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Marriage Counseling Isn’t Working: When Should You Stop It?

Michael Tierney
October 9, 2022

Marriage is hard work; with a lot of compromise and effort, the union can last until the end of your days. Disagreements and arguments are common in marriages, as no couple can be expected to agree on every aspect of marriage. No couple is perfect, and it can be easy for you and your spouse to begin facing conflict as you inevitably disagree about a few things. It would be more telling if you and your spouse never argued, as it could be a sign of repressed emotions.

When these arguments get out of hand, and you can no longer find common ground with each other, most couples seek professional assistance.

Marriage counseling is one of the most powerful tools available to marriages suffering from issues or disagreements. It allows an impartial professional to assess the problems plaguing a marriage so the couple can return to form and rediscover the core of their marriage.

Unfortunately, marriage counseling is not a perfect tool and is not guaranteed to work since it requires a degree of cooperation that not every party is willing to give. Counseling is only meant to take your relationship so far and cannot be relied upon to solve your problems.

Solution If the counseling fails to yield positive results for your marriage after giving the process plenty of time, you should know when to give up on the counseling and try something else.

Stop Counseling If You Each Have Agendas

Understanding when to give up on marriage counseling means understanding why it is not working. Marriage counseling requires active participation from both spouses and for both of you to want the same result. Marriage counseling is doomed to fail if you are both looking for something different instead of cooperating on the same goals. However, this issue can arise if you and your spouse fail to communicate properly, but the most common cause is that you have different ideas about what the counseling will accomplish. If either one of you is there to prove you are "right," then the counseling will fail no matter what.

A Couple in Marriage Counseling

Counseling aims to restore an atmosphere of cooperation and compromise in your relationship. Any efforts to subvert this goal for selfish intent will only cement the issues in the marriage and make it impossible for the counseling to lead to progress. Ordinarily, you and your spouse would need to openly communicate in the sessions to reveal your issues and concerns with the relationship. This requires honesty and a willingness to listen to what your spouse has to say without interjecting.

Attempting to use counseling to prove your side of an argument you had outside therapy is an abuse of the system.

Solution If you and your spouse have an agenda for how the counseling will affect your relationship, it is a good sign that the counseling is not worth pursuing any longer, especially if one or both of you is unwilling to accept the issue and correct your behavior to give the counseling a chance of working properly.

Stop Counseling If Abuse Is Involved

An abusive spouse is one of the most serious issues that can affect a marriage. Abusing a spouse is one of the most unforgivable offenses one can commit and can take multiple forms.

An Abusive Spouse

Two major types of abuse can impact a marriage:

  • Mental Abuse: Mental abuse is a common and nefarious weapon used by abusive spouses. Mental abuse involves your spouse using words and psychology to make you second guess yourself or chip away at your self-confidence. This abuse makes it difficult to seek help since a mentally abusive spouse will attempt to make you believe it is your fault instead of theirs.
  • Physical Abuse: Physical abuse, as you might imagine, involves your spouse actively harming you. This means they strike you with their hands or weapons around the house. Physical abuse can lead to serious injury or death and often necessitates the involvement of law enforcement officers to stop.

The problem with abuse is that the victim often tries to rationalize it and believes things will improve. While this is not always the case, it is common enough to present a major threat to the health of abuse victims. The erroneous belief that the abuser can be corrected leads some victims to talk the more "temperate" (a term we use loosely in this context) abusers into attending therapy. Unfortunately, the abusers are already skilled in making their victims feel like the ones in the wrong. They will often attempt to steer the counseling in their therapy by making their victim seem unreasonable or hysterical to the counselor.

If your spouse is an abuser, either physically or mentally, marriage counseling will not be beneficial. Rather, it will allow your abuser to cement their position in your life by actively sabotaging the benefits counseling offers. Your best bet is to avoid counseling altogether if your spouse is an abuser.

Stop Counseling If You Find Yourself Contemplating New Partners

Another sign that counseling is likely failing is that you are actively looking at other men or women and contemplating a new relationship. Usually, the spouse seeking a new partner or even thinking about entering a new relationship has already given up on the marriage. Counseling is only effective when both parties work through the issues and preserve the marriage. If one or both of you have begun eyeing other people, you have likely subconsciously given up.

Woman Seeing a New Partner

Giving up on your marriage is not necessarily bad if the conflict is non-stop, but considering a new relationship is one of the clearest signs out there. If you are thinking about other people romantically, the odds are high that the counseling only prolongs the pain. You will likely be better off giving up on the counseling and beginning the process of divorce if, mentally, you have moved on enough to view someone other than your spouse as a potential romantic partner. Before you do, there is another detail you will need to keep in mind before ending the counseling sessions.

