Why Couples Counseling Fails

I know this sounds so negative—and from me, a therapist yet. But I often hear people speaking about their experiences with couples and marriage counseling in a very depressing manner. Recently, I saw a couple who I had complete confidence could really progress and I believed, passionately, that they could make it. There are little signs that after 15 years I’ve come to notice. One may seem small and silly but it’s how a couple sits on my couch. If one sits on the couch and the other on the chair opposite—well, not such a great sign. A bit of a disclaimer now: If you are about to venture into counseling with your partner don’t go taking this sitting on the couch thing as part of your instructions.

So, this thing about the couch?  Some couples come in and sit close—they probably aren’t cuddling but they are at a reasonable distance to reach out and touch a hand during an emotional moment. They can turn to face each other and not seem like they are on different coasts. These small things have a voice that seems to say “I’m trying” and “I want to keep trying”. And in the very best and hopeful cases, “I still love you”.

Then there is the big thing that involves showing up! Couples are often inconsistent when it comes to appointments for counseling. Honestly, counseling only works if you show up.  And once a month just doesn’t cut it.

And couples generally show up too late in the process. They arrive in the counselor’s office when the anger is so intense and has been there for so long. For the therapist, it becomes like trying to cut a diamond with a plastic knife.

As for the couple I saw—sadly, they came only twice. Their sessions were productive and they were very loving towards each other. I have to admit situations like theirs frustrate me — to see potential without the follow through.

Don’t give up on counseling as being ineffective. It works best in the earliest stages of discord. Schedule weekly appointments for at least a few months. And don’t expect immediate miracles–it can really work if you give it time and both people are committed.