Marriage Counseling

Six Theories Highlighted

What is the Purpose?

Couples seek out marriage counseling to help them deal with a situation impacting their relationship. The majority of cases seek to fix the relationship. While this is why couples seek therapy, some marriages do not reconcile and end in divorce.

"The goal is to seek a theoretical orientation which will be able to define the problem, the population, and the procedure in order to understand the results" (Manus, G. (1966). pp. 449).

Psychoanalytic Theory

In this theory counselors learn about the childhoods of both partners. Using the childhood pasts the counselor can understand how and why adults act. Learning about how each person is reacting can help to understand why the other is behaving the way they do. Once a person's actions are understood, then the couple can begin to utilize these insights to make changes for the better of the relationship.
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Social-Learning Theory

Couples acknowledge the problem but the majority of the focus is on the present. Counselors help the couple to find a solution and then work together to prevent it from happening again. Many types of behavioral strategies might be used to help the couple find the best solution that works for them.
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Bowen Family Systems Theory

In this theory, one person in the couple tends to triangulate when they are unstable in their relationships and their self-concept. They have not fully let go of relationships or dependants and have not been able to give to the relationship because of this support. The therapist helps them separate and learn to have more self-concept. The creation of this "new" person will also help to establish a better marital partner.
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Structural-Strategic Theory

Within this theory the behaviors of the married couple are not working. The counselor instructs the couple to make a change or to try a new functional behavior. The couple is encouraged to change their behavior to achieve the end result that they are not getting from what they are currently doing.
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Rational-Emotive Behavioral Theory (REBT)

In REBT one partner (or both) have beliefs about the other doing something that may or may not be true. They usually tend to believe the negative part of the thought and then base their emotions and actions on this negativity, even if it is not true. Often they are so absorbed in the negative they can not see the actual truth clearly. The counselor focuses on helping the person deal with their insecurities, doubts, or trust issues before focusing on the relationship.
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Emotionally Focused Therapy

This theory has the couples focus on the other's feelings and emotions. The counselor uses the strength of their emotions to help them understand each other. This may involve the counselor pointing out certain strengths or weaknesses and then having the couple focus on those. When a couple can overcome this empathy is formed. The couple will then have a stronger closer relationship.
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Which Theory Do You Use?

"Thus, there are as yet, no "scientific truths" about which treatment is best" (Gurman, A. & Knudson, R. (1978). pp. 121). Every couple is different. As the therapist you need to analyze the couple, learn about their history, find their strengths, and help them with the treatment that fits best. In many cases a combination of theories will be used.


Gurman, A., Knudson, R., (1978). Behavior Marriage Therapy: I. A Psychodynamic-Systems Analysis and Critique. Family Process, 17(2), 121-138

Manus, G. (1966). Marriage Counseling in Search of a Theory. Journal of marriage and family, 28(4). pp. 449-453.

Newsome, D., Gladdings, S., (2014). Clinical mental health counseling in community and agency settings. Pearson Education Inc, Upper Saddle, New Jersey.

Created By: Heather A. Dunivon

Baker College