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Reasons Couples or Marriage Counseling Doesn't Work

Tammy and Xavier have been talking about couples therapy. They are having trouble with their communication and would like to get it figured out.

Tammy is interested in going, but Xavier is questioning whether it is worth the time, effort, and money. They live busy lives in Lake Oswego and trying to figure out a time to make it work would add a layer of stress.

Plus, Xavier has a friend who did marriage counseling with his now ex-wife. His friend said it did not help and was a waste of time.

Xavier is afraid of having the same experience.

Just as there are reasons why marriage therapy does work, there are reasons why it won’t. Here are some of those.

Reason #1 Couples Counseling Won’t Work — Lack of Commitment to Therapy:

One week, a couple shows up for counseling. Then they cancel the following week. They show up for the next two, then miss two weeks in a row.

I get it. We live in busy times. People are trying to manage the stress and anxiety of work. Sometimes that includes burnout from working from home. And then there are the responsibilities with the kids. Or going on trips.

Look, I know trying to manage schedules is not easy. The great thing is that online counseling has made the process of therapy very flexible.

But if the couple is not committed to some level of consistency in counseling, there is a strong possibility for disappointment in the results.

Being committed to showing up for marriage or couples therapy is key.

Reason #2 Couples Counseling Won’t Work — Only Doing Work During Counseling Sessions:

Have you ever known the kid in school who doesn’t do any of their homework and spends zero time studying? Still that kid ends up with incredible grades?

Yeah…couples counseling isn’t that.

In fact, if you want your relationship to be stronger through marriage or couples therapy, it’s vital that you do the work outside of the session. You cannot just expect to show up for 60-90 minutes a week and think that’s going to be enough.

You will need to do the work outside of the marriage counseling session.

Reason #3 Couples Counseling Won’t Work — Too Comfortable in the Pain:

Some couples are just not willing or able to stretch or grow to find a new way of relating. It is possible for there to be so much hurt that they are simply looking to cast blame or be heard. They get got up in a cycle of emotional reactivity.

And it is difficult to move or change.

A couple can be so comfortable in their pain and hurt. They know what that looks like or feels like. And while the couple may not want the continued conflict, they are not uncomfortable enough to make the change.

If a person is set only on getting revenge or enacting a form of justice, then they aren’t all that interested in finding healing for the relationship.

They’re too comfortable in the pain to make the moves for relational healing.

Reason #4 Couples Counseling Won’t Work — Not a Good Fit:

You may get along with most people. But it’s unlikely that you would spend an equal amount of time with everyone. It’s not that you dislike them, but they just aren’t your “people.”

It’s the same way with a marriage counselor. Not every couples therapist you come across is a good fit for you.

If it is feeling like there is no rapport after a few sessions, then it may be that the couples counselor you are seeing is not the right therapist for you. It could be beneficial to look for a new marriage therapist to work with.


There are a few different ways that couples sabotage their marriage counseling experience. And it typically happens because there is so much pain or hurt that is occurring in the relationship.

The good news, though, is that you don’t have to stay in that space. Your marriage or relationship can thrive.

All there takes is the desire to see it happen.


Jason Wilkinson is passionate about helping couples find ways to strengthen their relationships through emotional self-regulation and successful communication. He is the owner of Wellspace Counseling, which offers individual and marriage counseling to the communities of Tualatin, Lake Oswego, Portland, and throughout the state of Oregon through the use of online counseling.


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