Your relationship is in a rut, and things are getting tough. You don’t want to throw in the towel just yet, but it’s clear you need some outside help. Is couples counseling worth it?
A third-party mediator like a couples counselor can offer a much-needed new perspective, but that can get expensive. Given that economic hardship is one of the leading stressors in American life, you probably want to know what kind of investment it’s going to take to get professional help.
Who Should Go to Couples Counseling?
Before we look at the cost, it is important to know which couples actually need help. There are many misconceptions about this type of therapy, so doing your research is essential to finding both the right program and therapist for you.
One common myth is that couples counseling should only ever be used when a relationship is close to the breaking point. In fact, for most couples that seek counseling, it is not the fighting that causes the most problems; it’s the lack of communication.
“If you’ve been fighting, or dread fighting, moving into a phase of not talking meaningfully at all can feel like a relief — but it could be a sign that you’ve both given up on being understood,” says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (aka “Dr. Romance”), author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together. “When this happens, divorce is often the next step if you don’t get counseling and figure out how to talk to each other without fighting.”
There are several other reasons for couples to seek out counseling, according to Tessina. Among them are lack of sex, a feeling of panic anytime there is marital discord, an overwhelming amount of drama, a lack of happiness or control, and considering each other to be only parents instead of also being partners.
Or it could simply be that some relationships involve issues that cannot be solved without outside help.
“When my husband and I married in 1982, we made a deal: If we couldn’t solve a problem on our own in three days, we’d go for counseling,” Tessina says, “In the first few years, we had a few sessions, which were very helpful in teaching us how to be effective with each other.
“All these years later, we are happy and haven’t needed counseling in many years,” Tessina adds. “Getting counseling early, before the drama sets in, will help you create a successful marriage together.”
How Much Does Couples Counseling Cost?
The cost of couples counseling can vary depending on the type of counselor and where you live, among other factors. But in general, counselors ask for between $125 and $250 per hour. Counseling sessions typically happen once a week. This means an additional cost of $500 to $1,000 each month to help save your relationship.
If money is already a stressor, the extra cost can seem like adding insult to injury. After all, counseling isn’t a foolproof method, and it doesn’t guarantee “happily ever after.” Just like investing in the stock market, investing in couples counseling is a gamble. It may save your marriage or it may not.
Is Couples Counseling Worth It?
Well, that depends on a number of factors. First, are both of you willing to go to a counselor and talk? And more important, are you both willing to do the work and make changes — individually and as a couple — to make your relationship work?
In addition to your willingness, timing is an essential component to the success of your sessions. The sooner you go to counseling, the better. Years and years of resentment or lingering anger over past transgressions can erode your trust and intimacy. According to relationship expert John Gottman, Ph. D., the average couple waits a whopping six years before seeking help with an unhappy relationship.
If you’re at the beginning stages of friction, you may have a better shot at salvaging your relationship. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re automatically doomed if you’ve been unhappy for seven years. It just means that you have more work to do.
Only you can decide whether couples counseling is worth the effort, time, and cost to save your relationship.
If it’s not and you’re legally married, it’s important to carefully weigh the cost of divorce, too. It may be the right option, but divorce may come at a high price — certainly more than the cost of couples counseling.
If you can’t stomach the cost of couples counseling, consider ways to make it more affordable. Check whether your health insurance covers couples counseling. There’s a good chance it might. And if they do, you can find a counselor who takes your insurance, thereby reducing the cost.
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If your insurance doesn’t cover counseling, look into local schools that may have counselors-in-training who work under a licensed professional. This can offer huge cost savings. You can also see whether your local church or community center has any classes or counseling services available at a low cost.
Then there is the nonprofit psychotherapy collective Open Path Collective, which offers affordable rates. There is a membership fee of $49, which grants you access to counselors in your area that charge between $30 and $50 per session.
In other words, you’ll invest $49 up-front and pay a maximum of $200 to $250 per month for couples counseling. While still a decent chunk of change, it’s more affordable than standard rates.
The Bottom Line: Do I Need Couples Counseling?
Though couples counseling isn’t cheap, it could be a worthwhile investment if you want to heal your relationship. There are no guarantees, but it may help a great deal. Regardless, it’s important to look at the cost of couples counseling and evaluate how it would fit into your overall budget. Try to remember: A successful round of therapy has a far better return on investment than a divorce.