3 Questions to Ask When Marriage and Couples Counseling Isn’t Working

Cropped image of folded hands of two partners seated at opposite sides of tableIf you have ever Googled “marriage counseling,” you have been inundated with mixed messages. Some sites scream all marriage and couples counseling is a scam. Other sites promise cheap, easy results. Many couples have requested referrals from trusted family, friends, or a faith community. Unfortunately, some couples struggle to embrace the idea of counseling because it requires admitting there may be trouble in “paradise.” Feeling embarrassed or ashamed could be a barrier to asking for help. Just finding a therapist to assist with marriage concerns may seem daunting.

One way to ensure you have the best chance at a successful outcome is to find a clinician who is competent in relationship therapy. The practitioner should be well-trained and have expertise in the issues you are facing. Finding a qualified therapist, however, is only part of the equation. Even the most competent, passionate therapist requires your effort to help you repair your marriage. Therapy is a collaborative effort.

Here are some questions to ask when trying to get the most out of your therapeutic experience.

1. Are both partners ready?

Both partners do not have to be enthusiastic about beginning counseling, but success is more likely when both partners invest early in the process. In many instances, one partner does not want to be there. Resistance is normal. The challenge comes when that partner refuses to engage in the process in any way at any point.

One partner cannot carry a relationship within therapy or outside it. Both partners must understand the importance of the process, the need for help, and the willingness to invest in the future of the relationship. Two engaged participants will have the resolve to work through the challenges the relationship faces.

2. Is your therapist the right fit?

Therapists are not “one size fits all.” Some have specialties where they have received additional training and experience to work with certain issues or groups of people. If so, they usually state that clearly in online profiles. If you pick just any counselor, you may lose in efficacy what you gain in convenience. Taking the time to find the right therapist is extremely important.

The clinician is right only if they are the right fit for your relationship. When you have found a qualified specialist, make sure they are a good fit for the two of you. Even the most qualified therapist may not match you in temperament or make you feel comfortable. Interviewing them over the phone or reading their website/social media may give you a better sense of who the person is. Being honest and upfront about how you feel may save you time, money, and perhaps even your marriage.

Coming into the therapeutic relationship prepared to advocate for your relationship is paramount in rebuilding. It takes both of you to decide to do what it takes to help your marriage thrive.

3. Are the real issues being talked about and addressed?

Successful marriage counseling requires a considerable amount of effort from the therapist and the couple. Some couples pretend everything is fine because they do not want to feel judged or persecuted; meanwhile, their relationship is crumbling at their feet. Couples often struggle with how to start. Sometimes the best way to start is to talk about how you feel at that moment. It takes courage to talk about your pain.

The investment into therapy is more than financial; success requires an emotional investment as well. The counseling office is a safe space to work through the challenges that may have been hindering your relationship for years. A competent therapist will assist you in navigating the landmines of hurt and pain. Some issues (such as physical intimacy or infidelity) deteriorate in silence. It is difficult to heal a relationship if you are unwilling to talk about where it hurts.


I never tire of seeing the amazing changes couples make in the therapy office. Two people who seemed far apart become intimate allies. Through marriage counseling, many couples learn to communicate better not only with each other but with everyone else around them. Partners are free to love and be loved, can dream again, and are excited about what is in store. People on the outside of their newly constructed, safer relationship bubble typically notice the changes even before the couple does. In my experience, most couples who experience healing say they wished they would have started much sooner. Many remark that the issues that brought them to therapy were catalysts to the changes they have needed for years.

Marriage counseling comes with no guarantees. Even the most gifted therapist cannot promise you will live happily ever after. Coming into the therapeutic relationship prepared to advocate for your relationship is paramount in rebuilding. It takes both of you to decide to do what it takes to help your marriage thrive.

When counseling works, the results are amazing. But it takes effort on the part of everyone involved to get there.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deidre A. Prewitt, MSMFC, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Greyson

    August 29th, 2017 at 3:05 PM

    It would be easy for one partner to choose the therapist and then the other partner feel that he or she is being ganged up on. It is critical to work with someone that both people can trust and who can both be made to feel like their side is being heard.

  • Deidre Prewitt

    August 29th, 2017 at 4:01 PM

    I agree! It is very important that BOTH partners are in agreement with the choice as a counselor. This may mean reviewing their website, profiles, or social media. This will give both partners a chance to get to know this clinician and both partners can be included in the selection process. Many times couples simply choose on partner’s individual counselor. This scenario makes it hard to build an alliance with the other partner. Thanks for responding.

  • caroline

    August 30th, 2017 at 2:28 PM

    I have to think that there are many couples who wind up in counseling because one or the other is pushing for it, and not necessarily because both of the want to be there.

    I think that working with the right person can certainly change that attitude in the couple, but you have to know that there will be those times when one person is not all that hyped up to be there.

    I practically had to drag my husband to go see a counselor with me, not because there was anything terribly wrong, it just all felt stale and I wasn’t sure that either one of us was all that committed to making things work in our marriage again.

  • Payton

    August 31st, 2017 at 11:14 AM

    There is no need to go into therapy without the intent of sharing things with your therapist. I think that there are actually people who agree to go but have no realization that this could be hard and you might have to share some things that are not the most pleasant. But in order to get the most from those services you have to be wiling to be up front and honest with your therapist and your spouse as well. Otherwise, what on earth are you even doing there?

  • sterling

    September 4th, 2017 at 6:28 AM

    If one of you feels like this is a waste of time, then that is not being fair to the other.
    It could be the time to decide to go your separate ways.

  • Ray

    September 5th, 2017 at 2:48 PM

    I suspect that there are probably many couples who simply wait until things are just too far gone before they ever try to talk and start the process of repairing what has gone wrong in the relationship. You have to always be working, fixing the little cracks and fissures as they show up, not wait until the whole dam has been breached.

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