Couples counseling can help couples who feel like their relationship is bleak, hopeless, and doomed to fail. Unfortunately, couples counseling often doesn’t work. The reason that couples counseling often doesn’t work is because couples often go into their sessions feeling angry and hurt that they’re not receiving any kind of helpful reaction from the counselor. As a therapist, it’s important for me to understand what causes this reaction.
– Personal problems/aggressions: During our first meeting with our couples therapy clients, we often find out that the person we’re working with doesn’t even know why they’re in therapy! Yes, this fact seems less like The Martian and much more like shouting, the quiet treatment, and throwing out the marital bed after having too much to drink at a friend’s birthday party in which the entire joint effort to solve the relationship seemed utterly impossible at best. However, at these moments, it’s also true that the emotional joint effort of seeking a couples therapist seems utterly impossible at all. In these moments, it’s important for me as a therapist to remember that some couples are simply not equipped to handle their relationship problems, especially if they’re coming after the therapist for the emotional support.
– One partner: This is one of the most common reasons for couples therapy failure. Often, when one partner is clearly unable or unwilling to address his/her problem, it’s simply ignored by the other partner. This causes both partners to be feeling increasingly angry and hurt, leading to further breakdown of communication. It may seem like the relationship can be saved at this point, but the truth is that the longer one partner refuses to take responsibility for their part in the relationship, the more likely it becomes for that partner to ignore or blame the other for their lack of cooperation.
– No one says “no”: When a couple says “no” to therapists, it’s often because they don’t want to discuss the problem. Often, there might be underlying reasons why the partner refusing to discuss the problem is fearful, or just doesn’t want to. However, when you find out that your client didn’t want to discuss certain aspects of his/her life with you, but still insists on getting work done with you, often the reasons are not as they seem. In fact, if the client was really willing, he/she would have told you about all the things they weren’t willing to discuss.
– No one is available: If your client simply doesn’t want to talk about certain aspects of their relationship, but insists on getting work done with you anyway, it can lead to some “shame” from your side. For example, if your family therapist asks you to do something in the middle of a therapy session that you weren’t comfortable with, it can leave you feeling embarrassed. Or if you think that your partner may be holding back something from you, it can leave you feeling inadequate. If your partner does not want to discuss an aspect of your relationship, that’s a pretty clear sign that your partner needs help too. Therefore, when this happens, couples therapy is often not working.
Overall, when couples therapy doesn’t work, the first place you should look is your own therapist. If your marriage has truly fallen apart, there is no reason to believe that your marriage counseling will be any different than those couples who continue to see marriage counselors on a daily basis. Many marriage counselors believe that couples counseling is simply another opportunity for couples to communicate on a daily basis, and for the therapist to become more educated on the specifics of a couples’ unique situation. However, no matter what your situation may be, couples’ counseling is not likely to fix your marriage.