When Therapy Fails
I wish I could promise couples therapy will work for you. I can’t. I can be honest about the results I see. It’s not a scientific study of my clients, but my sense is that upwards of 70-80% of people use relationship therapy to make their relationship or marriages better. This may be after a just a few sessions or several months of hard work dealing with marital conflict. Of course there are couples that without marriage counseling may have decided to call it quits on their relationship and get a divorce, but in all honesty, I think the majority of those that get a lot out of therapy would stay together or muddle along even without a marriage therapist’s help — but that therapy either accelerates their growth and intimacy or makes it a whole lot easier to work through painful conflict.
What about the 20-30% that either drop out of couples therapy or end their partnership? Did marriage therapy make things worse for them? My opinion: probably not. My experience of couples counseling is that partners tend to act out their typical problems right in the therapy room. I’ve yet to see a brand new big problem created in a marriage therapy session. That is not to say, however, that couples don’t fight, argue, or hurt each other’s feelings in a couple’s therapy session. This happens frequently, but generally speaking, couples will find that I gently point out their missteps and help them make amends. Such “repairs”, in my opinion, are the common fare of marital/relationship life but some people may disagree and, as a result, think therapy isn’t working.
Lastly, there are times when I make mistakes as a therapist. On the occasions that I fail to be insightful, or I forget something, or I rush an individual or couple, or skim over important feelings, some couples may find that too hard to deal with and move on, but my general sense is that in such situations an opportunity to repair my mistake emerges and we are able to repair the momentary breach. Besides that, there are probably times when couples simply don’t click with me and decide to seek help elsewhere.
Nevertheless, if your fear is that therapy will make matters worse, I think the worst thing you will face is probably far less consequential: therapy might just feel like a dud — or you simply discover you or your partner just aren’t feeling enough motivation to press on. But rest assured, if you have the motivation, I’ll be your marriage’s biggest fan.