7 Reasons Marriage Counseling May Fail

Counseling Not Working

Last week we had the privilege of having Robi Smith of Hopeful Wife Today share a piece of her very brave testimony about her husband’s pornography addiction and how they are working toward putting their marriage together with God’s help. However, I noticed that Robi responded to a comment in the comment section, saying that counseling really did not do anything to improve her marriage situation.

So today I want to share my perspective on why counseling doesn’t always work and open the dialogue in the comment section for your input on why counseling may not work or may not appear to work.

Let me get the ball rolling by listing why counseling may not work …

  1. Because you’ve sought the help of a finite human being who is either not handling the issues professionally, thoroughly or with the best perspective in your counseling time.
  2. Because an unhealthy dynamic has developed in the counseling relationship where the counselor feels an attraction or simply an affinity with your spouse—causing a feeling of “you against them” in the counseling sessions.
  3. Because you and/or your spouse are not entering the counseling relationship with an openness and receptivity to what needs to be dealt with or changed.
  4. Because you or your spouse have not admitted to yourselves, the counselor or each other what may be the true catalyst for the dysfunction you’ve been experiencing in the marriage.
  5. Because you’ve sought the help of a counselor who may be equipped in some areas, but may not be skilled or trained well enough in the area where you are most in need of his/her expertise.
  6. Because the truths that the counselor has discussed and challenged you and your spouse with are not being applied by one or both of you outside of counseling time.
  7. Because you did not include God in your process of change. Minimal change can occur without God’s help, but it will not be lasting or significant, and you may mistake that lack of improvement for weakness in your counselor’s efforts.

I believe that counseling and coaching are vital to overcoming the challenging issues we all face in life—especially when it comes to addictions and affairs. We need the objectivity and perspective a neutral third party can bring to the accountability and support aspect of recovery.

However, I also know that there are a lot of flawed and ineffective counselors out there, as well as, some who are downright rotten! These situations and persons often leave a bad taste for counseling in the mouths of those who’ve encountered this scenario.

[Tweet “Choosing a good counselor is as difficult and daunting as choosing a good heart surgeon. “]

You want someone who knows exactly what they are doing, for sure!

I also don’t believe that counseling is the end-all be-all of every problem. But it is one intervention among many that must be included in an arsenal of support, perspective and help when facing hard challenges in life.

[Tweet “Share some of the reasons counseling has failed for you at MM today! #counselingfail”]

What do you think?


What would you add to my list of reasons why counseling may not work or appear to work?

Linking up with – Marriage Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, The Weekend Brew, Making Your Home SingMondays @ Soul Survival,  Sunday Stillness, Me, Coffee and Jesus, Sharing His Beauty, Spiritual Sundays and  Playdates with God

25 responses to “7 Reasons Marriage Counseling May Fail”

  1. […] 7 Reasons Marriage Counseling May Fail […]


  2. Oh Beth, you’ve hit the nail on the head with these 7 solid realities. Can I go out on a limb and add one more?

    When a couple waits til its simply too late to reach out for help. They drag themselves through the door, the marriage completely broken and battered, and expect the counselor to be a miracle worker with a magic wand. It just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes there’s just too much damage done and there’s no way forward together.

    And that’s the sad truth.


    1. Ooh! That’s a great one, Linda! I was hoping people would come up with some others. Not that I want there to be more negative experiences with counselors! Lol! But I do think people must go into the process with their eyes wide open–choosing the right counselor carefully and at the right time! Hugs to you, my friend!


  3. I always love your wisdom in regards to marriage. I can just imagine how you bless other couples when counseling them. Thank you for being part of the Weekend Whispers community and for shining your light for Jesus along the way. You are a blessing!


    1. Thank you, Mary. You’re so sweet. I don’t know how the couples feel that I and my husband and I work with, but they bless me and my husband immensely. Thanks to you for coming by and visiting me each week, my friend!


  4. So, what are some good questions to ask when looking for a good counselor?


    1. Hmmm, that might be a great post idea, Andrea. I’ll be sure to get back to you on that one! Thanks for coming by!


    2. I’d like to hear from Beth on this, too, Andrea. While I know how hard a good counselor can be to find, I’ve mostly relied on word-of-mouth recommendations from people I trust in finding those good counselors.
      I can tell you one question I would ask of a prospective new Christian marriage counselor though. It seems counterintuitive, but I’ve come to see it as essential. I would ask, “Do you believe divorce is ever the best and most godly course of action for some marital situations?” If they couldn’t answer the question with a clear “Yes” I’d keep looking.


  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Great list…well, maybe that’s the wrong word, because each item bespeaks tragedy, but you know what I mean. Really good job addressing this.

    There’s one more reason I might add…not sure how to phrase it, but I’ll do my best. When the marriage has withered and the spark of romance and passion has gone out, counseling probably won’t bring it back. Those are things that can be neither negotiated nor legislated, and while a marriage can endure with a kind of moderate affection, I don’t think the other is possible. Being too indifferent for too long simply doesn’t get ‘fixed’.

    I’d love to hear you tell me that I’m completely wrong, because even writing the above was pretty depressing.



    1. Based on personal experience, I’d say you’re probably wrong. If mutual love and trust still exist (or can be rebuilt) and both parties are committed to each other and the relationship, I think the romantic spark is actually one of the easiest parts to rebuild. No, it may not be the same as it was at the start, but it can still be really good. A good counselor can be a huge help in aiding a couple to build the emotional and spiritual connectedness on which the romantic spark is based.


