Five Barriers to Success in Marriage Counseling: How to Overcome Potential Obstacles

Five Barriers to Success in Marriage Counseling: How to Overcome Potential Obstacles

Barriers to Success in Marriage Counseling: How to Overcome Potential Obstacles


Marriage therapists can help support marital relationships by assisting with effective communication, support desired intimacy and help couples learn new ways of interacting.  If one or both parties begins marriage counseling with low expectations or hopelessness, it can sabotage the successful outcome of the treatment. Marriage therapy is most successful when marital challenges are addressed early, both parties are equally committed to continuing the relationship, resistance is addressed, and each partner is willing compromise. 

If you or your partner have concerns about obstacles to success in marital counseling, utilize free phone consultations offered by most therapists to discuss before beginning treatment.

Below are some potential obstacles that couples might consider before entering treatment.  
1. Waiting too long to attend couples counseling
The majority of couples who have poor outcomes in counseling have waited too long to receive help. By the time a decision is made to try counseling, often, one or both parties are already at the end of their ropes and have possibly made a decision to exit the relationship.   Committing to couples counseling earlier in your relationship rather than later is always a good choice.  Unless both parties want to continue in the relationship and agree that a healthier relationship together is the goal, the therapy will not be successful.

Suggestion:  Be honest with your partner about your intentions regarding therapy before you begin.  Share your feelings of hopelessness with your partner and therapist.  Successful outcomes in marriage counseling depend on both partners entering with the intention of making improvements to the marriage. It is never too late to create positive changes and repair struggling relationships. Each day, month or year, you put off attending therapy, is another day lost in re-establishing a positive connection with your partner. Challenges in relationships are best addressed in the beginning, before additional wounds or resentments occur.  Wherever you begin efforts for change, the probability of success in couples counseling is greater when both parties are fully committed. 

2. Unwillingness to Compromise
What brings couples into therapy is frequently related to communication barriers, lack of intimacy, disagreements about parenting, or financial concerns. Couples report being in a standoff, having circular arguments resulting in no solutions.  After years or months of repetitive arguments, couples may begin to withdraw and become unwilling to compromise with their partners. Reluctance to compromise or the need to “win” presents a barrier that must be overcome before progress can occur. Living alone can be easy because it is always on your own terms: being in any relationship requires compromise.

Suggestion:  If compromise is a challenge, you must become aware of its interference in healthy relationships. Learn to ask and listen to what your partner needs and feels.  Practice enjoying the observation of your partner feeling heard and understood. Ask yourself “Do I need to be right or do I want to be happy”.  Consider a new definition of winning: “I am winning when my relationships are thriving and when my partner and I both feel satisfied and happy in the success of our relationship”.  The art of compromise can be learned if there is genuine interest in maintaining the relationship. If compromise creates a roadblock, or winning is a primary objective for you, individual therapy might be helpful before beginning work as a couple.

3. Lack of Belief Counseling will be helpful or a lack trust in your therapist 
When selecting a therapist, a primary focus must be mutual positive regard and trust with the therapist. For couples, this sense of trust and safety must be experienced by both partners.  If only one person participated in the selection process of a counselor, it may feel difficult to be invested.  Consequently, if one person feels distrustful, the sessions can be sabotaged unknowingly before the therapist can even establish the areas of concern.

When therapy is not valued in general, or not part of your belief system for either partner, it is important to discuss and research your resistance to therapy.  Marital therapy is less impactful when one or both parties is skeptical about mental health.

Suggestion: Take your time selecting a therapist you both choose and feel safe with.  Discuss your feelings with your therapist in sessions if you do not feel supported.  Marriage therapy is an excellent time to practice communication that is uncomfortable.  A skilled therapist will utilize your openness as an opportunity for relational growth.
If skepticism about mental health is an obstacle, read about the benefits of mental health or make inquiries to trusted persons in your life about their experiences.  It is also beneficial to discuss your concerns about treatment with therapists in consultations prior to therapy.

4. Commitment to Continuation of the Relationship by both partners 
As mentioned above, both parties in a struggling relationship must be willing and ready to work on the marriage.  If one partner has a foot out the door or is already considering another relationship, the therapy will not be successful.  The level of commitment to continuation of a relationship can only be known by the two individuals in the relationship.  If staying in the marriage is not the goal, while hard to discuss, marriage therapy may not be the right choice. 

Suggestion: Commitment to continuation of a relationship is best discussed before entering counseling.  It can be painful to be honest with yourself and your partner about your intentions regarding the relationship when you are not invested in remaining married.  Individual therapy can assist in seeking clarity about your hesitation or finding the words to exit a relationship gracefully. Feelings of resistance due to significant resentments could be the obstacle or you may be looking for support in finding courage to make tough decisions about parting ways. 

5. Believing Therapy is a Waste of Time or Money 
Therapy is a commitment of time and money, for both the couple and the therapist. The cost of divorce is clearly a substantially larger cost, however many individuals resent paying for services they do not perceive as valuable or necessary. Finances are a concern for most couples and yet we generally find time and money for the things we value. Therapists prefer to see positive outcomes in therapy and invest in clients who are committed to the success of treatment.

Suggestion: Do the math with your partner prior to seeking therapy. A pro/con list with a pen and paper can help move you and your partner through financial resentments or concerns about the cost of therapy. The cost of a divorce, living in two homes and losing the benefits that come with being in a relationship are significant.   For those who like to fix things themselves and do not like paying for any service, you may want to look at the actual cost of divorce. Compared to the cost of attorneys (or even a mediator), relocation, separating assets, spousal or child support can be very expensive.   

If divorce is on the horizon, it is a good idea to look for a collaborative mediator. Not every marriage is meant to last, and making educated, thoughtful choices when you are parting ways is in the best interest of everyone.

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