When Counseling Fails to Address Relationship Problems—What’s Wrong?

Counseling can’t solve every problem.

That sounds defeatist and the opposite of what you may have heard about therapy. However, the reality is that it’s true.

Often there is the hope that counseling can be the solution for all the issues and problems that couples haven’t been able to handle themselves. Yet, it can be very hard to unpack all of that baggage and find real solutions, even with the help of a professional.

So, what’s wrong?

There can be many reasons why counseling fails to address relationship problems. Consider learning from the mistakes others have made so that you don’t face the same scenarios yourself.

Being Six Years Too Late

Dr. John Gottman, a researcher in the field of relationships and marriage, notes that most couples wait about six years before getting help. That’s six years of feeling miserable while not adequately addressing the issues that they’re facing.

If you fall into this category, that means that both you and your partner have put up a lot of relationship barriers. These are obstacles that, on the surface, are meant to emotionally protect you or help you cope with stress. Yet, they also make the relationship problems you are facing much worse.

Additionally, in those years, you both probably also have hardened your hearts towards one another. These factors can make it very hard to get the relationship counseling process going, let alone be effective.

Focusing on Problems and Not Solutions

Another issue you might be dealing with is that you each are focused on the problems that you face. This most often manifests itself in playing the blame game. “You never listen to what I’m saying!” or “Why do you always avoid having these conversations?”

It’s easier to get wrapped up in the problems and not consider the solutions. Or maybe you feel that it’s the other person that has to do all the work because you look at each other as the problem, not as a partner. This can cause you to objectify one another and not consider each other as people.

Does that sound familiar to you?

Being in Denial about the Issues

Oftentimes, either an individual or both partners, are in denial about the issues they are facing. So, in sessions, neither of you ever talk about the real issues with your therapist. And that stifles progress.

Your therapist isn’t a mind-reader! They can infer a lot from what you say. Yet, if you are not being upfront with the issues you are both facing, that makes it really difficult for your counselor to provide the best care possible.

Not Wanting to Be in Counseling

Counseling is the most effective when both participants are engaged and willing to be a part of the process. But it may be that one partner doesn’t want to be in counseling in the first place.

Maybe you decided that it’s time to seek out couples counseling. But your partner may not be as open to the idea as you thought. And there could be a variety of reasons why your partner doesn’t want to participate.

For example:

  • Having their own negative personal experiences with counseling and therapy
  • Believing that it’s a waste of time
  • Thinking that there isn’t really a problem at all or that it’s blown out of proportion
  • Not wanting to face the realities of the relationship

No matter what the issues it, not being on the same page about couples counseling can definitely hinder the process.

If you and/or your partner are considering relationship therapy, be aware of the reasons why counseling may fail and counteract them. When you go to therapy, be open and honest with each other. Don’t wait until a problem reaches a boiling point. And use therapy as a means for finding workable solutions.

After all, much about counseling is what you put into therapy, not what you get out of it!



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