Couples Therapy Vs. Marriage Counseling: What’s the Difference?

Bride and groom happily married

Marriage counseling and couples therapy often get mixed up because they share so many similarities. Many professionals use these terms interchangeably, which can make things a bit confusing. The professional title of Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) has even begun to utilize the Couples and Family Therapist (CFT) as a way of being more inclusive for those who choose not to step into the contracts of a traditional marriage.

To break it down simply, marriage counseling typically focuses on current issues in your relationship, aiming to tackle challenges and get things back on track in the present moment with solution focused interventions, and even premarital counseling modalities such as Prepare Enrich

Unlike marriage counseling, couples therapy delves into both present concerns and past experiences that might be contributing to unhealthy relationship patterns. This means exploring past conflicts using systemic therapy theories to understand each partner’s family of origin and how they have impacted the current relational dynamics.

Adriana Calo, one of our seasoned couples therapists at North Brooklyn Marriage & Family Therapy, views couples therapy as:

 “A collaborative effort between the clients and therapist, with a partnership which fosters positive changes, promotes growth, and cultivates healthier interactions in all aspects of life.

What’s the difference between marriage counseling and couples therapy?

Marriage Counseling 

Marriage counseling helps married couples:

Couples Therapy

Couples or relationship therapy can:

  • Guide relationships toward stability and improvement
  • Emphasize staying present in the moment
  • Utilize Solution Focused Modalities
  • Provide a space to address differences before they escalate
  • Provide premarital assessments to prepare for future discourse  
  • Assist in building a solid, joyful foundation
  • Explore underlying issues within the relationship
  • Consider past conflicts, history, and arguments
  • Investigate the root causes of obstacles
  • Discover family of origin patterns
  • Enhance communication skills within the relationship
  • Offer support for challenges like substance abuse, infidelity, or parenting concerns

How to Know if You Need Couples Therapy or Marriage Counseling

Relationships are like roller coasters, always evolving regardless of how long you’ve been on the ride. Keeping a marriage strong takes patience and often the support of a professional. Here are some signs that couples therapy could be beneficial:

  • Struggling to communicate effectively
  • Dealing with infidelity from one or more partners
  • Finding it challenging to resolve conflicts
  • Staying together primarily for the children’s sake
  • Seeing separation as the only viable solution

Whereas these are some reasons that a couple might seek out marriage counseling:

  • Recent Engagement
  • Wanting to improve communication
  • Looking for ways to increase intimacy
  • Making plans for the future
  • Gaining mindfulness/holistic tools for the relationship


Get in touch with North Brooklyn Marriage & Family Therapy today for a complimentary consultation. Our experienced intake coordinator will guide you through the process and help determine which of these paths forward will best support you and your partner(s).

The Goals of Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy 

In both therapy and counseling, the primary objective is generally consistent: to assist individuals in navigating and conquering emotional or psychological obstacles. Therapists play a pivotal role in guiding couples to reframe their relationship dynamics, fostering healthier strategies for managing conflict and enhancing communication.

During sessions, you can anticipate being encouraged to express yourself openly and candidly about your relationship. Your therapist may delve into topics that could initially evoke discomfort, but this exploration is essential for uncovering and addressing the underlying issues contributing to marital challenges. This process aims to promote a deeper understanding of relational dynamics and pave the way for meaningful progress and resolution.

The Timeline of Marriage Counseling vs. Couples Therapy Sessions

There is no real set timeline or deadline for completing marriage counseling or couples therapy. The frequency of sessions depends on the couple themselves. There is an understanding that marriage counseling is more short term than couples therapy, since there are so many variables, it is difficult to predict.

The Gottman Institute suggests that around 30 percent of the couples coming into marriage therapy are mixed agenda couples

Some couples may need more time with a professional than others. This in no way means a couple that stays in counseling longer has more issues, it simply means these couples may need more time to unpack roadblocks such as communication, intimacy, etc.


It is most important that you discuss the timeline with your therapist either in your consultation or your first session. Since each therapist will pull from different theories and models, the timeline will always look different. By giving the therapist a bit of information about what it is that brings you in, they will be better equipped to present a proposed timeline. 

Deciding Between Marriage Therapy and Couples Counseling in Brooklyn, NY

Relationships can be such a source of happiness, but let’s be real – sometimes they can also bring us stress and disappointment, especially when communication or conflict resolution isn’t smooth sailing. That’s where we come in. We’re all about helping couples rediscover that joy in their relationship.


We’ve got a mix of short-term, solution focused counseling interventions or can provide deeper, more systemic and therapeutic techniques to guide you towards the relationship you’ve been working for. If you’re on the hunt for a local group practice that can offer top-notch marriage counseling or couples therapy to get things back on track, you’re in the right place. Contact us at North Brooklyn Marriage and Family Therapy, we’ve got a whole team of experts ready to dive into all your marital and relationship challenges.



How to Find a Good Couples Therapist

Find a professional in your area and do some research on what they specialize in. It’s important to speak to them directly while ensuring that you ask all the right questions. It will be a matter of instinct as to whether or not this professional is right for you. Most Importantly, take your time and always ask for a consultation.

Marriage/Couples Counseling vs. Therapy: Are They The Same Thing? 

As discussed in this article, marriage/couples “counseling” and “therapy” are often used interchangeably, but they can differ based on various factors such as session approaches, licensure, and training. The term “counseling” may imply a shorter duration of treatment. When reaching out to a professional in your area, it’s crucial to ask specific questions to ensure you’re working with the most suitable individual for your needs.

What is this process like? 

Couples vs. marriage therapists may have varying approaches, but generally, sessions start with discussing informed consent guidelines and exploring the reasons for your attendance (“the why”). In the initial session, you’ll talk about your goals and preferences, and consider if individual sessions might also be beneficial. There’s no set timeframe for how long sessions will last; it could be a matter of weeks or months. It’s essential to be open, honest, and patient throughout the process.

What to look for in a couples or marriage therapist? 

Finding the right relationship therapist is crucial. Look for someone with specialized training and extensive experience in marriage and couples therapy. Make sure they can effectively tackle the specific issues you’re facing, and most importantly, ensure you feel comfortable and connected when you talk with them. This may involve additional certifications or training, such as being trauma-informed or a certified sex therapist. Recognize that many therapists choose to specialize in certain areas that commonly impact relationships.