The goal of marriage counseling is to change the repetitive patterns of interacting that tear the love apart, leaving room for new ways of being together that can help the couple move into authentic contact: hearing and responding to each to each other, taking responsibility for what you yourself are doing/not doing in the marriage, focusing on understanding your partner, and developing functional protocols of conflict. The couple can then explore what is really true in their marriage: do you want more intimacy and vulnerability? Are you done with the marriage and want out? These are difficult questions for the couple to struggle with but facing them with honesty and respect allows the couple to finally break free of toxic patterns and engage in truly nutritious relationship.
Most couples wait an average of 7 years to seek counseling for unhappy marriages and when they finally arrive in my office, both parties are deeply wounded and have legitimate painful grievances. Most have spent years directing all their efforts at getting their spouse to be different and they have failed, and they either continue the failing repetitive conflict and/or try to give up.
I think all couples should meet in counseling before they take steps to divorce. You do not need to want to stay married, you don’t even need to know what you want, to benefit from marital counseling. Sorting things out, particularly if you have children, helps whether you stay married or get divorced, and can help avoid the very dreadful on-again/off-againj yo-yo pattern that some couples are in, not in the marriage but not out either.