An Introduction to Online Couples Counseling

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March 26, 2020

Over the last ten years, the United States has seen a decrease in divorces. While this may be seen as a victory, it does not necessarily mean that every marriage is a happy one and that everyone is compatible. In fact, statistics show that in addition to the decrease in divorces, there has also been a significant decrease in marriages as a whole, suggesting that people are becoming more cautious when pursuing long-term commitment.

couple counseling

In a world where there is so much access to everyone else around us via the Internet and social media, maintaining a healthy and committed monogamous relationship is not always easy to do. Many people seek out the help of a trained mental health professional to help them manage their relationship issues one-on-one, but throughout the years, couples counseling (and more recently online marriage counseling) has become a trusted resource for managing relational conflict between romantic partners.

Couples counseling, in its current format, is said to have come to the United States in the 1950s, when mental health professionals began to see the value in treating the family as a whole. Since then, many theorists have developed strategies for the best ways to help improve communication between partners in a romantic relationship and how to help them manage conflict in a way that sustains their partnership. Most of these techniques involve helping partners learn how to better communicate with one another, how to address personal thoughts and feelings, how they are in conflict with their partner, and how to help them determine the things that can be compromised.

Societal standards often promote the idea of marriage and monogamy, so as we have moved throughout history, therapy has been used as a tool to help keep people together as much as possible. As technology has improved, all types of therapy have begun to move to an online platform, resulting in many therapists who conduct relationship counseling online to provide services to couples in their very own homes. This article will discuss couples counseling in general, its purpose, whom it is for, and the benefits of doing it through an online platform, in order to help you determine if it’s right for you and your partner.

The Purpose of Couples Counseling

There aren’t many things that are more stressful than relationship problems. When you experience conflict with the person you love, it can bring on intense feelings of anger, shame, guilt, vulnerability, and anxiety all at the same time. The unsteadiness that comes from relationship conflict not only affects your romantic relationship but other areas of your life as well.

Suddenly, you may begin struggling to focus and complete tasks at work, you may feel like you can’t be as open with your friends as you have been before, and you may become less interested in doing things you used to enjoy. If you are living with the partner you are having conflict with, home life can also feel like you are walking on eggshells, trying not to further ignite the problems you are facing.

Online couples counseling has been used as a way to help reduce the conflict as well as all of these other contributing factors. Mental health professionals are trained in being a neutral party that can help a couple begin to work through some of their conflicts, in order to improve their quality of life. Often when people are experiencing conflict, it is hard for them to be able to see their partner’s side without the support of someone who can see it through a different lens.

Couples’ counselors can often help a person begin to understand the other person’s thoughts and feelings in a less volatile environment. While most people believe that the purpose of online couples counseling is to improve, strengthen, or save a marriage or relationship, it can also be used as a way to help a couple understand that they are better off apart.

When Should a Couple Consider Online Couples Counseling?

Societal standards have swayed to a world where we are encouraged to appear flawless and perfect, both personally and in our relationships. In the world of social media, everyone seems to portray themselves as living their “best lives,” and struggles and flaws seem nowhere to be found on most people’s social media accounts. As such, there can be subconscious pressure personally and romantically to have everything in life be perfect and free of conflict even though this is ultimately impossible to attain.

When people begin to experience conflict in their relationships, they often feel as if their relationship is a failure or that they are a failure themselves. It can be scary to admit that there are flaws or struggles in your relationship and that you need help from someone outside of it to work them out.

There is a lot of stigma that surrounds seeking support from a mental health professional, including couples counseling, for a variety of reasons. If a relationship is supposed to be “perfect,” seeing a counselor suggests that your relationship is not perfect. We often have unreasonable expectations about how we want to be perceived by others, and acknowledging the need for couples counseling can cause a person to feel like their relationship is doomed just because it may be necessary.

So, what are some reasons one might consider couples therapy? Here are some of the most common reasons why a couple may seek out a trained mental health professional to work on their relationship.

Increasing Conflict Between the Couple

Partners who have been together for a long time often don’t immediately realize that they are spending more time in conflict than they are spending in peace. Like a frog sitting in tepid water that is beginning to boil, a couple may not recognize that their relationship is beginning to boil over.

If a couple begins to notice that they are less happy and more conflictual overall, this may be a time when considering counseling could be beneficial. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman suggests that the “magic ratio” of a happy couple is 5:1. This means that for every negative interaction during a conflict, there should be five or more positive interactions. If a couple is not meeting these ratios, or close to these ratios, couples counseling could be helpful.

