How do you know when it’s too late for marriage counseling? Signs indicating that it’s too late for marriage counseling include loss of compassion, empathy, and love; abuse; an unwillingness to try; feeling relief when your spouse isn’t around; lack of respect; and if either party has already moved on. Counseling is effective when both parties commit to improving the situation and want to stay together.
Choosing to be with someone for the rest of your life is a big decision; together with having children, this is probably the most crucial decision you will ever have to make. But, like most of us, you may have experienced the ups and downs that are part and parcel of being married. Couples therapy is prevalent these days, but sometimes the challenges you’re facing may seem to be too much.
There are many reasons why marriages run into trouble, and a breakdown of trust is only one part of why counseling could potentially not be a viable solution. Let’s look at the signs that it’s simply too late for marriage counseling.
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10 Signs That It’s Just Too Late For Marriage Counseling
Some of the giveaways that you’ve already reached a point where counseling and therapy may be ineffective are:
1. No Respect
Many of the scenarios mentioned above lead to a change in how much respect is between partners – not just for each other as people, but for how the other person feels. Experts have found that respect is non-existent in marriages where criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling are commonplace.
If you and your partner are at a point where you no longer care how the other person feels, chances are not good that therapy will have any impact.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people put up with having their boundaries violated for fear of losing their partner. If your physical safety is under threat, or you are constantly broken down emotionally and mentally, your partner’s inability to protect and care for you is clear.
Not only is this an obvious sign that therapy may not help, but it’s also a glaring red light that you need to prioritize yourself and remove yourself from the equation entirely. This is even more important if there are children that are being negatively impacted.
3. You Can’t Get Over It
It can be daunting to learn to trust your partner again, especially for those who have had to try to move past infidelity and betrayal. Many have been able to restore a positive relationship through guidance from a marriage counselor, but you may be at the point where you can’t stop thinking about it.
Bitterness and resentment tend to fester if not dealt with, which negatively affects how you feel about your spouse. If you can’t forgive them, or their actions are one of your dealbreakers, there is no point in seeing a therapist.
4. History Repeats Itself
This is a tough one because while we are all human and we all make mistakes, we shouldn’t be giving leeway to those who repeatedly do the same things that are hurting us, for example, multiple affairs or repeated domestic violence.
If you have the same fight over and over, or you’re voicing your concerns, displeasure, or pain repeatedly, and there is no change in behavior, it’s time to make a hard decision.
The same applies to you, too – if you find yourself struggling with the same issues within yourself, it’s time to take a hard look at the situation and decide if it’s worth trying to save.
5. Loss Of Empathy, Compassion, And Love
It’s hard to imagine the blushing bride or the dashing groom that you so adored on your wedding day could make you feel such negative emotions, but sometimes that rush of love you felt is just no longer there.
Whether those sweet emotions have been replaced by anger, bitterness, disgust, or even regret, this is a red flag. If you are at the point where the pain, discomfort, and well-being of your spouse are no longer a priority to you, you most certainly won’t benefit from trying to restore the relationship. If you no longer feel the love, why would you want to stay?
6. Someone’s Moved On Already
Regardless of whether this applies to you, or your spouse, the conclusion is the same: If there is a replacement for one partner, or you have already found someone else, there is not much hope for therapeutic intervention, especially when one partner has already moved on.
Barring the fact that this strongly indicates a lack of interest in repairing the relationship by that partner, it also implies that should you want to try to fix things, you have to “win them back” from whoever they have chosen to replace you with. That’s hardly a solid foundation for a relationship.
7. Grief Or Relief?
This is a straightforward test and one that doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it should. Do you remember when you just started seeing each other how it hurt when you were apart? All you wanted was to be together, and waiting until you were together again seemed impossibly long. You felt almost grief-stricken when it was time to say goodbye.
When you get to the point that you feel relief when they aren’t around, you should take a long hard look at your relationship. Whether it’s because you finally feel less stressed, or you feel free to be yourself, or it’s just a matter of not having to deal with your spouse, it generally means you’re happier without them.
Ask yourself if you look forward to seeing them – if the answer isn’t a resounding yes, see it as a significant red flag you need to address.
8. More Fights, Less Laughs
All couples fight – we know this as a fact, so having an argument or conflict here and there is not an immediate sign that you should head for the hills. Being able to deal with conflict and move through it is a sign of a healthy relationship.
But, if you’re at a point where there is much more fighting and much less laughing, you have reason to be concerned. If it feels like everything triggers an argument, it could also indicate that you don’t share values and priorities. That in itself is significant because it affects how you deal with responsibilities like budgeting, raising children, or working towards a future.
If you find that these things no longer align – he wants a family, and you don’t, or she wants three kids and a Labrador, and you’d prefer to travel the world without being tied down, it’s time to admit that this may not be best for either of you. In this case, an amicable parting may even be possible – not all red flags mean a harsh split.
9. Unwillingness To Try
A definite sign that counseling won’t help is if one of you doesn’t even want to try – if your marriage is in trouble, and you suggest therapy, a partner who doesn’t want to lose you will be willing to work towards a solution.
