7 Reasons Why Marriage Counseling Often Fails (and What to Do About It)

why marriage counseling fails - Young black couple having marriage counselling

There are several reasons for counseling not being successful.

If you identify why you are feeling like counseling is unproductive, then maybe something can be done to correct the issue.

See if any of these fit your situation.


1. Mismatch between the couple and the counselor

In some instances, the “connection” between the couple and the counselor does not develop.

Sometimes it takes a while to develop, and other times it seems like there is an instant rapport, but a “connection” is necessary (in my opinion) for counseling to have a successful outcome.

The mismatch may be because of a difference in age, gender, race, life experience, religion, or worldview.

On one occasion, a young African-American lady came into the office.  During the initial session, she seemed quite uncomfortable and hesitant with her answers.

I am a Caucasian man and in my 60’s. She was not comfortable with me, so I referred her to another counselor in the office who is female, younger, and African-American.

This was a much better fit and progress was made for the young lady. Differences do not have to cause a mismatch, but they can.

 What do you do?

Work on finding common ground (a connection) or seek another counselor. It is OK to ask your counselor for a referral.

The ultimate issue is: are you making progress toward the goals you have in counseling?


2. Counseling is the last resort

Some couples come to counseling after they are already so conflicted that it would take a miracle to get them back on track.

Miracles do happen, on occasion, but most couples at this point are not willing to put the work into rebuilding the relationship that is required to make headway in healing the relationship.

It seems easier to them just to get out of the relationship.

Other couples already have in their minds that the relationship is lost. One spouse or the other (maybe both) wants the relationship to dissolve, but to ease the conscience a bit they come to counseling for a session or two just to say, “We tried it, but it didn’t work.”

What do you do?

Seek counseling before things get to the breaking point. Do not think of going to counseling like going to the doctor—only if you are sick.

Previously I would only go to the doctor when I was sick, but now my insurance company wants me to have a wellness checkup each year. Whether I am having major problems or not, I go to the doctor and get checked out.

Counseling can help you to avoid problems like a wellness checkup can help avoid major health issues. Marriage retreats, couple support groups, etc. can also contribute to a healthier marriage.

why marriage counseling fails - Young couple having marriage counselling


3. Looking for instant cures

We all seem to want to find an easy way to do a difficult task, and we often look for shortcuts. Instead of regular exercise, we want to take a pill to make us lose the weight.

Unfortunately, there are no instant cures for marriages.

If you are having trouble in your marriage, it did not get where you are overnight, and there are no quick fixes to get you back on track.

What do you do?

You must be willing to put the time and effort into what needs to be done to move your marriage back toward the healthy side.

In short, it takes work—consistent work over a period of time.

It requires you to be willing to change. Staying the same is not an option. Doing what you are doing now got you where you are now.

Patterns have to change, attitudes have to change, actions have to change—all in a more positive direction, of course.


4. Unwillingness to face the real issues

After a couple has been in counseling for several sessions, the counselor often sees that what the couple said the problem was to begin with is not the real issue.

The issue they presented at first is only the surface issue, not the actual issue causing the problem.

If the couple is willing to move beyond the surface, progress can take place. If the couple is not willing to move beyond the surface issue, not much will change.

The surface issue is often the more “safe” issue, and the real issue may hold some aspect of shame, guilt, or stigma that they do not want to explore.

What do you do?

Facing the real issue is difficult, but absolutely necessary for a healthier relationship.

When the counselor suggests that you consider working on the real issue, do it. Be open to seeing beneath the surface to the real problem and begin to make the changes that are necessary to improve your relationship.

Changing the oil in an engine that must be replaced does not make any more sense than working on surface issues when the real issue is tearing your marriage apart.


5. Preconceived ideas about counseling

Going to counseling for some is worse than going to the dentist.

In their minds they may think:

“Only those with really “serious” problems go to counseling.”


“Counselors pry into your private life.”


“Counseling is only for ‘weaklings.’”


“People will look down on us if we go to counseling.”

Counseling is confidential.

What do you do?

Check out several counselors or counseling centers.

Talk to them about the process of counseling, what you should expect, or what your options are. Talk to people you know who have gone to counseling (some couples do not mind talking about their counseling experience, but it needs to be their decision to talk about it or not).

Sometimes counseling with a clergy member is an option that is more acceptable to some. (Check to see if the clergy member has some counseling training or experience with marital counseling.)

Bottom line: if you need help in your marriage, do not let preconceived ideas stop you from getting the help you need. It can be well worth it.

why marriage counseling fails -African man talking to family counselor, frustrated husband sharing marital problems while offended wife sitting silent on couch, black unhappy couple visiting psychologist, marriage counseling


6. Fixing the spouse

Rather than seeing the issue as an “us” issue, it is seen as a “you” issue.

You want the counselor to straighten out your spouse. You go to counseling only because you believe the problem is your spouse’s issue, and you just want to see him/her fixed.

You do not see that you play any part in the problem.

These spouses often quit attending counseling with their spouse if they feel the counselor even hints that both have some responsibility for the problems in the marriage.

What do you do?

Get real!!!

You are a couple, and each shares some responsibility for making it more healthy.

Even if most of the blame falls on your spouse, you still must take responsibility for your part of the issue and for being a part of the solution. If you want your marriage to be a healthy, growing marriage, you must do your part.


7. Cost

It seems strange that some couples will spend tens of thousands of dollars for the wedding, but they will not pay hundreds to keep the marriage together.

The priorities seem to be mixed up in that case. Very few quality things are cheap.

What do you do?

Do not make the cost the major consideration.

If you need marital counseling, find a good counselor who can help you even if it is expensive. In the long run, it is a lot cheaper than a divorce.

Some counselors may offer a sliding scale based on income. Ask.

Clergy members often counsel parishioners for free. Ask.

The ball is in your court. Do you want a better marriage or not?



Does your situation match any of these reasons?

Be willing to do what it takes to fix it and make it work. Your marriage is worth it.

Leave a Reply