When a close friend refused to get marriage counseling, I was concerned and confused. She and her husband endured relationship problems for decades and I witnessed the frustrations turn into resentments and the resentments turn into outright contempt. For years, I’d pressed her to seek help before it was too late and it was sad to see their relationship reach that point. Why didn’t she want to try counseling?
“Marriage counseling doesn’t work,” she said, frankly. “I have friends whose marriages got worse after counseling.” I couldn’t argue with that. But although I firmly believe that having a third, insightful, objective party to help sort things out can save relationships, here are some valid reasons why counseling doesn’t always work:
*Couples seek help too late. Counseling usually is the last resort for marriage partners, and by that time, a lot of resentments and grudges have festered for years. It’s easier to prevent than reverse damage so get help quick. Once love is gone, there’s little incentive to try to patch things up.
*Some spouses agree to counseling as a way to “prove” that they are “right” and their mates are “wrong.” They’re looking for a judge who will attribute blame on one party. They stubbornly defend their own actions without any attempt to be objective.
*Some spouses expect their mates to change but are unwilling to make any changes themselves. When people enter a counseling session, they don’t want to walk out with new revelations about how they can improve their marriage, but they want the counselor to tell their mates how to improve. In the majority of cases, both parties need to make some self-adjustments.
*Spouses aren’t honest or open during counseling sessions. You can’t expect a counselor to help if you don’t share your true thoughts, feelings, and past history but that is precisely what many people do. They only divulge half the story. They might be afraid to admit things to themselves, they may be afraid of being judged by the counselor. Most people want to hold up a certain image of themselves but in counseling, it is imperative to feel safe enough to spill it all out.
*Spouses don’t implement recommended actions. They need to “do their homework” and follow through with what the counselor recommends.
*Counseling sessions dwell on the past instead of focusing on what couples can do now to enjoy a better relationship now and in the future. Anyone knows if you focus on the negatives, bad feelings will grow. And vice versa.
*At least one partner has already made up his mind that their marriage is unfixable. Remember that old joke, “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.” Do both spouses want to save the marriage?
*Couples have unrealistic expectations of the marriage. Their image of marriage is impossibly perfect, almost delusionary. It’s the old Ozzie-and-Harriet Syndrome (which I just made up because I suffered from it!) I honestly hoped for a perfect marriage—no fighting, no stress. But I learned that reality can be just as good.
*They have unrealistic expectations of marriage counseling. They want drastic improvement immediately. Your marriage didn’t deteriorate overnight; and it could take more than a single night, week or even month for complete harmony to be restored. But it will get better, day by day.
*Changing counselors too often. You need to find a counselor with whom you both can relate, but changing counselors just because he or she doesn’t agree with you will mean you won’t get the continuity of support that your relationship requires. When you enter a new counseling program, you start from square one, getting acquainted, building rapport and trust, getting the counselor up to speed with your personal history. You need to start over with every new counselor and that takes time that could be better spent making progress in your marital counseling program.
Marriage counseling doesn't work if you don't approach it with honest effort. However, when you follow through on the marriage counselor's advice and use the tools provided, you can improve your marriage. Keep an open mind and give it a chance.