If You're Trying Couples Counseling, Experts Say These Are 7 Ways To Tell It May Not Work For You
If you've been going through a major rough patch with your partner and you just haven't been seeing eye-to-eye, couples counseling may seem like the next step to take. While it's not a bad idea to give it a shot, don't feel bad if therapy really isn't helping. Because according to therapists, there are some instances where couples counseling just won't work.
"Couples therapy tends to be the most successful with couples who are committed to staying together, but recognize that they can benefit from a third party helping them," Dr. Alyssa Austern, Psy.D, clinical psychologist with a specialty in couples and family therapy, tells Bustle. It's especially helpful if there's a specific issue that makes you feel stuck, or you keep repeating the same problematic patterns in your relationship.
What many people tend to get wrong about counseling is that attending sessions isn't going to magically erase your problems. Not every couple who goes to therapy is going to come out closer than ever before.
"Couples therapy will help both partners better understand the relationship and the role they each play," Sheila Tucker, licensed associate marriage and family therapist and owner of Heart Mind & Soul Counseling, tells Bustle. "Sometimes in learning more about each other and the relationship, you may also learn that the relationship isn't sustainable." Although counseling may not "work" by helping a couple get back in-sync, it can help them move on in a positive way.
Before you choose to go to counseling, it's important to figure out if it's really right for your situation. So here are some reasons why couples counseling may not work for your relationship, according to therapists.
1. You May Need Individual Therapy Instead
Even if you are having issues with your partner, sometimes couples counseling isn't the first step. "What I find a lot is that sometimes people will start in couples counseling then get referred to individual therapists," Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in women’s mental wellness, tells Bustle. Couples counselors will do this if they sense that one or both partners need to work on their individual issues first before returning to couples counseling. It's better to work out any unresolved issues from childhood or past relationships first. So when you go to couples counseling with your partner, you can stay focused on working out the issues in your relationship.
2. You Think Showing Up To Sessions Is The Only Work You'll Have To Put In
A therapist isn't going to solve your problems for you. They can mediate and give you strategies to help you communicate better. But they can't magically erase all the problems you're having. You and your partner both have to put in the work. According to Tucker, counseling won't do your relationship any good if you aren't putting in the work in between sessions.
"Change takes time and a lot of practice," she says. "If couples aren't invested in trying new techniques or recreating the experiences from therapy at home throughout the week, then therapy probably will not work." It's important to note that both partners need to be willing to make an effort. Not just one.
3. Your Therapist Isn't A Good Match For You And Your Partner
It's very possible for a therapist to not be a good fit for you. A good match will make you both feel comfortable, feel seen and heard, and will give you tips that are tailored to your situation. If they don't, it's OK to find someone else. "Research your potential therapist, check their credentials, and find out their approach to therapy," Tucker says. "Don't be afraid to ask questions, or for referrals if you don't think you're a match." You don't want to waste your time and money on someone who really isn't going to help.
4. You Think Counseling Will Change Your Partner
If you think couples counseling will change your partner, think again. "Most people enter couples counseling because they feel they need to get through to their partner about how and why they need to change," Michele Hernandez, licensed clinical social worker who specializes in helping women going through major transitions in their lives, tells Bustle. But in reality, you can only change yourself. If your partner needs to make changes, it needs to come from them. Neither you nor a therapist can force them. Instead of going into therapy with the mindset of wanting your partner to change, Hernandez suggests reflecting on your behaviors in the relationship. Ask yourself questions like how can I do things differently and what can I do to make this work?
5. You Have Different Agendas
"In my experience couples therapy hasn’t worked when there are different agendas from therapy for each individual," Kelley Kitley, LCSW, a therapist who specializes in couples therapy and the owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy, LLC, tells Bustle. For example, if one person is more invested in working on the relationship than the other, it isn't going to work. If someone is hiding anything or not being completely honest, it's not going to work either. According to Kitley, these can be barriers to the relationship, but they're not major dealbreakers. "It’s the responsibility of the therapist to push the boundaries and call out the observations for a potential shift to happen," she says. But that can only get so far. To be really successful, it's important for you both to go into it with open minds and a willingness to make things work.
6. You're Only There To Air Out Your Feelings
Therapy will give you a safe space to air out your feelings. But it's important to remember that your partner will have their turn as well. "If you're not there to listen to your partner’s point of view, their thoughts, feelings, fears, and concerns, then you may not get into the mindset of finding ways to improve the relationship," Hernandez says. Both you and your partner need to be willing to hear each other out so you can understand each other. It's also important to remember that a therapist is not there to take sides. So you should never go into it thinking that a therapist will be there to help you prove a point.
7. There's Simply No More Love Between You
"When there is no love left, it's hard for any couples counselor to rekindle that spark," Ashley Chambrello, licensed marriage and family therapist who works with many couples in her practice, tells Bustle. The truth is, you can't force a relationship to work. If you're no longer happy and you've exhausted all the options, it's OK to say that the relationship isn't working. "Sometimes people simply grow apart or sometimes past betrayals and hurts make it too difficult for one partner to move past them," Chambrello says. "When there is simply no love left, I work with the couple on ways to move forward amicably, if that's what their goal is."
Relationships take work. If you and your partner are equally committed to making necessary changes, a therapist can be helpful. But if one or both of you are already checked out, counseling may just be a waste of time. If you're in an abusive relationship, couples therapy is not the help you need — you may want to seek help individually from loved ones or a professional in exiting the relationship. Every situation is different. It's important to do what you think is best for you and your relationship.