9 Important Tips for How to Approach Your Spouse about Marriage Counseling

  1. Don’t nag, pressure, or fight with your spouse to do marital therapy. Approach your partner when both of you are calm.

  2. Tell him or her that you have concerns about your relationship and would like to get help sorting out the issues, assess how serious they are, learn what you can do about them, and weigh whether or not you need marriage counseling.

  3. Agree ahead of time that neither of you will make a decision one way or the other until after the assessment, when you’ve both had time to think about the big picture.

  4. As part of the decision process, discuss your own part of the problem and what you are willing to do about it, as opposed to finding fault or blaming your partner.

  5. If you cannot agree on whether or not to go to marriage counseling, or whether you need it, check out couple discernment counseling. Discernment counseling does not pressure a reluctant spouse to go to marriage counseling. It is not marriage counseling. Rather, it is a process of helping you make a decision about whether you want to work on your marriage together, or go down another path. The goal of discernment counseling is to help you feel clear and confident about the future of your relationship, and to have no regrets looking back.

  6. Do not go alone to talk to a therapist about your marriage problems, unless there is physical abuse, or safety issues. Nobody can understand the inner workings of your marriage by hearing only one side of the story. Exceptions: If you have problems with depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, or other problems you need personal help with, by all means, get these assessed by a qualified professional. Even in these cases, however, input from your spouse is very helpful to arrive at an accurate diagnosis.

  7. Understand that getting individual counseling for marital problems increases the risk of unnecessary divorce. Therapists cannot accurately assess a relationship without input from both partners. Be very wary of accepting input about your marriage, even if you are in counseling for other reasons, if your therapist has not seen both of you together.

  8. Read and talk together about the “Tips for Selecting a Marriage Counselor” before deciding who to go to. Marriage and Family Therapists are the only licensed mental health professionals who are required to have any training in relationship counseling. Unlike other mental health specialties, most counselors can legally offer marriage and family therapy without ever being trained in it. No matter what the counselor's license is, do not risk your marriage with someone who does not have the right training and experience.

  9. Look up the criteria for selecting a marriage friendly therapist on www.marriagefriendlytherapists.com. These criteria have been established by experts in marriage and family therapy to protect the public. Unqualified therapists will probably not be aware of what a “marriage friendly therapist” is, or may disagree with the criteria. If you hear this from a counselor, find someone who is better qualified.


Duane Nelson

Born and raised in the Minneapolis, Duane is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has made his home in Rochester for the last 25 years. Duane has been married for 33 years to his wife, Cathy. The two met while doing music at the same church in Minneapolis. Duane and Cathy have two adult daughters, and the family love to travel and play cribbage together. Duane plays guitar and percussion, and the couple still make music together. Duane enjoys gardening, cookouts, hiking, reading, downhill skiing, and hanging out with friends. Duane holds three graduate degrees, two mental health licenses, and two major counseling certifications. He has worked professionally for 37 years in addiction treatment, mental health, clinical social work, pastoral counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Duane is widely regarded as an expert in marriage and family therapy. Following his retirement from Mayo Clinic, Duane founded Healthy Relationships Rochester. This innovative organization is based on developing the concept of Relationship Intelligence through teaching and disseminating best-practice relationship education and skill training programs in a variety of non-clinical settings.