Will Our Therapist Break Us Up?

Couples therapy can have many different outcomes. The final outcome will depend on various factors, especially the therapeutic process and the goals of the partners in therapy. A couples counselor will help couples face their challenges together, but it is up to the partners to determine if their relationship will continue or end in separation. Below, several therapists explain how couples therapy can help couples make the decision to continue a relationship or call it quits:

Jeffrey Kaplan, MA, LMFT
: A therapist typically decides to work with couples not only because he or she has the skills to facilitate healthy relationships, but also because the therapist believes the couples can resolve their issues and progress to a higher level of relational satisfaction. That is not to say, of course, that all couples will decide to stay together after seeing a couples therapist. Sometimes, the couple is going to therapy to discover what the best way of breaking up may be, without hurting the other beyond measure and/or destroying their family, particularly if children are involved.

In the end, a therapist is there to help the system seek its most optimal solution. For different couples that means different things. Partners who fight continuously may still have a lot of passion and love for one another, but struggle with resentments that block the relationship. A therapist can help with that. Other couples may feel that their relationship is fine, but their sex life is miserable. A therapist can help with that too. Other couples may want to work through an issue of infidelity by one or both partners. A therapist can help with all of these different yet common problems presented in relationships.

Ultimately, the therapist can help each person in the relationship find the most satisfactory point that they can within the relationship system that exists, however that might look.

Daniels-Jacinto-DeannaDeanna Daniels-Jacinto, LMFT: Typically, when couples enter into therapy a problem is present and may have existed within the relationship for a period of time. Sometimes, couples do not seek therapy until they are in crisis, or when one partner has privately made a decision to leave the relationship and uses therapy as a catalyst to do so. Because of these and numerous other variables, the process of therapy (not the therapist) could result in the decision to end a relationship.

The process of therapy may pose tough questions for each partner to answer or reflect upon. There may be times during the course of therapy when continuing the relationship is questioned. However, the process of therapy may result in a more fulfilling, rewarding, and mutually respectful relationship. Couples often come away from the therapeutic experience having learned new coping skills, understanding something new about each other, or feeling reconnected to what brought them together in the first place.  Often, couples will come away from therapy with a renewed and stronger commitment to each other and their relationship.

Hirschhorn - DebDeb Hirschhorn, PhD: It could happen that a couple splits up after attending couples therapy because of a therapist’s lack of skills, and I will explain how. When a therapist only meets one person in the relationship, a therapist not specifically trained in couples therapy may become biased. This experience is reinforced the longer one person keeps seeing that therapist. I have heard all too often of therapists who drew conclusions about spouses without meeting them and insisted the couple split.

Another reason this could happen—even when partners go in to therapy together—is that the therapist might not know how to handle abuse, including verbal abuse. When told of the abuse, the therapist might also start to pressure the other person to leave the relationship. This can be a mistake as it leaves the abuser untreated! The abuser, obviously, needs help too.

There is a solution, however. Go to someone with a degree—not just one or two courses—in marriage and family therapy. The more complicated your situation, the higher the degree and the longer the amount of experience needed. An MFT is trained to want to hear both sides and to not be thrown by verbal or emotional abuse. There are even those therapists who feel that domestic violence can and must be treated (makes sense, right?) and will not be thrown off by that.

So, as an informed consumer, it is your right to ask the therapist what their training in couples work really is. You can also ask them their philosophy on keeping marriages together.

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  • Billy

    March 11th, 2017 at 1:26 PM

    Back in the mid 80s my wife & I went to couples counseling. The counselor was a graduate of the Wayne Oates School of Christian Counseling at Southern Baptist Seminary and was working out of a large church in the Louisville, KY area. Twice during our time w/ him he said straight out, “If things don’t change, the only solution I see for you 2 is divorce.” Really boosted my confidence in his abilities. To this day I have no idea what his role in counseling might have been. Not a ficilator – didn’t try to direct the conversation or keep it going. Did not offer any practical advice or solutions or “here’s what you need to do” type of suggestions. Heck, he wasn’t even a referee – he’d just sit there and watch us argue.
    Maybe that’s what he was – a voyeur: just a watcher (like the character from Marval Comics),
    Come this July/2017, my wife and I will celebrate 41 years of marriage, in spite of what this so called counselor did or did not do.
    Felt good to get that off my chest.

  • Jill F.

    May 23rd, 2018 at 12:30 AM

    My boyfriend of almost nine years recently broke up with me, we had been living together for six years. He was seeing a therapist; suffering extreme paranoid delusions, personality changes, forgetfulness, depression, change in appetite, unwarranted suspicion and anger towards me, talk of suicide. Long term use of prescription norco I believe was the cause.
    His therapist never met me. My ex boyfriend claims this therapist told him to end our relationship, saying I was the cause of his anxiety and depression.
    My ex did not divulge the extent of his mental issues with the counselor he was seeing, and only spoke of trouble sleeping, depression and anxiety.
    Would a competent counselor/therapist instruct a patient to end a relationship with their partner, after only, at most, three sessions? Especially having never met me?
    My ex did not continue with therapy, and did not ever seek help for his other symptoms. He now takes Klonopin along with the norco. He doesn’t seem to be paranoid any longer, but much of his other symptoms remain.
    I have trouble believin

  • Angel B.

    March 13th, 2019 at 6:28 PM

    What I love most here is when you mentioned that couples therapy works on the premise that couples can patch up their issues to move on to a higher level of satisfying relationships. Aunt Tina should, therefore, seriously consider getting herself and Uncle Tony go back to active couples therapy sessions, so as to reevaluate their decision to get a divorce. There might just be issues that they need to compromise on and problems that need to be cleared out–like Aunt Tina’s insistence on being a mobile accounting consultant–not only for the kids, but also for their marriage. There are both devout Catholics, and this could be the best option to save the sanctity of Holy Matrimony.

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