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Does couples counseling work?

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Family Relations > Does couples counseling work?


related page: Recommendations for Couples' Counselors
May 2003

Can anyone testify about the success or lack of success of couples counceling? I know this is a simplified question to the most complex of issues, but I'm wondering if anyone can truly say that couples counceling saved their marriage. My partner and I tend to be skeptics, but right now we're looking at the beginning of the end for us. We've pretty much dismissed counceling as an option, but we may reconsider if presented with any real proof that it can work.


Couples therapy can not save a marriage -- only two people that really want to make it work (do the hard work that is necessary to overcome issues and deal with past pain) and are, at heart, a well-matched, compatible couple (many are not) can save a marriage (or relationship). I, for one, strongly believe that I would not be with my husband today (whom I really do now love to be around) if it were not for the therapy we received. The therapist did not save us, if anything, the year we spent in therapy, attempting to re-learn constructive communication habits, letting go of old pain and unnecessary expectations, and getting to the root of some of our own personal issues -- was the worse time in our relationship. Trying to fix (repair) things is very hard work! And there were many times when it just seemed like it was useless. At the end of our year of therapy we actually broke up and were planning to go our separate ways. After a short period apart we started to reconnect and finally reached the point were all the lessons we had learned in therapy were starting to make sense and make our time together more enjoyable (like it was when we first started our relationship). It has only grown from there. One of the many things I learned from therapy was that relationships are just plain hard, no matter what, and it is really easy sometimes when you're in the middle of bad times to just feel like you're with the wrong person, not that maybe there are lessons you could learn to reconnect again.

I would recommend seeing a therapist as a way of helping you make this difficult decision in life (to stay together or not). I am not one of those people that believe everyone should stay together just because they've been together (if the relationship is not supportive and enjoyable or has the potential to be -- it's probably best to move on). I actually had some friends go see the therapist we went to, with the agreement that after two sessions the therapist would give her opinion on whether they were compatible enough to save their marriage (both friends were very skeptical of this believing it was a bit of ploy by the therapist to seem impartial). But after the two sessions the therapist told them they were not compatible and it was best to go there separate ways. At first they were really upset to hear this -- but they soon realized she was right, they divorced, and both (because they at least tried therapy and had that assistance) feel very good about their decision (no guilt or regret, etc.). One last bit of advice -- interview a few therapists. Your therapist has to be someone you both feel comfortable with. I'd recommend mine but she retired a few years ago. Best of luck on whatever you both decide. anon


Several of my friends and their partners have had a lot of success with therapist Isadora Alman in San Francisco and she's reasonably priced and easy to get to by public transit. 415 386- 5090, www.askisadora.com. anonymous
Yes, couples counseling can work; it worked for us.

We have a long term relationship that was mostly good but we had a big problem -- one of us fell in love with somebody else. This went on for years. The affair was largely non-sexual but it really hurt everybody involved. We saw one counselor early on in the ''problem'' and she really DIDN'T work for us, maybe because we weren't ready, maybe because she wasn't very good. Then we saw another one a few years later (we were at the brink of breaking up and the ''affair'' was really only the catylist. Three years later, we are a VERY solid couple.

What made the difference? The counseling. The counseler made us be completely honest with each other -- no holds barred. Which meant that there was a while there where we weren't sure we WOULD stay together. We were both committed to trying, though, and were willing to really examine ALL the aspects of our lives together. It was incredibly hard work. It was really scary. But this counselor was somebody both of us respected highly, and she held us to a high standard. She taught us new ways to communicate wtih each other.

Long term relationships are an ongoing challenge, but I feel we learned so much about how to handle what's thrown at us (and what we throw at each other -- not literally -- as we change and grow through life).

So if you're willing to work, counseling can work. If you're trying to merely patch things us, it may not. And find a person to work with who you both respect. And best of luck, and strength to you. Been there. Happily married.


A short answer to your question. YES! It really worked for us. And my partner is a therapy skeptic. We saw Eric Grabow. That was some time ago, but he was on Shattuck in Berkeley. anon
If either of you has a single molecule in your body interested in saving your marriage you absolutely must go to couple's counseling. been there, been saved
I'm both pro and con about couples counseling. My soon-to-be ex- husband and I went to 4 different ones over the course of about 7 years of marriage and separation. And now we're divorcing, so it didn't work for us.

