Couples Therapy Failures

Couples Therapy Failures

The failure rate for marriage counseling is unbelievably high. Sounds depressing doesn’t it?

There are some reasons why it doesn’t work so you can be forewarned:

Too Late
Couples often wait until one or both have turned AGAINST their marriage. They believe no matter what happens, it is too little too late, but go to counseling to see if the professional can say something miraculous that will fix years of hurt and pain. Couples can work through just about anything, if they desire to go through the mess together and change bad interactive patterns that damaged their relationship. It is never easy and rarely miraculous. Sometimes it is just doing the hard work.

Active Addiction
When one or both of the individuals are using a substance (drugs, alcohol) or activity (sex, gambling, shopping) to numb personal pain, couples therapy doesn’t work. Individual counseling is recommended in these situations. However, if individuals are in recovery, couples counseling can be tremendously effective in rebuilding trust in the relationship and helping to fight against addiction.

Blame Game
When couples come to counseling, hoping the counselor will change their spouse to better meet their needs, it is doomed to failure. No one can make anyone do anything… even the most insightful counselor cannot make your husband be more engaged with his family or your wife want to have sex with you. A healthy marriage takes two individuals who are willing to serve the needs of the other and make personal changes to make a life together.

Physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse necessitates separation until healing occurs. Please seek immediate help if you are in an abusive relationship.

When babies don’t bring joy

When babies don’t bring joy

Having a new baby is a life changing event. It’s also a relationship changing event. Despite all the sweet Instagram moments captured, it is reported that more than 60% of couples report a significant loss of satisfaction in their relationship post-baby. Couples report fighting more and feeling alone. Exhaustion takes over, leaving individuals wondering if they will survive this new season. If this describes you, the good news is you are not alone and there are tools you can utilize to help buoy your relationship through this new transition to parenthood.

An exhaustive study of new parents reveals a 6-step process for creating a healthy family unit:

1 – Realize all new parents are in the same situation. It’s overwhelming and exhausting for every new parent. The key is HOW a couple navigates the reality of their new uncharted world that will determine whether it is a joyous season or one that is merely survived.

2 – Enjoy your baby. All babies have overwhelming needs and change how daily life functions. Knowing more about the developmental needs of the baby and how your relationship can hinder or help your baby is important. Learn to not just take care of the baby, but to enjoy meeting their needs.

3 – Manage the conflict. Tired parents become cranky parents. Learn to de-escalate your frustrations so you can be heard and understood. Key tip of the day: how you start a fight will typically determine how the fight will end. Harsh beginnings make for difficult endings.

4 – Build a friendship and rekindle your sex life with your partner. It is easy to focus on the needs of the baby and the jobs that provide for the growing family but forget about the couple that is responsible for holding it all together. Be intentional about date nights, having fun together and remember why this is the person you want a family with.

5 – Fathers are important. An engaged, emotionally present dad is a sexy mate. Often moms read the parenting books and watch the videos. Dads might need to invest in some parenting tools independently of their partner to bolster their confidence.

6 – Work together for the future. Knowing where your family is headed in the future is one of the key factors in surviving the hardship of a new family.

If your relationship is struggling after starting a family, consider making an appointment with one of our therapists that specialize in helping couples navigate changes.

A good read: “And Baby Makes Three: a six-step plan for preserving marital intimacy and rekindling romance after baby arrives.” by John Gottman, PhD. and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD.

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Fighting Patterns

Fighting Patterns

Most couples come into marriage counseling looking for help with their communication. They insist they just can’t communicate with one another. However, a typical couple has fallen into a predictable pattern of communicating that is no longer effective. They enter a predetermined dance, follow the steps and usually land back in the same place, without a resolution on the perpetual issue. When this happens repetitively, couples either escalate or retreat from one another.

Example: A wife initiates a conversation with her workaholic husband. He dismisses the conversation and she experiences rejection. She escalates the conversation into a fight, demanding his attention. He responds to the escalation and they spend two hours battling about his work habits. They do not resolve the issue, he angrily goes back to work and she returns to her daily routine feeling abandoned in her marriage.

Example: A husband sends texts to his wife reminding her to make the necessary dentist appointments and scheduling for the children’s activities. He also wants to ensure plans for dinner have been arranged and that the laundry gets switched over so it doesn’t mildew in the washing machine. The wife reads the texts, feels controlled by his nagging and does not respond. She continues working on a craft project for the kids bedroom that takes up the dining room table and orders pizza for the kids. Doctors appointments and carpool schedule can wait. He accuses her of being irresponsible. She hates being nagged to do all the domestic chores.

Shirley Glass, in her book “Not Just Friends”, reveals the common relational patterns that negatively contribute to the demise of a relationship.

Pursuer and Distancer
One of the most common examples is the wife pursuing her husband for emotional connection and he withdraws physically or emotionally. When the wife is rejected, she intensifies, fearing abandonment, resulting in critical harsh interactions.

One partner makes requests and other procrastinates to avoid the task. This typically escalates into commands and overt refusals. There is no winner here and the relationship suffers.

Saint and Sinner
A wholesome individual may seek out a wild partner, initially enjoying their lack of constraint. However, the expectations of the saint typically change after the birth of a child, ultimately seek to reform their partner. The saint can default to stern, critical and disapproving of the “free spirit”. The differences in lifestyle typically diminish over time in a healthy relationship, but become more pronounced in a critical house.

Bully and Sneak
When one partner is judgmental and intimidating, the other may resort to sneaking behaviors. An overly controlling financially conservative may find their spouse hiding purchases. Intimacy is lost when hiding, sneaking and lies become a part of the relationship.

