (or you can't stand to be in the same room!). This is also a great option for military families, or couples that are long-distance or travel frequently.
- More selection. Just like in dating, it can take some trial, error, fits and starts to find a therapist who is a good fit. This is time-consuming, and especially if you live in a small community with few therapists, there may not be a big selection. With online therapy sites like BetterHelp, you literally have access to thousands of certified and licensed counselors to choose from.
- Flexibility. If you feel the need to switch, it is just a matter of visiting the website and finding another relationship therapist?
- Anonymous. Nothing worse than seeking out counseling during a dark time, and bumping into the bitchy soccer mom outside the office—especially if your partner is with you. Online therapy is 100% private.
- Affordable. While in-person therapy may be a better fit for some couples, expect to pay $100 to $200 per hour or more—and fewer and fewer insurance companies cover therapy. Online therapy like BetterHelp start at $35 per week for unlimited sessions, plus a 10% discount for Wealthy Single Mommy readers, and financial assistance available.
- Vetted. Each therapist on reputable sites are licensed in their states, include psychiatrists who can prescribe medication.
Check out our ranking of the Top 9 best online therapy sites for 2020 for all the details and costs for online counseling for couples—married and unmarried.
How does relationship counseling work online?
The experience with online therapy with online therapy company BetterHelp, or its sister site ReGain for couples, is very similar with traditional, face-to-face counseling:
- Create a joint account online at BetterHelp.com, which is confidential, HIPAA compliant and otherwise secure
- Choose your preferences — race, gender, age, political leanings, religion, gay or straight, specialty, etc. —for your licensed, certified counselor
- Get paired with therapist, and start communicating within 24 hours.
At BetterHelp, all written via the chat function is visible to both partners and the counselor. If either partner would like to speak with the counselor privately, you can schedule an individual live session.
Because BetterHelp's system does not allow for 3-way live calls or videos, you must be in the same place and share a screen with your partner to communicate with the therapist.
Is online relationship counseling effective?
Researchers at Northwestern University's Family Institute and Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies found that couples counseling has a positive impact in 70% of couples studied — supporting decades of research that found the same.
How much does online relationship therapy cost?
|Therapy site / app||Cost|
|Talkspace||$99 per week for unlimited messaging. Optional 30-minute live video couples sessions for $65 each.|
|BetterHelp||$35 to $70 per week for unlimited access to your counselor, including weekly live sessions.|
|Traditional face-to-face couples counseling||$65-250/hour|
Should you go to a couple's counselor?
While there are plenty of grey areas in which you may chose to better your relationship through therapy, here are some serious issues for which you should get outside, professional mental health care for the sake of your own wellbeing, as well as any children involved:
- Addiction— alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, pornography, sex, technology, gambling, food, video games are common
- Mental health issue— depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, dementia don't just torment the sufferer—they affect all those who love them, including romantic partners and caregivers
- Severe special needs children
- Unemployment, insurmountable debt, living beyond your means, or other serious financial problems
- Abuse and relationship violence—physical, mental, financial, emotional or sexual
Other reasons why to seek professional relationship help:
- Your relationship partner gives you an ultimatum (“Change, or we're breaking up.”)
- The relationship is toxic. This means that you bring out the worse in each other, and you spend more negative energy on the relationship than get positive energy out of it.
- You keep having the same petty fights over and over.
- Secrets. There are secrets and suspicion.
- You and/or your partner need help establishing boundaries, and expectations for the relationship.
For example, do you expect your partner to be your everything, while your boyfriend or husband enjoys connection and time with friends, colleagues and family—in addition to what the two of you share?
What are realistic expectations for what you and your partner should to do around the house, help with the kids, or contribute financially to the household?
A skilled relationship therapist can help with communication and set healthy expectations and boundaries. There are plenty of reasons to seek out couples' therapy even if the relationship is not in crisis.
“Couples’ counseling is beneficial just because one or both partners feel unheard, or is having difficulty communicating their needs,” says Meagan Turner a graduate intern, treating clients at Hope Counseling Center, in a clinical mental health counseling program in Atlanta, Georgia.
When not to go to couples therapy
There are times relationship counseling is not the answer. These include:
- Abuse. In the case of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, file a police report and restraining order.
- Addiction. Couples counseling may be part of the family's recovery, but the addiction needs to be addressed on its own first.
- Mental health issues. Again, this affects everyone around the sufferer, but the illness also needs to treated on its own.
- One partner has committed to leaving the relationship. Therapy may be part of the separation process, or as part of a co-parenting relationship, but show's over.
How to a find couples therapist
One of the challenges of therapy is finding a qualified counselor who is also a good fit for your challenges — and is accessible to you, and affordable.
This is especially true for a relationship therapist. Not only do you have to coordinate with both partners' schedules and preferences, there is simply a shortage of competent and effective couples' counselors who are specifically trained to heal suffering relationships.
Other things to consider:
- Licensure. Is your counselor a licensed psychologist— or just someone who received an undergraduate degree in psychology? Or are they a clergy-person?
- Does this professional have specialized training in working with couples?
- What is their strategy? Do they simply offer remedies like going on weekly date nights and divvying up household chores? Or is there a commitment to Emotionally-Focused Therapy, or ETF, which focuses on learning better ways to communicate, connect and bond.
How to find an LGBTQ therapist
If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, poly or otherwise on the LGBTQ spectrum, you may prefer to have a counselor who personally identifies with you, your partner and relationship.
Pride Counseling allows you to specifically connect with a gay, lesbian therapist, or one who specializes in LGBTQ and gender issues. Each therapist is licensed, has a master's or doctorate degree, and at least 2,000 hours of training. If you feel your counselor is not a fit, you can change at any time.
Pride Counseling is owned by BetterHelp, so it also has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating, financial assistance, and unlimited text, video and phone counseling for gay couples starting at $35 per week.
What is the cost of couples counseling?
If you work with a local therapist near you, counseling costs $70-200+ per hour. Online therapy is typically much more affordable, with fees for BetterHelp starting at $35 per hour for phone, text, chat, or video counseling.
Free online couples counseling
Some churches, synagogues or other places of worship offer couples counseling, including group counseling, as well as some community resources for low-income people. Check with your health insurer to see if they cover mental health services, and ask your provider if they have financial assistance or a sliding fee scale.
BetterHelp offers financial assistance for those in need.
Ready to start improving your relationship? Check out BetterHelp online therapy for individuals and couples now >>
Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker,” her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.