Marriage Counseling Techniques

Marriage counseling techniques are one thing to consider when choosing a marriage counselor. There are a wide variety of approaches to counseling, and you must be sure that both you and your spouse are comfortable with the tools your therapist plans to use.

Generally, relationship counseling approaches are divided into two styles: insight-oriented approaches and action-oriented approaches.(1)

Steven M Cohn, PhD, LMFT
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
1940 NE Broadway
Portland, Oregon  97232

Insight-oriented approaches seek to help each of the relationship partners develop a better understanding of him or herself, allowing each partner to gain a better concept of what each brings to the relationship. Action-oriented approaches, on the other hand, focus on developing skills to allow the relationship to be rebuilt.

One of the oldest relationship counseling philosophies is the psychodynamic approach, one of the insight-oriented techniques. In psychodynamics, each partner’s personal history and underlying motivations are examined because problems in a marriage are thought to be the result of the unresolved conflicts and needs of each of the partners. Typically the partners are treated separately, either by the same or different therapists. These days, many marriage counselors consider it unethical for a therapist to treat each member of a couple and the relationship. More typical, and more widely accepted, if for a marriage counselor to treat the couple and for that marriage counselor to refer each member of the couple out to their own respective therapist.

In contrast, the marriage counseling technique that follows a systems approach is based on the idea that most marital problems result from the interaction between the partners, rather than from their personal histories. The roles each person plays in the marriage, as exemplified by the behavior and communication patterns they exhibit, are examined and analyzed.(2)

We’ll turn now to the action-oriented

marriage counseling techniques Client-centered therapy, also known as humanistic therapy, emphasizes communication skills.

Behavior-oriented therapy helps the couple develop problem-solving skills and improves conflict resolution. Dr. Jeffrey T. Guterman discussed this marriage counseling technique at the 2010 Annual Convention of the American Counseling Association. Dr. Guterman advocates using the partners’ strengths to bring about positive change in the relationship. For example, he suggests asking each partner to keep a journal, detailing things that happened between sessions that the partner wanted to continue to have happen.

He also invites clients to discuss how the problems within the marriage have influenced their lives. Lastly, he suggests asking marriage partners to rate their subjective experiences on a rating scale of 1 – 10, rather than using inadequate descriptors such as “always”, “never”, or “slightly.” Along with the rating, the partners are asked to write down what happened, what they did to cope, who they spent time with, and other relevant information to help build a strategy for improvement based on resources already available to the person.(3)

An action-oriented marriage counseling technique suggested by the Marriage Counseling Blog is to listen to what your partner is NOT saying. Under the cutting comments or anger-inducing words, you might hear something like, “I have such a headache” or “I just got fired.” (4) When you listen for the underlying feelings, you may be able to avoid the argument by refusing to be baited into an argument, and instead asking your partner what has upset him or her so much.


(1) Kottler, JA and Shepard, DS. Introduction to Counseling: Voices from the Field. 7th Edition. Cengage Learning, Inc., 2011.

(2) Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. Marriage Counseling Techniques. National Directory of Marriage and Family Counseling. Retrieved April 16, 2011 from

(3) Guterman, JT. Advanced Techniques for Solution-Focused Counseling. Presentation at the 2010 Annual Convention of the American Counseling Association. March 20, 2010. Retrieved April 16, 2011 from

(4) The Marriage Counseling Blog, January, 2009. Retrieved April 16, 2011 from

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