Why Does Couple’s Counseling Sometimes Fail?

I was recently posed a question, as to why couple’s therapy does not always work, even if one person, or both, may want it to. I thought it an excellent question. Here is my response to that person, and I thank them for the opportunity to discuss this.

Being happily married for over 25 years, and being a couple’s counselor, my hope is that I can help salvage every relationship that comes through my door. That being said, I also know that some relationships cannot be saved, and some should not, such as cases where there is characterological domestic violence, ongoing addictions that are not being addressed, numerous betrayals of trust in a relationship, or abdication of marital responsibilities.

Many people walk into my office, hoping I will tell them to stay or leave. I cannot and will not do that. It is not my marriage; it is theirs. They have to look deep into themselves, explore what their needs, hopes, and expectations are, and whether they are willing to change, and what if their partner does not. They make their own decisions.  If there is danger to the client, such as in domestic violence, then I do have a duty to warn them that if they stay, their life may be in jeopardy, and they need a safety plan.

So why does couple’s therapy sometimes fail?

Couple’s therapy requires a suspension of the belief, “I’m right, you are not.” It requires people to stop blaming and criticizing, and to learn new tools to have a conversation. It requires bringing up the past hurts and wrongs, so they can be addressed, rectified, and put to rest. It requires people to really listen to learn, and to discuss their feelings, to tune in to each other. Unfortunately, a person may not want to expose their vulnerabilities or do the hard work, and therapy will not work.

Another answer is that trust has been broken and cannot be repaired. As Gottman points out, “A committed relationship is a contract of mutual trust, respect, nurturance, and protection.” Brain research into Affective Neurology (Panksepp, Maté), and research into Attachment Theory (Johnson, Siegel) certainly support this, as well.

What breaks trust? Research from John Gottman, and experience along the way say the following: Sexual Affairs; Non Sexual Affairs; Conditional Commitment; Lying; Absenteeism or Coldness – one partner not being there, emotionally, for the other; Disrespect; Unfairness; Selfishness; Breaking Promises; and forming a coalition with a parent against the other partner, and always siding with the parent.

Here is the more gradual death of a relationship, and why couple’s counseling does not work. It is too late.  The commitment died.  It may have worked, if done years earlier, but it wasn’t. These are the saddest cases. Usually, a problem has been occurring for, on average, 7 years, before a couple walks into my office.  Loneliness in a relationship is a major factor. One, or both partners, feels they are not important to the other person, not a priority in that person’s world, not respected and not appreciated. This causes the friendship to break down in a marriage and people stop being able to turn to each other. It erodes the trust in the relationship, and the commitment. Arguing increases as bids for affection, attention, and reassurance are routinely missed or ignored. The person asking for couple’s counseling is ignored, or it is started, but never goes beyond a few sessions. Problems do not get solved, as a negative view of each other is now ruling the relationship. People will not be responsive to the other’s needs if they feel that the person does not have their best interests at heart. They do not see their partner as being there for them.  Fun goes flying out of the window. The person feels abandoned and alone. They grow tired of the loneliness, living parallel lives, and the commitment to the relationship dies. This is when people leave.

I do referrals for legal and financial advice, frequently, if the clients request it. I try to give 3 names, and encourage them to get referrals from friends, and to discuss their situation with the legal or financial professional. That way, they receive accurate information as to what they can and cannot do. Some clients have met with attorneys and have been quickly dissuaded from their notions, and decided it would be better to work things out. Others have decided to proceed. It is not my decision. That decision belongs with the individual.

Even Pets Are Victimized By Domestic Violence

Puppy Abandoned in Airport Bathroom with Devastating Note Because There Was ‘No Other Option’

Here is a sad story with a happy ending. A puppy, abandoned in a bathroom because the owner could not afford to take him with her, as she was fleeing an abusive situation, finds a good Samaritan and a forever home. This puppy is lucky. Many others are not. They either end up severely injured, or killed, or in a shelter, where they often are not adoptable, due to their fear responses.

Venting your anger pushes people away. Blaming others solves nothing. Reach inward to your primary, vulnerable emotions. They are your path to what you crave and need, which is true intimacy and bonding.

If you are the person committing acts of emotional and/or physical violence towards your family, please seek help right away. It is costing you everything you value, to include your freedoms.

To the victims, the abuser does not get better without professional intervention, and it becomes increasingly worse over time, to the point of death for some women. The abuse is not your fault, and there is nothing you can do to make it not happen. What you can do is get help and keep yourself and your children and pets safe.

Are You Fueling Your OCD?

Here is a great little article on handling intrusive thoughts, common to people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as many other anxiety disorders. Are you adding fuel to your fire of obsessive thought, or are you letting it die down? Read on.

Imagine that you and your friends go to a park to enjoy a summer evening with a campfire. As your group begins to enjoy the nice bonfire, a park ranger shows up and tells you that all fires need to be put out right away. How would you extinguish the fire? Of course, there are countless options. However, let’s pretend that the obvious resources that you want to use are not available for one reason or another. The only potential medium is a pile of wood logs nearby. Would you use lumber to put the fire out? Of course not, that would be silly since we all know wood is highly flammable. This would only grow the bonfire. What could you do instead? Maybe, the best solution would be to get back to visiting with friends while the fire slowly burns out on its own. Once in a while, you may glance at the fire, and then get back to having a good time. When individuals struggle with OCD, their intrusive thoughts torment them endlessly. We could say that OCD is the bonfire, and the natural

Source: Are You Fueling Your OCD?

