When Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work

When Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work

Each year, hundreds if not thousands of couples go to marriage counseling to try and salvage their marriage. In a lot of cases, the strategies used in counseling, like listening and communicating, is going to help couples in the short-term, but in many cases, they can be ineffective. It is also plausible that a counselor lacks the experience and knowledge to work with spouses that have serious issues in their marriage. Inadequately realizing the reasoning for the friction and the resulting inability to move forward with a resolution is going to force counselors to allow spouses taking turns conversing week after week, with no ending to the counseling, or a slow lead to divorce.

Even though marriage counseling has proven beneficial for a lot of spouses, there are cases when marriage counseling might not be your ideal choice. Marriage counseling is not suggested for couples that struggle with domestic violence or for those that have already “checked out” of their marriage. Spouses that struggle with active domestic violence are usually recommended to attend individual counseling prior to getting involved in marriage counseling to guarantee the safety of both individuals.

When one or both spouses have “checked out” of their marriage, it is probable that marriage counseling is not going to be effective. It is important that both spouses are on the same page and are devoted to make positive changes in their marriage or relationship to see positive outcomes.

Couples that are experiencing significant problems and not getting along think that marriage counseling is the best course of action to take. Whereas it’s not a terrible idea to seek marriage counseling, there are sometimes where it just is not going to work.

“Marriage counseling is just not working for us.”

Many spouses think that by just by going to counseling, it is going to will fix their marriage. Sessions are not going to automatically fix your issues and is not going to erase your past. Counseling is not going to miraculously bring you both closer. Marriage counseling is just a device that is going to help you better understand the roles each of you play in your marriage. Additionally, faults and misunderstandings surrounding marriage counseling could cost your marriage. For example:

  1. Sessions will not do the work for you.

Counseling sessions are not going to miraculously erase the past or repair any problems with minimal or no effort on your part. Marriage counseling is going to provide you with the instruments to help you improve communication better, however, you and your spouse also need to put in the required work between sessions. Don’t forget that these changes are going to take time and practice and you must invest in attempting the new things you learn about through your sessions and be prepared to put in the effort.

  1. Usually, individual therapy is the ideal place to begin.

Occasionally, individuals’ issues might be so severe that they impact the couple’s marriage. There have been cases in which a spouse’s mental illness is causing irritation in the marriage, whereas in other cases, trust issues from each of the spouses shake the ground of the relationship. Whatever the case, in times such as these, individual therapy needs to be the initial step.

  1. Perhaps you just haven’t found a suitable marriage counselor.

It is common that, the initial counselor you visit is not going to be a suitable fit for you and your spouse. The marriage counselor that suits your needs should make both of you feel at ease, feel noticed, and is going to assist you concerning your specific needs. If the counselor is not fulfilling your needs, it is fine to find another counselor. Therapy needs to work for you.

  1. You are just there to disclose your side of the story.

Marriage counseling needs to offer a safe space for both spouses to voice their thoughts and feelings. For marriage counseling to be successful, spouses need to understand that it is important to take turns voicing their thoughts. If a spouse is not there to listen to their partner’s thoughts, feelings, desires, and concerns, they might not be able to find a way to salvage their relationship. Each spouse needs to be willing to listen and fully understand where the other is coming from. Finally, understand that a counselor is not going to take sides, so you are not there to prove your point or win your case.

  1. The purpose is not to change your partner to be the way you want.

In a lot of cases, spouses go to marriage counseling because they feel that it is going to change their partner. In counseling, you only can control yourself. You or a professional can’t force your spouse to change. Rather than investing in counseling to attempt and change your partner, invest by recognizing your behaviors in the marriage and seek how you wish to change to improve your marriage.

  1. Spouses go into counseling with a different agenda.

Marriage counseling is not going to work when the spouses have a different end game. For instance, if one partner is more devoted to doing the necessary work than the other spouse is, then counseling probably is not going to work out. When any of the spouses is not completely truthful, it isn’t going to work, either. When one partner devotes their time to counseling with the intent of divorce, then it’s bound to fail. For things to work, each of the spouses need to be involved in counseling with the mindset that the process is going to require equal commitment and effort from each of the side to be successful.

