How to Know When Marriage Counseling Isn't Working

by Leah Campbell

When you say “I do,” the idea of one day breaking those vows seems impossible. Census data from 2010, however, reports that the divorce rate in America was hovering near 53 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. When a marriage is crumbling, one of the first steps taken to salvage it is typically marriage counseling. Unfortunately, after some time in the therapist’s chair, couples often have to acknowledge that their marriage is over.

Lack of Commitment

Couples enter into marriage counseling for many reasons, but both parties don’t always have the same level of commitment to saving the relationship. When one partner enters into counseling already convinced they want a divorce or currently attached to someone new, no amount of talking may change that. Worse, if both members don’t have a sincere desire to fix the marriage, counseling may actually lead to increased bitterness and anger, according to Sam Margulies, author of “Man’s Guide to a Civilized Divorce.”


Feelings of hopelessness surrounding the state of a relationship can serve as a cancer to a marriage, particularly when those feelings persist throughout counseling, according to relationship therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, author of “The Divorce Remedy.” If throughout the course of counseling one or both parties continue to remain hopeless and harbor feelings that the marriage is doomed, it may be time to admit counseling is not working. As long as those negative feelings remain, making positive changes to the relationship will be difficult.

Inability to Compromise

If one or both marriage partners seem unwilling to meet halfway in terms of solutions, there is only so much a counselor can do to help. Compromise is key to saving a marriage and without it a couple may need to admit that the relationship is over. If throughout the course of counseling it becomes clear that there is an unwillingness to budge on certain issues, both parties will need to consider whether this is a marriage they are even interested in continuing to fight for.

Just for the Kids

When couples acknowledge the only reason they are staying together is for the children, they may no longer have a relationship worth salvaging. At this point, the best thing for the kids may actually be for the marriage to end in a healthy and amicable manner, according to therapist Donna White, author of the PsychCentral website article, “7 Reasons to Seek Marriage Counseling.” Children are often aware of their parents distaste for each other and staying together simply for them is not always a positive solution. If a couple’s only motivating factor for counseling is to stay together for the kids, it might be more beneficial to use that time focusing on a respectful parting of ways.

About the Author

Living in Alaska, Leah Campbell has traveled the world and written extensively on topics relating to infertility, dating, adoption and parenting. She recently released her first book, and holds a psychology degree (with an emphasis in child development and abnormal child psychology) from San Diego State University.

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