11 Ways to Set Boundaries with Narcissists, Or, How To Set Boundaries For Anybody!

I think and even better title is, “How To Set Boundaries.” This is an excellent article! Read it!

Narcissistic people view themselves as uniquely gifted and therefore feel entitled to take advantage of other people. They do not possess healthy boundaries, nor do they like it when others set limits against their intrusions. Establishing solid boundaries…

Source: 11 Ways to Set Boundaries with Narcissists

ADHD and Spending Money | ADHD Millennial

This article from Psych Central reminded me of ADD in adulthood. As you may or may not know, people do not grow out of ADD in adulthood. They may have the inappropriate, impulsive behavior under control, somewhat, but here is a classic manifestation of the impulse control and novelty issue – overspending.

People with ADD/ADHD are attracted to novelty – anything new or different – and they tend to jump into a new hobby, or interest with 110%. For hobbies and interests, this means buying everything they can for that activity. Then, the novelty wears off, and they slack off, or abandon the interest, leaving them with bills, and clutter.

What to do? Put things on hold at stores for 24 hours, then walk away. The next day, if you do not come back, thy will put it back. Usually, this curbs our impulsive behavior. On eBay, use the watch list, and get away from the computer! The same goes for Amazon and other shopping sites. Use the cart, and walk away for 24 hours. You will end up taking things out of the cart.

Another tip? Do not carry credit cards. In fact, don’t open one to start with. “He is borrows money is a slave to the lender.” Credit cards are not free money; they are unsecured loans with awful interest, some up to 25%, and it is compound interest, meaning you end up paying way more than the original price.

What are some tricks you use?

Source: ADHD and Spending Money | ADHD Millennial

Your cluttered desk is dumbing you down! Simplify your office. – SimplePractice Blog

 

Here is an article on clutter – you know – what you see as your treasures, but others would call mess. While this is about clutter in the office, I think it applies to a broader spectrum.  This resonates with me in what I have families do with clutter bugs. Put everything in a box that is not tax related or important, and put a death date on the box for 6 months or 1 year – you decide the time limit. If the person has not gone through it in that time frame, then it is trash. The day after the expiration date, it is thrown out.

Why do we hold on to clutter? Is it part of our old gathering reflexes? Is it sentiment, reminding us of special times? Is it trauma, as in, “I grew up poor, so noting goes to waste? That tin foil is reusable.” Is it, “I inherited this? It belonged to my deceased loved one, so I cannot get rid of it, no matter how worthless it is?” Is it, old magazines or technologies that you say, “I am going to get around to reading, or may use again?” What about clothing? Is that the proverbial, “I will fit in these again?” Is it, “I spent so much on it, In have to keep it?”  What are your reasons for for holding on to things?

 

Source: Your cluttered desk is dumbing you down! Simplify your office. – SimplePractice Blog

Why Wait? The Psychological Origins of Procrastination – SimplePractice Blog

Here is a great article on why we procrastinate. “Here’s a trick: we have to find a way to increase the subjective value of doing the hard stuff now, relative to the other things we could be doing.” Sounds easy, right? Not so. Our brain is pretty smart about avoiding those boring tasks. We have all done it. “I love deadlines,” English author Douglas Adams once wrote. “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
Read on. This is a good little article. Click its own “read on” when you see it. And yes, I have this clock.

Source: Why Wait? The Psychological Origins of Procrastination – SimplePractice Blog

Therapy Homework | Online CBT Exercises and Symptom Monitoring | MindQuire℠

This looks like a very helpful resource for   people struggling with depression and anxiety. You have journals and help identifying the thought errors, and challenging them. If any clients are interested in this, I am happy to sign up as a therapist, so we can test it out. Cognitive therapy and exercise are two excellent modalities for treating depression and anxiety.

 

Source: Therapy Homework | Online CBT Exercises and Symptom Monitoring | MindQuire℠

Depression Is The Ultimate Thief – Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dies at 52 – The New York Times

Depression is the ultimate thief. Today, I woke up to the sad news of the death of Chris Cornell. You may have heard of this talented musician. His career spanned over 30 years, he had an almost 4 octave voice, could switch musical genres without effort, was the frontman of Soundgarden, Audioslave, and had a number of solo projects, to include the song for Casino Royale. He ran a charity with his wife to help  vulnerable children, had a restaurant in Paris, and was pursuing other projects. He had beaten addiction years ago. He had a wife he adored, and three beautiful children.

This sounds like the absolute dream – a career you love, a great family, and friends, interesting opportunities, and no financial worries.  What people may not know is that Chris Cornell suffered with severe depression and anxiety throughout his life.  This depression ultimately is what killed him. It robbed him of the joy in his life, made him blind to what he had, deaf to those who told him, and numb to the sweet sensations life had to offer. He committed suicide after giving a fantastic performance, surrounded by friends, and fans. In that dark hour, he made a terrible choice to believe the lies of depression, as it stole his life. This is why I call depression the ultimate thief.

Source: Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dies at 52 – The New York Times