But was seeking counseling the right thing to do? I still think it was, and I would do it again if I was in a relationship in trouble that I thought was worth fighting for. But, really, BOTH parties need to be committed to working with the therapist.

The one piece of advice I would like to give you is interview your therapist, and do not stay with one that you do not feel is helping. There are many therapists out there; they have different outlooks and methods and you really need to find one that clicks with both of you - not always easy.

Good luck! Wishing you well


My husband and I weren't married yet when we went through 2 rounds of couples counseling, but I can say it saved our relationship. We were committed and in love but kept getting stuck over and over again on the same issues, and it got to the point where we weren't hearing each other, because we already ''knew'' what the other was going to say/do in these particular situations. It took an objective party to get us to really hear each other with compassion. I highly recommend couples counseling to people, especially when things aren't yet at a critical point. I think it's less successful if you wait until things are really bad. Good luck. Anon
I don't want to generalize about my experience but couples counseling definitely helped our relationship. We first went to counseling over 10 years ago and continued occasionally with different therapists. I don't know how to compare our situations. But let me suggest that there may be another way to way to think about whether counseling ''works.'' I think even if counseling had not kept my partner and me together, counseling ''worked'' because it gave me a much better understanding of my partner and myself. It made me more compassionate and helped me to find words to express previously amorphous emotions. And even at the point it ''failed'' counseling eased some of the suffering at the point when we did separate (as it turned out, only for a few months). I don't know if you feel any of these other outcomes would be helpful for either you or your partner. But for me, couples counseling (with the right therapist) was a deeply important experience. Wherever your path takes you, it can help to have another person as coach, guide, facilitator. I hope you find what you need. G
Couple's counceling doesn't work. YOU have to work. If you find a good therapist and make the good faith effort to work through some difficult issues, then yes, you can turn things around in a marriage. But just showing up won't be enough. You have to want to try to make it work. In your post, you say that both you and your partner have pretty much given up. That is more an indication of the future than just seeing a threapist. anon.
I have never been married, so I can't say, from personal experience, that couples counceling worked for me. I believe that it CAN work, if you find the right counselor! I think sometimes people assume all counselors will be about the same, but this is far from true. If you do decide to try it (and I think you should), take the time to find some one who will work for you! I STRONGLY urge you to read Dr. Snarch's book ''Passionate Marriage.'' This book was written by a successful marriage therapist (by successful, I mean that he has helped couples stay together who were on the verge of divorce). He wrote the book to be used by couples and other lay- people, but it is based on the book he wrote for other counselors about his methods. If you are on the verge of divorce, but would like to try to save your marriage, please don't pass this book up. Read the entire thing, at the end he gives suggestions for finding a counselor of your own, including some one who has had some of his training.

I am getting married in September, so I read this book for ''preparation'' and I found it to be amazing. Not only did I feel that Dr. Snarch was right on-the-money, but he gives practical, down-to-earth advice about how to deal with marrital problems. I really, really urge you not to go to a counselor until you've read this book.

One note Dr. Snarch is a marriage and *sex* therapist (not to be confused with a ''sex surrogate''). He found that people that came to him with marriage problems also had sexual problems (in their marriage) and vice-versa. For this reason, he addresses sexuality quite extensively in this book, as well as emotional issues (he sees the two as intimately linked - imagine that!). You might or might not be put off by the discussion of these sorts of issues. I hope you won't be, because everything he has to say is extremely valuable and worth reading, even if you feel it doesn't apply to you.

Best of luck - I hope you are able to work things out! anon


Does it work? Well, not for us (but I'll tell you what did). We went 2 years ago because it seemed like ''the thing to do.'' We ended up each seeing a therapist, plus a couples' counselor. The primary result of this was we had no free time in the evenings.

We really felt we were on a different wavelength than all three therapists. They seemed to see their jobs as helping us adjust to the idea that we would be getting divorced. We wanted someone to help us figure out how to live together. The counselor asked us one night why we were in therapy, and I said that I was there because we were married and that when you're married you have an obligation to try to work things out. This appalled him...apparently he felt it was more important for us to ''explore ourselves as individuals'' than to try to make our marriage work.

So...therapy not successful, and really depressing for both of us to boot. I was literally on my way out the door, looking to find myself another place to live.

Well, I did move...but my husband came, too. We packed up our things and moved to a different town, 40 minutes away from where we'd been living. And we agreed that we'd be leaving a lot of our bad habits behind in our old apartment.

