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Why Marriage Counseling Doesn't Work

As a part 2 to our previous post, Will Counseling Help My Marriage, the reality is that sometimes counseling isn’t the answer to solving marital issues. Over the years, I’ve run into couples counseling situations that were beautiful pictures of reconciliation, healing, and deep intimacy. I’ve also seen situations where couples leave feeling frustrated, defeated, and deciding that their relationship is not where they want to use their energy. Here are some common reasons I’ve seen for why marriage counseling may not solve a couple’s issues.

1. Abuse

First and foremost, if abuse of any kind is present in a relationship, safety is the number one priority. This must be handled before counseling is considered. Period. Here are some resources locally (in Kansas City) and globally to utilize if you are a victim of abuse.

Kansas City resources:

National Domestic Violence Hotline:

2. Compatibility

What if you weren’t compatible from the beginning? I’m finding a lot of people are set up for difficulty before they even say “I do.” Either not knowing what to look for and/or not knowing themselves fully, they aren’t aware of what their values, needs, interests, desires, passion, and dreams are. It’s extremely difficult to find a compatible spouse when we don’t know ourselves well enough to know what would be compatible for us. Counseling can be helpful to parse through these questions, but you may find yourself coming to the realization of, we just aren’t compatible.

3. Unrealistic Goals

This goes hand in hand with the compatibility issue. If your goal of counseling is to change the other person’s personality and genetic makeup, you’re setting yourself up for massive disappointment. Can change occur within each person through couples counseling? Yes. Is the goal to focus on changing who the other person is? No. The goal will hopefully shift to acceptance and ownership of the part you play, and loving acceptance of who the other person is. If both partners feel a sense of loving acceptance, they will likely be open to taking ownership of their own shortcomings or areas of growth. If you have an issue with who the person is, we’ve come back to the reality that you may not be compatible.

4. I’ve already given up on the relationship

I hear this all the time. “This is our last ditch effort.” Or, “We’ve tried everything else, including couples counseling in the past, and none of it has worked.” I tell couples regularly that this will only work if all parties are bought into trying. If you’re showing up to check the box or with hopes that counseling will help the other person because they are the problem, it will be a losing battle. I’m not saying you have to have rose colored glasses about your relationship, but having a willingness to take an honest look at yourself and try can go a long way.

Couple/marriage counseling can be one of the most beautiful investments, but is a lot of work. If you’re ready to do the work in your relationship and are aware of some of the barriers above, take the step. You can do hard things.

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