Can couples therapy make a relationship worse?

The ratio should improve in five to eight sessions. When done right, about 70 percent of couples therapy cases show a positive change, according to a study published last year in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. When done wrong, it can make things worse, Gehart said. So now the problem isn't Gary's sense of inadequacy or his addiction to guilt or his screams or his abuse; it's Estelle's critical tone of voice.

With this crucial change in perspective introduced by the therapist, Estelle tried her new approach. Gary responded positively to his efforts, while the therapist was there to contain his emotional reactivity. At home, of course, it was another matter. Many abusers attack their partners when they return home from the therapist's office for mentioning threatening or embarrassing things in the session.

A couple arrived at our training camp after being seriously injured in a car accident triggered by arguments from their therapist on their way home. I'm willing to bet that if you've tried couples therapy in a relationship fraught with resentment, anger, or abuse, you've had some cold, argumentative, or abusive trips home after the sessions. Get the help you need from a nearby therapist, a FREE service from Psychology Today. People who aren't happy with their marriages can turn to mental health professionals for help, since unconscious therapy could actually make things worse.

I'm not talking about poor couples therapy, although therapists who lack training in effective couples therapy can certainly do more harm than good. What I'm referring to is poor individual therapy when the focus of treatment is an unhappy relationship. Time is also crucial, much more so than in individual therapy, and it also causes stress for therapists. Is marriage counseling making things worse for you? This is usually due to an incorrect approach to marriage counseling, where a therapist takes sides, suggests that the couple separate and makes a judgment about one spouse, only creating a lot of doubt in the other spouse's mind.

A couple often goes to marriage counseling and discovers that they actually feel worse later, rather than better. My husband and I went through a difficult situation and went to individual therapists despite my attempts to get him to go to marriage counseling. Of course, there are couples who without marriage counseling may have decided to leave their relationship and get divorced, but honestly, I think most of those who get a lot out of therapy would stay together or get by even without the help of a marriage therapist, except that therapy accelerates their growth and intimacy or makes it much easier to overcome painful conflicts.

Keith Haggan
Keith Haggan

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