Did it work? Well, it's been two years this week. I'm typing this one-handed because I'm holding our baby in the other arm (grin). It's been a lot -- a lot -- of work, but it's definitely paid off. I've never been happier and our marriage is that much stronger for having made it through such a bad time.

I can't promise you anything, but heck, at this point, what do you have to lose? Maybe moving's not the right choice for you, but try to come up with something really new and challenging -- and then meet that challenge together. It worked much better for us than going and telling other people how pissed off we were with each other for three hours a week.... anon


Yes, couples counsling saved us. We were breaking up and moving out (not yet married, together 4.5 years) when we started to go to counsling. We only went with the intention of breaking up in such a way that we didn't behave horribly. We went for four years. It was very hard work, it took a long time and overall it was quite grueling. However, 6 years later we are happily married (5 years) and expecting our first child. We have the best marriage you would ever ask for. All of the ''tools'' that we learned work for us everyday and we both agree that we are happier now than we have ever been before. As long as both parties are committed to the process, it can work wonders. Its is a lot of work, but well worth it. We saw Mary Ann Regan at 510-652-6600. anon
Couples Counseling can help your relationship. I truely would not be married today without having had intervention from a couples MFC(?) counselor. It was intervention because we could not even talk to each other in a normal manner there was so much anger going on. But that said, you need to find someone that both of you (1) trust and can open up and talk to (2) really works with you. It may or not be the first person you try. Or you may need a few appointments to feel comfortable enough to begin to open up and discuss the real issues that are facing you as a couple.

I now consider counseling just one aspect of our health as a family and have used a counselor to help with some behavioral issues with our child/family when she was about 5 years old. It put all of us back on a positive track and I am so very glad we sought a specialist rather than just doing what came natural (like our parents did) because natural was escalating the problem.

So if you think there is reason to try to save the marriage -- definately consult with a couples/marriage counselor and try what they say, you have to want it to get better or there is no sense in trying. They gave my husband and I some exercises to get us talking again, it sounded goofy at the time, but it worked and we still use some of the communication tools we learned in couples counseling (especially when we are having a difficult time talking about something)

Good Luck to you. counseling saved my marriage- happier every day


Yes, it works! Of course, you need to find the right therapist. Interview several people to find out their style and get a sense of what works for you. My husband and I both came into the relationship with a lot of baggage (who doesn't). We have been together over 12 years and the therapy (couples and individual) has definately saved our marriage. We fight less, have learned tremendous communication skills, and are able to talk about our problems constuctively. Without therapy, we would not have known what the real issues were or how to address them. I highly recommend our therapist, Alisa Genovese- 286- 7599. She in incredibly skilled and a wonderful therapist (trust me, I've been to over a dozen!) anon
Couples counseling was great for us. What I liked about it was that I felt very safe and secure in the counselors office with her calming presence so we could discuss things that might otherwise have become heated and confusing in a productive manner. Also, to be honest, I was much more well behaved, sensitive and productive with an audience than I am without one.Instead of getting angry and defensive and lashing out, I'd have to say I was feeling angry and continue working. I also liked having a third party who was unbiased as a reality check. I am much more compassionate toward my husband than I used to be and I think I learned that from our couples counselor. Even though we thought we were great at talking to each other, we learned a lot from working with a professional. Danielle
I've been in couples counseling twice at different times in my life, with different partners. My two cents - it only works if both partners really are willing to make it work, if you have a good therapist and you give it some time. Success is iffy if you wait till the stage where you're too angry, too frustrated, too sick of the other person. Plus it's hard to find a good fit with all the different therapists in the world. That said - you're better off giving it a shot than giving up. At least you'll know you made valiant efforts. Been there
Yes! My spouse and I have only been going for a few months but we immediately both felt such relief and hope for our marriage. I know it will take a long time to really resolve things but, we have already identified some things we can work on right away that have made dramatic differences in how we communicate. Obviously, you need to find the right therapist but in my experience, this has given us a very bright light at the end of our dark tunnel. I was very reluctant to do this too but am so thankful I changed my mind. If you already feel you are at the end of the road, what do you have to lose? Surely the price of the therapist would be cheaper than divorce attorneys. I urge you to look at some recommendations on the archives and give a therapist a chance to change your lives for the better! Anon
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