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As you experience ongoing conflict with your spouse, step back and track the pattern. Then do one thing to interrupt the predictable pattern and see what happens. When you have been wronged, avoid criticism or controlling threats. If your pattern is to retreat away from hard discussions, step toward your spouse and engage in their hurt. Make the choice to stop the chaos and start connecting.

Becoming an Incredible family

Becoming an Incredible family

I love The Incredibles family. Most families can relate with them. The teenager is surly at home and has social anxiety at school. The middle boy has behavior problems both at school and home, creating chaos for everyone. The mom used to have a powerful career but now attempts to find satisfaction in taking care of everyone else’s needs as a stay at home mom. Dad is so bored in his job that he pursues a secret life that creates emotional distance in his marriage and with his kids. And the baby… there is just something off with the youngest. Maybe all of them need to find some help.

These isolated problems are actually a family problem. The individual struggles affect how the family interacts with each other AND simultaneously how the family responds to the problem can either make the issues easier or more difficult. Healthy families help their kids to bounce out of their struggles more easily.

As a family therapist, I like to start with who is most concerned, that’s usually mom: help mom to identify what she really is struggling with and how she is uniquely equipped to help solve it. Then move on to the marriage. When mom and dad remember who they are as individuals and as a team, they are in a better position to craft a purpose and vision for their family. Lastly, the kids: empower them to better deal with their unique-ness as they become an extension of a strong family unit. The surly attitudes, rebellious behavior and undesirable responses become a family issue – because after all, they are experienced by the family.

It takes time. It takes change on the part of everyone. And change can be messy. However, if Mr. Incredible can get excited about his family, anyone can.



I have spent a lot of years watching kids learn to play sports. As they grow into their ability to utilize their individual skills and operate as a team, there are many opportunities for a coach to step in and help them operate more efficiently. Sometimes players get distracted and aren’t functioning well in their role. They can get emotionally charged and become more aggressive than the game allows. Or the intended strategy isn’t working and the teamwork has fallen apart. A coach will call a time out.

Time out is an intentional tool used by most sports to help the players step back, evaluate what is and isn’t working and utilize a new plan. Teams have a planned strategy before they ever step on the court or field but they make room for flexibility to change tactics to ensure the win.

Relationships can benefit from utilizing a timeout as well. There are times when a discussion goes sideways and begins to escalate into battle of hurt feelings and defensive tactics. The discussion over an issue becomes a war. Call a timeout.

A timeout is different than withdrawal. Some individuals prefer to avoid conflict, so they withdraw either physically or emotionally with the goal to avoid the pain. A timeout is an agreed upon tactic that will lead to reconnection and communication to resolve the issue at hand. The goal during a timeout is to take responsibility for your own attitude and emotions that are negatively impacting the discussion.

Communicate the length of the timeout. It takes at least 20 minutes to calm down all the systems once emotions have been activated, but longer than 24 hours is most likely not necessary. Agree to part ways and agree when to return to the discussion.

Calm your mind. Use prayer, deep breathing, go for a walk, etc.

Choose to forgive. Instead of rehearsing your next zinger to prove your point, choose to release yourself from the knots of bitterness by forgiving the offender. When you choose to remain angry and bitter toward your spouse, it ties you to the offense and the offender. Choose to erase the wrong, walk in freedom and believe the best for your spouse.

Choose a different response. Remember that the battle is WON when your relationship is reconnected, and you resolve the issue. You win by working as a team. Fight for your marriage, not against your spouse. Find a way to communicate that you are on the same page as your partner and you want the same thing.

Key point: If you want to see change, then YOU have to change.

Car Repairs & Marriage

Car Repairs & Marriage

My adolescent son, who loves all things mechanical and auto related, ran his car dry of oil. In his exuberance to live his life, he neglected routine maintenance and ended up with a very broken car. He had two options: scrap it or rebuild it. The rebuild process is slow, filled with delays, frustrations, late nights and greasy coveralls. Getting a different car seemed more appealing. Easier. Except at his price point, he would just be buying someone else’s problems. I urged him to do the work to resolve his issue, rather than find a quick fix. Months of excruciating research, mistakes and successes got the car running again. And then more months of tweaking, honing and gentle repairs to get it running well. He now values basic auto maintenance at a whole new level. And he built a skill set that he will use forever.

Healthy marriages take maintenance. In the blur of life, tiny thoughtful moments get sent to the back burner, because there are more pressing issues. And then one day, a couple looks up from their life to realize their relationship is broken. Really, really broken. And they have a choice: scrap it or rebuild it. Many couples opt for the first choice, believing it is easier to divorce than to rebuild. A quick fix. However, divorce doesn’t end the pain, it just changes it. Rebuilding a healthy marriage takes work. Painful truths. Changing patterns of behaviors. Choosing selflessness over selfishness. If a couple can work together on the repairs, they will experience the satisfaction of a deeper, more intimate relationship that will benefit them for the rest of the lives. Many couples make an appointment for marriage counseling hoping for a quick fix. An “expert” will either provide an easy solution or decree their relationship is indeed dead. A good counselor will do neither. When a marriage needs a rebuild, a counselor will act as a repair manual as the couple engages in the work. The couple has to set aside the time and energy to diagnose issues, replace broken parts that don’t help the marriage and install new habits that make things work. And then once the relationship is up and running, regular maintenance will still be required to keep things healthy.

The difference between a beloved classic and an old junker is the time and energy that is invested into the vehicle. A classic has been restored, taken care of and protected. It is a focused priority. And a classic has a higher value, both financially and intrinsically. When a couple takes the time to restore a marriage, the payoff will be a highly valued treasure.

We know from decades of experience that some skills are best explained in group settings in a fun and educational environment, while personal topics still remain private.

Total Costs: $35/assessment $50/week (8 week date nights $435/couple)

Blended Couple:
This workshop is best for couples that have blended families involved in your marriage.

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