  1. There are no emotions left.

If there are no emotions left, it is going to be hard for any professional to reinvigorate the spouse’s passion. Many times, when there is absolutely no love left, spouse’s need to make the difficult choice of going their separate ways. After that the healing can begin.

Every situation is going to be different, so it is vital to do whatever is appropriate to your situation. When you still have questions or concerns, keep reading to get an in-depth look at more issues that can impact the success of marriage counseling:

Marriage That is Abusive

Marriage takes patience and effort in order to work. When one spouse is abusive, marriage counseling is not the answer. Stop wasting your time; look for help from your loved ones to get away from your abusive marriage.

Substance Abuse

Addiction can have physical and psychological impacts on individuals but can also have destructive impacts on marriages. The spouse suffering from addiction usually denies being the issue in the marriage. Substance abuse places a lot of pressure on the marriage and usually ends up to estrangement and dissociation. Additionally, substance abuse usually leads to financial problems, that is probably going to put even more pressure on the marriage.

Lack of Trust

Trust is essential to every relationship, especially marriages. When trust is broken in marriages, the relationship is also going break. Many times, trust might be repaired, but a lot of the time, it requires faith and effort from each spouse. For instance, one spouse needs to be willing to take responsibility, and the other spouse needs to be willing to forgive.

Unhealthy Habits

People that display distressing behaviors in their marriage, like contempt and disrespect, could lead to resentment and anger on each side. Those that attempt to change these habits and devote time to healthier communication and understanding can repair their marriage. Spouses that can’t or won’t are going to see their marriage ending in divorce.

More Bad Memories Than Good

Happily married spouses show their happiest moments throughout their home. On their anniversaries, spouses thank back about all the pleasant times they’ve had together throughout the years. Spouses that remember more bad times than good are going to break down. Besides the failure to provide trust or a willingness to change from the spouses using therapy, there are oversights that counselors might make that can affect the success of marriage counseling.

Oversights Marriage Counselors Make

Absence of Structure

The most common oversight made by counselors is offering too little structure. Many counselors allow sessions to create a lot of negativities, leading to zero change. Spouses will interrupt and talk over each other meanwhile the counselor losing control. Ultimately, the counselor abandons hope and concludes counseling, whereas in turn the partners abandon hope.

No Plan for Change

Counselors might play it safe by omitting to recommend changes to the couple’s daily lives. respectable counselors are going to give out homework, whereas bad counselors don’t pursue change.

Thinking All Couples Are Equal

Counselors that think that all couples are the same are not going to be able to fulfill their needs and are destined to fail. It is a fact that every couple is different. For instance, married couples that have children have different dynamics than married couples that don’t have children. Untrained counselors might apply an alike or similar therapy plans to each of their clients. Unsuccessful in meeting spouse’s unique needs is going to lead to marriage counseling failing.

Making Things Complicated

Marriage counselors that fail to clarify things in a simplified way that’s easy to understand is going to make repairing the marriage appear more complex than it really is.

Picking Sides

Settling issues and healing a hurt marriage requires neutrality on part of the counselor. Ideal marriage counselors recognize that unbiased positive regard for each of the spouses is of vital importance. Unfit counselors might choose sides and favor one spouse over the other throughout counseling, which can be detrimental to the marriage.

Does that mean marriage counseling is unsuccessful all the time?

A broad range of matters can be worked through using counseling, especially when you feel like you are having the same arguments time after time, you feel isolated, or when sex and intimacy have hit the road. But it also isn’t going to work when one or both spouses are not genuinely devoted to counseling. Resolving the issues in your marriage and making your relationship better is a lengthy process but doesn’t have to go on forever. Marriage counseling is a healthy way to work out issues in your marriage; you just need to genuinely want to be actively involved in it. If your marriage isn’t reflected in any of the aforementioned situations, then with hard work and devotion, there is hope.


  1. Camatthe. (2020, August 30). When will marriage counseling not work? Relationship Counseling Group. Retrieved April 1, 2022, from https://relationshipcounselinggroup.com/2020/08/30/when-will-marriage-counseling-not-work/

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