Why Is Couples Therapy Unsuccessful?


I want to get real here and address some important aspects of couples therapy.

Couples therapy sometimes gets a bad rap of being ineffective. And in all honesty, it’s true. There are many factors that contribute to the futile nature of this type of therapy.

Here I’m sharing some – but not all – of the factors that may contribute to couples therapy being unsuccessful.


Gauging Success

People have different ideas about gauging the success of couples therapy. Successful couples therapy DOES NOT always mean that the couple stays together. Sometimes it can be a success if the couple discovers that their relationship is not going to work and they are able to come to a mutual agreement to end the relationship.

Couples will sometimes use couples therapy as a safe place to make a decision about whether or not to stay together. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it is also what couples therapy is intended for. Working with a therapist is totally appropriate to navigate these relationship decisions and challenges. In fact, Discernment Counseling is a real thing and helps couples to work through these tough decisions.

It is important that the success of couples therapy is not determined by only one factor.


Doing Work

Some couples may think that their relationship will improve by ONLY showing up to their therapy sessions. Sure, you are going to learn quite a bit in your sessions, but in order to make the most of it you and your partner will need to take what you have learned in sessions and implement it into your daily life.

I understand that you’re busy, but if you’re not willing to complete homework assignments or work on your relationship outside of the session, it’s quite possible that you won’t see a lot of progress. Just attending sessions will not save your relationship. No therapist, no matter how awesome, can fix your problems for you.


Accepting Differences

One area that I see a lot of couples get hung up on is the unwillingness to accept each other’s differences and desperately wanting to change their partner. As bad as it sucks to say this… It’s not happening. You two are unique individuals with distinct personalities and have a particular way of being in the world. You were yourself before you met your partner, and hopefully you will continue to be yourself in your relationship. Your introvert partner isn’t magically going to change their biology or rewire their brain because you would prefer them to be more outgoing, and vice versa.

Couples that can let go of their agendas to change their partners, and instead approach differences with understanding, acceptance, and appreciation will be much more successful in therapy.


Mixed Agendas

When you have two people involved in anything, complications can be amplified. This also means that there can be mixed agendas. One person may want to save the relationship, while the other has one foot out the door. Additionally, one person may be ready to end the relationship and will use couples therapy as a place to inform their partner of their decision and want to “dump off” their partner in a safe place with the therapist.

If you are going on the basis from the first point that couples must remain together in order for couples therapy to be considered successful, it really skews the success rate if you have couples entering therapy when one person is already out the door.


Quick Fix

I’ll start out with saying that therapy is not a quick fix, yet many couples expect a quick-fix solution to their problems. We’ve been spoiled into thinking that we can have what we want instantly, and people seem to be less willing to put in the hard work it takes to achieve things.

Research shows that couples wait an average of 6 years to seek therapy from the time they began having significant relationship concerns – and expect a few sessions of couples therapy to magically repair their relationship. A relationship that has been building up resentment and negativity for many years takes a solid commitment along with attendance and participation at more than a few sessions sessions.


Therapist Education + Training

Couples therapy is an entirely different animal than individual therapy, and takes specialized education and training in order to be effective. If the therapist you’re working with has not had the specialized education, training, and experience working with couples there’s a chance that the therapy will be unsuccessful.



One of the most important factors in therapy is the fit between therapist and client. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, or don’t feel like you can trust them, it can be difficult to get the full benefits of therapy.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best fit for all couples. And that’s okay. That’s why I offer a free phone consultation so potential clients can get to know me before they book a session. I also encourage clients to let me know if it’s not working out so that I can help them find a better fit.

Don’t give up on therapy just because you didn’t connect with the therapist or had a bad first experience. All therapists are different, and there’s one out there for you.


Untreated Mental Illness or Addiction

Couples therapy may not be successful if concerns regarding addiction or serious mental illness in one or both partners have not been addressed prior to (or along with) couples therapy.

Working on your relationship can be very rewarding, but also tough. You have to be vulnerable yet stable, insightful, and willing to accept responsibility. If you’re struggling with anything personally, it can be difficult to get into the space needed to do the relationship work.


These are just a few of the factors that can contribute to couples therapy being unsuccessful.

But don’t despair! Couples therapy can be very successful and life-changing. Check out the next post to find out how you can make the best of couples therapy to ensure success.

I'm Here For Your Relationship

I'm on a mission to reduce the stigma of couples therapy. We are not always taught how to be part of a couple, how to have healthy relationships, and how to make love last. So there's no shame in getting support for your most important relationship. The services I offer could be compared to relationship school.

School is in session and I'm here to help you and your partner increase friendship and intimacy, improve communication, manage conflict, and enrich your relationship.

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