Why Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work

Wondering why marriage counseling doesn’t work?

Every day we tell ourselves lies: “No more sugar!”  “No more yelling.”  “No more spending.” “No more drinking.” “This week I’m going to exercise.”  And then what?

How about this week, we agree to tell the truth?  No more lying to ourselves about all the big changes we’re going to make?

Let’s face it, changing ourselves is a big job.  It takes constant vigilance, steadfast commitment, rigourous honesty, infinite patience, and tons of support.  So doesn’t it seem a little bit nuts to think we can change our partners?

In my experience, when marriage counseling doesn’t work, it’s because couples come into therapy hoping I’ll help them get their partners to change.  They don’t realize that their best chance at getting something different from their relationship is to change how they respond to their partner’s objectionable behaviors.

Typically, women complain that their partners are lazy, clueless, narcissistic and immature–which they well might be.  But what they don’t realize is that by continuing to overfunction and tolerate unacceptable behavior, they are actually reinforcing it in their partners.

“I’m always cleaning up after her!”  Why is that?

“Why is it that we both work full-time and I’m still responsible for organizing all the social events, all the holidays, and everything that’s going on with the kids?”  Good question.

What actions are you taking to be kinder, more honest, more respectful, more responsible, less reactive?

Blame is a waste of time. Focus on changing yourself.

Men complain that their wives are never satisfied or that they show more affection to their girlfriends than they do to them. I ask them to get curious, not resentful. If you’re getting more support, affection, appreciation, or focused attention from a girlfriend, why wouldn’t you enjoy being with them more?

If I’m doing marriage counseling, the focus is always on what each person can do be kinder, clearer, more respectful, more responsible, congruent, less reactive.  In short, their highest self.  This means recognizing the ways in which your behaviors, reactions, beliefs, choices miss the mark. How does your silence, blame, drinking, lying cause suffering for yourself and others?

How does your silence, blame, drinking, or lying, cause

suffering for yourself and others?

For one person, that might mean changing jobs, working fewer hours, being more attentive, learning to be curious, fighting fair, giving up alcohol.  For another, it might mean learning to forgive, not being a martyr, making requests instead of demands, stretching more.

If you are considering marriage counseling, make sure that you are ready to work on yourself, and not looking for someone to take sides.  Real change happens in relationships when we are willing to stop blaming others. To make real progress, start taking greater responsibility for the ways in which you may be causing, creating, or reinforcing behaviors in others that we want to stop.