Stop Counseling If This Is Not the First Article You Have Read

If you are reading this article, it is likely because you are already involved in counseling and have little to show for your endeavors. We are not saying that reading an article like this is a sign your marriage is doomed, but if you are constantly reading articles about when to give up on counseling, it is a pretty clear signal. If this is the 9th, 10th, or 20th article of this nature you have read, you might be dealing with a long-lived counseling journey and a marriage that is just as troubled as when you began.

Man Reading Articles Online

If this is not the first article you have read and you have been going through a substantial amount of counseling, including the points below, it might be time to stop. We want to emphasize that you should meet the criteria above and below before taking that piece of advice. There are other reasons counseling might not be helping, and we would be remiss if you gave up too soon. Just bear in mind that counseling does have its limitations, and constant doubts about your progress or a lack of observable improvement can indicate counseling will not be able to help.

Stop Counseling If the Counseling Is Long-Lived

While marriage counseling is meant to be a long-term process to repair the damage in a relationship, it does have limits. Counseling operates on a "breakthrough" system where certain milestones measure progress in the counseling process. These milestones usually involve a practical application of the techniques and discussions from counseling in your marriage.

When these practices become a regular part of the relationship, you have successfully begun integrating the counselor's guidance and repairing your marriage. Some breakthroughs can take weeks or even months but reaching them is a major accomplishment.

While it can take time for counseling to yield benefits, there is a fine line between slow progress and stagnation. Eventually, the counseling is likely to become repetitive, with the same issues being broached in multiple sessions with no improvement.

Marriage Counseling Session

Usually, marriage counseling should not exceed 6 months, and any counseling that goes on for that long with no progress has already failed. This is because counseling is a diminishing return based on you and your spouse improving based on the earlier sessions. These milestones are a foundation of sorts that you and your spouse are meant to use as the base for your renovated marriage.

If you attend counseling for 6 months or more with no resolution of any issues, it is akin to trying to build a house without a floor. The walls will eventually collapse, and the problems will only get worse as you and your spouse fight more viciously. If your counseling sessions have gone on for too long without progress to show for it, it might be time to end the sessions and begin the next steps of your life without your spouse.

Stop Counseling If You Have Gone Through Multiple Counselors

Concerning the previous point, sometimes a lack of progress has more to do with the counselor than you and your spouse. This is not to say the counselor is necessarily bad but that they do not connect with you and your spouse. Finding the right counselor is not an exact science, and you might need to go through 2 or 3 to find the right match. The right counselor will develop a shorthand with you, demonstrate familiarity with you, and will be able to tailor their guidance to your needs. Unfortunately, not every counselor will be compatible with every couple or will not use the techniques that resonate with you.

However, the number of counselors you go through trying to find the "right one" can be telling of your chances for success. You should likely only go through up to 3 or maybe 4 different counselors at most, though usually, going through 3 different counselors is considered pushing it. Eventually, you will need to step back and consider whether counseling works for you or not. Sometimes, couples cannot benefit from counseling because the relationship is too far gone, and irreconcilable differences exist.

A Marriage Counselor

If, by the third counselor, you still feel as though counseling is not producing the results you need, it might be time to stop. After a point, no counselor can resolve the differences between spouses, and all you are doing is wasting time and money. This is not to say you should give up on a counselor after the first few sessions, but if by the halfway point you still have not hit a breakthrough, then either the counselor is not for you, or the marriage is not salvageable.

Learn the Law

While counseling can be the answer to your marital troubles, it is not a perfect solution. Some marriages are simply unhealthy and unhappy, with no amount of counseling being enough to resolve the conflict. This is not to say you should give up right away or that the first counselor you see should be the basis of your decision. We only wish to emphasize that sometimes marriage counseling is not an effective tool for every situation.

If your counseling experience aligns with the content of this article, it might be time to move on and begin the separation process. We realize divorce is highly unpleasant, and you likely hoped to avoid it, but sometimes it is in everyone's best interest.

Learning the Law

As for divorce itself, the process can be daunting and confusing as divorce is one of the most complicated civil proceedings. This is not because divorce is a complicated process but because the nature of divorce involves intense negotiations and dividing your life between you and your spouse. Fortunately, information can help you prepare for and understand certain niche events in divorce court. This knowledge could make the difference between a successful divorce claim and being blindsided by a process you never expected from your spouse. We know this has not been the most pleasant topic, but we hope this article was helpful.

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Written By:
Michael Tierney

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