5 Ways Couples Therapy Can Ruin Your Marriage

Love & Learn 9

wedding ringsIf there's one thing those of us who have been married for a while know, it's that staying married over the long haul ain't always easy. Thank goodness for couples therapy, right? Or ... not? An article in The New York Times this weekend kind of blew apart the notion I had of couples counseling being the THE ANSWER. 

Richard Simon, editor of The Psychotherapy Networker, says, "It’s widely acknowledged that couples therapy is the most challenging.” What therapists know but patients may not realize is that the therapists themselves "often feel confused, at odds with a least one of your patients, out of control."

"It's like piloting a helicopter in a hurricane," say couples counselors Peter Pearson and Ellyn Bader. Yikes, that bad? Apparently couples therapy kind of is up there with rocket science -- and there are so many things that can go wrong.

Therapists aren't used to being ninjas. A therapist's role is usually more passive. It's about them sitting back and listening while you do the talking. But in couples therapy the therapist has to take a more active role. "You have to like action. To manage marital combat, a therapist needs to get in there, mix it up with the client, be a ninja. This is intimidating," says psychologist and family therapist Terry Real.

Patients may disagree over the therapist. What if one spouse connects really well with the therapist while the other spouse not so much? "A brilliant therapeutic observation can blow up in your face when one spouse thinks you’re a genius and the other thinks you’re clueless — or worse, allied with the enemy," says William J. Doherty, University of Minnesota professor of family social science.

Therapists can get their timing wrong. "Let a couple interrupt each other for 15 seconds, and pretty soon you have them screaming at each other and wondering why they need you to do what they could do at home,” Professor Doherty says. Plus, a therapist can't stall to ponder the situation. Things happen faster in couples therapy.

Sometimes one spouse shows up already wanting what Doherty calls a “therapist-endorsed divorce.” They're not even there to give the marriage a chance -- they've already made up their mind that they want out. But they're not going to come out and be honest about that. Oh no -- they're going to waste everyone's time and make the therapist figure it out.

People usually put off couples counseling until things get really bad. Professor of psychology Brian D. Doss says the average couple is unhappy for six years before they finally start couples therapy -- by then the relationship may be beyond repair, or at least much harder to fix.

So what's the takeaway? If you think your relationship is struggling, get help early, find an active "ninja" therapist, and be really honest with each other and your therapist about what your goals are.

Have you ever tried couples therapy? Can you relate to any of these counseling problems?

 

Image via apdk/Flickr

commitment, divorce, marriage

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Rebecca Peterson

DH and I went into couple's therapy. We've only been together for 3 years. However, the life we live accelerates life to the point where it feels like we've been together for 10. We wanted to try to put our relationship on track before either of us got to the breaking point. It seemed to help, and even know we try to remember some of the communication tips we learned.

nonmember avatar Stan Dubin

Small world! Using Google Updates, I also caught the NY Times article a couple of days ago. Normally I find honesty refreshing, but the frailties revealed in couples therapists was pretty shocking. I wrote a blog post of my own in response.

G8rgi... G8rgirl96

My husband of 25 years this September and I have been to counseling a good three times. We also go to as many Marriage Encounter weekends as we can. One of the reasons we have gone so much is that we don't wait until it's too late. I think that all relationships have cycles. Sometimes you're getting along wonderfully, you're communicating, you're in sync. And others it seems as if you can't say a thing without getting into an argument. I like to think of marriage counselors as translators. Sometimes you're just not speaking the same language and you need a translator. I absolutely agree that marriage takes work but I think the rewards outweigh the effort.

Dorree Lynn



When will some therapists grow up and assume the responsibilities of their chosen profession? Most well trained couples therapists do good work. However, many use their professional title as an excuse to do easy or sloppy work and sit back like some pooh bah and rely on simply sounding wise. Getting into the couple's mix takes  training, education and practice. It’s no different from any other field. If you want a good couple’s therapist, shop carefully for one. It may save your relationship. Or, help you part well.



Dorree Lynn

When will some therapists grow up and assume the responsibilities of their chosen profession? Most well trained couples therapists do good work. However, many use their professional title as an excuse to do easy or sloppy work and sit back like some pooh bah and rely on simply sounding wise. Getting into the mix, learning to open their mouth and hitting a target bulls eye, at least most of the time, takes demanding training, education and practice. It’s no different from any other field. If you want a good couple’s therapist, shop for one. Most people will purchase a pair of jeans with more care than they will select their health care professional, including their couple’s therapist. The one constant that has been shown to be reliable is the quality of the relationship (after all therapy is a kind of marriage, and couples therapy is a bit like a ménage a trois.) Different techniques work for different couples. So chose a therapist you both can relate to.

nonmember avatar joanne

our relationship got to the too late or very hard to fix status before my now ex, agreed to go to couples therapy, i had asked him 6years previous to go to therapy with me, but he just slammed it as rubbish and refused outright to go.so we plodded along another 6years with my tolerance level of his derogatery supposed humour, and its my way or the highway attitude,disintegrating to the point of depression.sometimes its not because the couple wait as a couple to get to therapy, quite often one partner wants to go, but cant get the other one to go along.and then the one thats refused act all confused like a bus has hit them when the other ends up having a cyber affair and/or straight up leaves.

nonmember avatar Helena Andrews

I'm a reporter for a national women's magazine. I'm writing a trend piece on couples counseling for dating (non engaged and unmarried) couples. We're looking to chat with unmarried and non-engaged couples (specifically the female half) about why they're seeking out couples counseling.

My deadline is today at 5pm EST. People can reach me via email at helena@helenaandrews.com. Ideally we'd need the full name, occupation, age and current city of every woman we talk to -- though I can negotiate that if necessary.

Thanks for sharing your story.

nonmember avatar Discussant

Therapy often results in far more harm than good. Consumers ought to beware and judge carefully. http://trytherapyfree.wordpress.com/

nonmember avatar Dawn

My now ex-husband requested I arrange for us to see a therapist if I didn't want a divorce, so I did, with the best and highly recommended. After our first session he said, "I give it 6 months!" I feel he had already made up his mind, but we continued to go to therapy for 20 months before I finally called it quits. We were married 21 yrs and together 26, this was not a decision I took lightly. The therapist was very good, we both liked him. Only problem was my ex-spouse didn't walk the talk during the week between each session. So both partners have to want it. But I have been in other situations where a therapist has done more harm than good, by giving the wrong and bad advice. So it is very important to choose wisely and do research.

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