As a relationship therapist,  I often observe times when it seems like divorce and break ups are running rampant. And I’d love to put on a super relationship rescuer cape, swoop in with a bunch of cool knowledge and skills, sprinkle in some romance dust and BOOM. Another couple saved.
But you and I know that’s not how it works.

I mean, yeah I guess I could get a really nifty cape, and yeah I’ve spent A LOT of time studying and understanding how humans and relationships work, and I’m sure a romance dust exists somewhere(?). But there is something even more important than all of this.

A desire to change.

And it doesn’t count if only one of you wants it.

A true commitment to the relationship is something that even the BEST couples therapist can’t make materialize out of thin air.

The go-to suggestion these days when there is relationship discord is couples counseling. And may I just add a Woo hoo! Because couples counseling can be LIFE CHANGING.

BUT as a marriage therapist, there are some roadblocks that may indicate that a couple isn’t ready for relationship therapy. That’s why I chat with all my potential clients, so that I can help save them some time and money if couples counseling with me isn’t the best place to start.

Here are 4 of the warning signs I look for:

  1. Physical abuse. I have a lot to say about this and I’ll have to save it for another blog. Generally, most relationship therapists avoid couples work when there is clear physical abuse going on because it’s not safe for the victim. Remember, no matter what other stuff is going on in a relationship, it’s never the victims fault that their partner resorted to violence. If abuse is going on, hands down the best place to start is with an individual therapist that specializes in working with victims of DV.
  2. One of the partners  isn’t into it. Yes, I almost NEVER see couples where both partners are at the EXACT SAME spot as far as desire to change, level of commitment, frustration with current relationship, etc. But both have to at least acknowledge that there is an issue AND be willing to try to repair it- even if that means that they may have to do some changing. As a therapist, my job isn’t to help one partner convince, cajole, guilt, or threaten the other partner into wanting to stay. Instead, I help couples explore why they want to stay, what they want out of their relationship and figure out how to do it.
  3. There is out of control drug or alcohol abuse.  While there are some particular types of couples counseling that can be helpful with addiction, it isn’t a means to “solve” it. If one (or both) partners has problematic substance use, couples counseling will not be helpful unless the substance use is being already addressed in other types of treatment such as: individual therapy, substance use counseling, support groups, medical intervention, etc.
  4. There is no willingness to accept responsibility for the problem. So besides some exceptions ( many listed above), BOTH partners have to be willing to admit they aren’t perfect and yes, they are part of the problem. If one partner is way too invested in being the victim, then couples work isn’t the answer. This goes back to the whole I’m not going to force/guilt/convince your partner to realize they are a jerk and need to change. I mean, even if I wanted to, $1,000 bucks says you aren’t going to be happy with the results.

So if you find yourself in spot in which you have been contemplating ways to help your relationship, please consider the these 4 red flags and ask yourself whether you find that you identify with one or more of them.

If you’ve stayed pretty clear of those warning signs but know your relationship needs some help, find a therapist that can help you and your partner get back on track together. If those red flags hit a chord, consider individual therapy before couples work so that you don’t waste unnecessary time and money on something your relationship is just not ready for.


You just need the right tools for the job. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.