Someone who isn’t even willing to see a counselor or try to work things out doesn’t value you or the relationship. And, even if you somehow manage to force that person to go to couples therapy, is that really what you want – to know you had to force them to try to fix things?
We’ll take this one step further, even: If your spouse has packed their stuff and left, cut off all contact with you, and removed themselves from your life, you have your answer.
10. You’ve Tried Counseling Already
A final sign to look out for is if you’ve already spent time in couples therapy or marriage counseling with your partner, but nothing has changed. The goal of counseling is improvement and positive change, and if things are still the same as they were before you started, chances are not good that continuing with therapy will make it any better.
While there isn’t a hard and fast rule about how much time spent in therapy is “enough,” use your discretion – if you’ve been seeing a counselor for a few months, and the same challenges and stressors are still affecting you, you may need to try something different, or call it quits.
Maybe it’s time to find a therapist that resonates with either of you a little more; perhaps the techniques and processes need to be adapted to suit your unique situation.
Still, if you find that intervention brings no change at all, it may be time to acknowledge that it’s over.
What Gets You To This Point?
Unless you’re living in a fairy tale, you must know by now that marriage – and any relationship, for that matter – takes effort and has its challenges. Unfortunately, no relationship is free from conflict and tension of some type or other.
Marriages that have been subjected to intense stress are much more fragile. So, if you’re reading this article to decide if you are at the point where therapy isn’t going to help, here are some scenarios or issues that commonly lead to irreparable damage in a marriage and are often considered dealbreakers:
- Infidelity: This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people aren’t aware of, or choose to overlook, affairs or one-night-stands. Sadly, we live in a world where cheating seems commonplace, and the emotional impact of such a betrayal is often downplayed. Trust is tough to restore once it has been broken, and many are not able to overcome this.
- Abuse: Whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, or even financial, any kind of abuse indicates a warped power dynamic and a toxic relationship. There is simply no justification for abuse, and if you find yourself at the brunt of an abusive partner, you should most certainly consider breaking things off. Your safety is the most important thing to consider, especially if you have children that are being exposed to this, too.
- Addiction: While addiction to substances does not necessarily imply abusive behavior, aggression, or violence, it very often does go hand in hand. Together with this, the financial implications of addiction put extra strain on marriages and usually means lies are told to cover up this dangerous habit. Trust is essential for a successful marriage, and addiction often compromises this.
- Loss of life: One of the most traumatic experiences is the loss of someone close to you. The death of a child or parent can often trigger severe issues between couples, especially if resentment or feelings of guilt are involved. The pain of this loss can push a couple apart or cause the relationship to deteriorate.
These are some of the more severe life events that could lead to there being strife in your relationship – and, in some instances, you may still be able to reconcile with the help of a good therapist.
Why Bother With Therapy Anyway?
Couples therapy, or marriage counseling, works on the premise that there is something to be restored, repaired, or fought for. If both parties are willing to come to a place of agreement that they need help, therapy of this kind can be incredibly beneficial.
A good therapist should be able to help both partners move through their traumas and negative emotions to a place of healing, where both parties can once again relish in the support and upliftment of the other. Effective therapy with two willing participants can help to heal a rift that may have seemed impossible to restore, even in cases of infidelity. Benefits of couples therapy include:
- Healing from past traumas
- Improving self-awareness and insecurity
- Enhancing communication
- Identifying strengths and adapting negative patterns
- Restore and build trust
- Provide a solid foundation for healthy habits as a couple
But if this is all so positive, why would it be too late for therapy to save a marriage? Well, sometimes, the challenges and traumas faced have just been too damaging.
Remember that how we feel about someone is vastly influenced by what we experience with them, the level of support they give us, the way they make us feel, and how they treat us. When there is reciprocal care, affection, and support, couples can overcome challenges.
Sometimes the trauma experienced and the lack of care and affection culminates in a very destructive, harmful relationship that does not benefit either party anymore. So how do you know if it’s too late? Here are 10 red flags to look out for that may indicate that counseling won’t help.
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No particular recipe dictates when it’s time to call a marriage off, and each couple has their own unique expectations and tolerances – but these ten red flags are generally reasonable indications that things have gone far beyond what therapy can restore.
Whether you feel you no longer care for them the way you used to, or you feel afraid for your own safety, or it’s as simple as not looking forward to being around them, you may be at a point where spending money and time on therapy is not worth it.
And, while we certainly never want to discourage those struggling from trying couples therapy for the numerous benefits it returns, if you’ve been trying for a while now and there’s still no change, it could be time to take a step back and admit that it’s over. At the end of the day, both of you deserve to be happy, you deserve to be yourselves, and if the relationship doesn’t allow for either of these, it may simply be too late.
After earning his Master of Social Work from the University of Toronto, Stuart gained experience working with families in community mental health settings and in the child protection sector. Since becoming a father himself, Stuart now works in private practice offering psychotherapy services. FatherResource is an opportunity for Stuart to share what he learns on his journey as a father with a larger audience.