Struggles with Communicating Effectively

Depending on how partners in a couple were raised, they may not share the same communication skills or strategies of solving conflict via communication. With conflict comes vulnerability and fear, and those who struggle to effectively communicate often engage in negative communication patterns that can inevitably push their partner away or further increase a conflict. Couples counseling can help both members of a couple learn healthy communication patterns that can improve their ability to work things out together when they are on their own.

Struggles with Resolving Conflict in a Healthy Way

With poor communication comes poor resolution. If a couple struggles to communicate in a healthy way, one or both members of the partnership may also struggle with managing their emotional reactions to high conflict situations. When people are invested in a relationship, the stakes are high and people can overreact in conflict and engage in unhealthy ways of coping with their distress. Examples of this could be anything from yelling and screaming, withholding or isolating behavior, to even emotional or physical violence and abuse.

If a person is engaged in a relationship where there is severe violence and abuse, therapy is not considered an appropriate option, as these types of relationships often need to end in order to promote safety for everyone involved. However, if a partner is struggling with some of the above behaviors but has not reached the levels of violence or abuse, couples counseling or individual therapy could help reduce the chance of the behavior increasing to dangerous levels. If you are in a relationship where you are experiencing physical or emotional violence or abuse, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support and assistance.

Lack of Trust

Due to a variety of conflicts in a relationship, and when people begin to feel resentful or unappreciated by their partners, people can and do engage in behavior that breaks the trust of their partner. This can be anything from hiding important information from each other to infidelity, which will be mentioned below.

Overall, if you are feeling like it is hard to trust your partner, couples counseling can help you work out the reasons for this with them in a safe and secure environment. This will help rebuild some of the trust and security to improve the relationship.


This is one of the main causes for a couple seeking out counseling. When one partner is unfaithful to another in a monogamous commitment; the issues at hand must be confronted. Infidelity often arises from all of the above-mentioned struggles, and more often than not takes place because a partner is not feeling connected, understood, or accepted by their partner in a way they used to. Infidelity is a major breach of trust in a relationship and can cause both partners to feel hurt, violated, and alone. Couples counseling can help a couple work through the pain of infidelity and determine the right steps for the couple in terms of how they want to proceed following the infidelity.

Intimacy Issues

When partners do not feel intimately connected, they can often experience increased conflict and a decreased feeling of safety and security in their relationship. Couples counselors can help people find the key to the lack of intimacy and can help couples practice techniques to improve their feelings of intimacy with one another.

Incompatibility Sexually

Sexual incompatibility is a major reason why people seek couples counseling. If partners in a relationship have conflicting sexual drives or desires, it can be difficult to navigate on their own. Sex and sexuality involve vulnerability and feelings of adequacy that can often be difficult to discuss. As a result, people will often develop ideas about their own worth as a partner and tie it to their sexual connections with their partner.

If there is a lack of interest being shown by one partner, the other may begin to feel as if they are undesirable or unworthy. Also, if another partner has high desire, initiates sex, and is constantly turned down, this can also affect the partner’s self-concept. Having a counselor can help a couple work through this difficult conversation and determine the appropriate solution for them.

Feeling Stuck in a “Rut”

Long-term relationships are hard. Once the spark of the initial attraction is gone; it takes a lot of work to maintain passion and connection. Even if there isn’t major conflict, partners may feel “off” in their relationship and not know why. A couples counselor can help a couple begin to unpack subconscious thoughts that may be contributing to these feelings, and help them reignite the passion that they once had.

Benefits of Online Couples Counseling

While most couples counseling to date has been done in person, technology has continued to innovate and improve the way that therapists are seeing their clients. As such, couples counselors have begun to explore the ways to see their clients online. This has become an easy and effective way for couples to get the help they need without even leaving the house. Like traditional therapy, there are a lot of benefits to participating in couples counseling online.

Scheduling is often a concern in traditional therapy as well, but can be even more complicated for two people trying to navigate their weekly schedules. Online couples therapy is a great solution because it can be done at home, often at times that are convenient for the couple, and can eliminate the time it would take to drive to and from an office. It can often feel more comfortable to be able to discuss difficult topics like intimacy and sex in a comfortable place like one’s home, and can offer some feelings of safety and security that coming to an unfamiliar office may not provide.

In addition to comfort and availability, online couples counseling eliminates a lot of the barriers that traditional therapy has, and can often be offered at a more reasonable price than going to a therapist’s office. Overall, it is a great solution to consider if you and your partner are experiencing struggles in any of the aforementioned areas, or just feel like you could use a “communication tune up” to improve your lives.

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Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events