      1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        That is an encouraging thought for the morning! Thanks, Joe!


      2. Could be even better. amantium irae amoris redintegratio est. http://www.bartleby.com/101/46.html


    2. I would say it depends on what you mean by “withered.” I do think that couples can wait too long and one or both may have it in their minds to divorce and simply go to a counselor because it is demanded by the spouse who still wants to save the marriage or because they want to ease their guilty conscience. If it’s simply that the couple has drifted and don’t really feel that connection any more, that can be rebuilt like Joe said below. But if it is deeper than that and the couple waits too long, like Linda mentioned below, then it may be too late. Let me just say that I believe God can do a miracle in all of these scenarios, but as you well know, He gives us free will to choose even in matters of marriage. So sometimes He simply throws His hands up and lets the couple do what they are determined to do … divorce.

      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Andrew, even as you’re in bad shape. Prayers for you!


  6. What a great list, Beth!

    Yes, good counselors are hard to find. And yes, trying to find a good counselor can be extremely intimidating. A few years back, there was an extended period in my life when I took off half a day from work and drove two hours each way to meet with a counselor once a week. It was absolutely worth the drive and the incovenience to be able to meet with a good counselor!

    In reading thru your list, I realize one of the major reasons for poor perceptions of counseling is an issue with unrealistic expectations. Contrary to what many think, a counselor’s role is not to fix the relationship or to tell the client what to do to fix it. The counselor’s primary role is to help the client see their situation with a little more objectivity and think thru options so they can make better decisions. But the decisions and actions are still up to the client.

    Thank you for another great post!


    1. Thanks, Joe. I’m so glad you found a counselor you felt confident in and could trust to guide you well and professionally. I’m also glad you persevered in going to him, since it sounds like it was a true challenge. But as you’ve said, it is well worth it if it helps you to cope or helps you to reconnect with your mate–either one, I’d say!

      Yes, I do think people go into counseling with the idea that it will “fix” their situation and fix it “fast.” That’s something I’ve had to counter carefully in many a client. I can totally understand it though, since most wait till they are in intense pain and are looking for relief from every source around them. Amen, to the fact that the decisions and actions are up to the client. I always love seeing a motivated client. That’s really the key to movement forward. Thanks for your encouragement! Nice to see you around the blogosphere!


  7. Such a great list…this applies to any type of counseling, I think. Thanks for sharing, neighbor. Blessings to you!


    1. Thanks for coming by and encouraging me, Mari-Anna! I appreciate it!


      1. So great to get to know you. Stay blessed!


  8. Debbie Kitterman Avatar
    Debbie Kitterman

    Beth – this is my first visit to you site. Thanks for sharing your insight. It is especially helpful since my husband and I pastor a church and we often recommend counseling to couples in need. I do agree with others comments and think you should write a post on how to choose a good counselor! That would be most helpful. Blessings, your neighbor at #WordsWithWinter


    1. I’m glad to have you visit, Debbie. I’ll have to check out your blog as well. Never can have too many pastor’s wives for friends! 😉 I plan on doing a post on selecting a good counselor soon. Next week I have my usual “Sloppy Joe Time” video which I post every other week about the sloppy expectations I’ve had and continue to have in marriage. I hope you’ll check it out, but probably the following Monday, I’ll post about guidelines for choosing a good counselor. Thanks for your encouragement!


      1. Debbie Kitterman Avatar
        Debbie Kitterman

        Thanks Beth – I will definitely check out Sloppy Joe Time! and also I will come back looking for a continued discussion on guidelines. So glad I found your blog 🙂


  9. Dear Beth

    I’m sure Robi wouldn’t have wanted to imply that counselling was never helpful 😉

    I would only add to your list that a person should not be forced into counselling against their will (a variant of your #3 perhaps). Counselling would not be helpful under such circumstances and could even be harmful. “Forced” could be being bullied by spouse or peers, or even state intervention (e.g. withholding welfare benefits if person does not attend counselling).

    You have such humility and in your videos you are so self-critical sometimes, I’m sure you would be a wonderful counsellor.



    1. I’m sure about that too, David, but felt her comment was a great “jumping off” point to remind people to have their eyes “wide open” when selecting a counselor and not expecting them to be the person who waves a magic wand over their marriage. I also didn’t want to leave things open-ended when it comes to the choice to seek counseling. In my opinion, when you find a good counselor, it’s always a great choice and one that helps provide at the very least support and perspective for the individuals, if not guidance and improvement in the marriage.

      You are right that being forced to go to counseling often backfires. We have to come at counseling with a willingness and openness or it will be a waste of time and money. It’s a headache for the counselor or life-coach as well–let me tell ya! 😉 No one wants to be put in the position of having to lead someone who has dug their heels in in resistance!

      Thank you for your kind words about me and my videos. I feel it is my duty in some ways to be “self-critical.” But even as I do that, I am learning, growing and stretching in those areas. So I don’t feel it creates more shame but more freedom for me in my life and marriage. Again, the willingness to look and deal with something makes all the difference in the outcome! Thanks so much for your friendship and encouragement, my friend! I pray for you daily!


  10. Thank you so much for sharing your wise words with us on marriage and for linking up at Good Morning Mondays. Blessings


  11. […] Recently I wrote a post about the unfortunate reality that counseling does not always work or improve a couple’s marriage. I believe there are reasons for this failure and I talk about them at – 7 Reasons Marriage Counseling May Fail. […]


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