Why Some Relationship Counseling Doesn’t Work

Listen to people talk about their problems long enough and you begin to realize that there isn’t very much we can do about some situations. Take for example the person who comes to talk to me, complaining that their spouse drinks too much, is too insensitive, is unappreciative, too angry, (insert complaint here). Most are hoping that somehow, things will change. I tend to disappoint people…

Live long enough and you begin to realize that it’s very difficult to change anyone else. Sure if you whine enough, or threaten enough some things can change, though usually temporarily. If you are talking about a major character flaw or mental health issue, however, the likelihood that you can remonstrate enough to create real change is slim to none. Very few of us are willing to make and maintain major life change because someone bitches continually.

Unfortunately we know that the only person we can really change is… me.

I am not very good at marriage counseling. I tend to want to focus on personal change when many couples are there because they want to air their dirty laundry. How can they move on, they allege, until these issues are dealt with?

Ever try to “deal with” twenty years of broken trust or hurt? The word ‘impossible’ comes to mind. Couples who want to get over all that historic hurt usually end up in divorce court. Sorry but it’s true. Some of that stuff simply does not get fixed by talking and pleading and begging for forgiveness. How long does it take, you might ask, to restore trust when the other person is barely capable of understanding how you really feel (especially if that other person is from the other sex)? Brokenness breeds mistrust faster than most people can get over their problems.

Hoping my spouse will decide to make radical change is also a trap. To be honest, most people don’t change. I often point out here that counseling rarely works because often the cost of changing is too high. The time it takes to work through decades of abuse and pain is extremely difficult and it is probably unreasonable to expect someone else to go through years (ya that’s not a typo) of counseling, introspection, prayer, accountability and humility that is necessary for fundamental psychological and emotional change (wow, now that’s a run-on sentence…).

MeditationKnowing now what I didn’t know then I have come to realize that the only person I can count on to do all that work is me. I can dedicate myself to working on myself, whatever the cost. I can invest hours and dollars and effort to become something I never realized I could be – whole.

I am finding, to whatever degree I am growing, that the more I am ok with me and the more I am complete in myself the less I need someone else to fill those holes in my heart. As I mature I am able to better maintain my center, even if the world around is crazy. Working on me may, in point of fact, be even more important than working on “us”.

I am trying to get to the place, as I often tell people, where I no longer need my wife. No longer need her to feel good about myself. No longer need her to complete me, or fix me, or even approve of me. I am endeavouring, with varied success, to come to the place where I no longer need my wife, though I really want her. I can’t help but think that if I can be that guy then maybe, just maybe, I will be a better husband and a better man.

6 thoughts on “Why Some Relationship Counseling Doesn’t Work

  1. Very appropriate for what i’m going through in my life.

    “The time it takes to work through decades of abuse and pain is extremely difficult and it is probably unreasonable to expect someone else to go through years (ya that’s not a typo) of counseling, introspection, prayer, accountability and humility that is necessary for fundamental psychological and emotional change.”

    I agree from a personal standpoint that this is a life-long endeavor. I am currently working through decades of abuse and pain, from childhood issues through adult relationship issues as well as spiritual damage from my Catholic side of the family and husband’s Baptist side of the family. In reaction, I’ve made some really bad choices. I’ve got about 3 years of therapy under my belt, and I’m going to both Al-anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics. I don’t pray formally, I talk to God, though. And I am really into art journaling (which gives my Inner Kindergartner some playtime) and body modalities of trauma healing (craniosacral therapy, mysofascial release and yoga). I listen to guided meditation tapes and work hard to avoid triggers (not always successfully).

    Marriage counseling didn’t do much good until both my husband and I hit our ‘rock bottom’. We both had problems in ourselves we were unable to face.

    I have had some massive character flaws. It used to hurt to admit them, but I can now.

    I’ve given up trying to change him and only want to focus on changing my patterns. I’ve seen positive changes, even though there is backsliding into old habits of behavior. But they are quickly extinguished and I make amends for them.

    I am able to live without anyone completing me, fixing me, or approving of me. Though it still stings when people judge me when they don’t even know me. I hope in time it won’t.

    “Very few of us are willing to make and maintain major life change because someone bitches continually.”

    Yeah…I wish I could figure out how to get my daughters to unlearn their habits of bitching at me and each other. They learned that from me.

    All the best,

    Casey

  2. I agree totally. I’m not saying I haven’t thought or said “If only he would…..or wouldn’t; I would be happy”.
    Even people entering into a relationship ignore a person’s past track record in relationships and think “I’m special and he will be different with me”. Yes people can change if they really want to but for the most part a person doesn’t change much, especially if they say they’ve changed and haven’t gotten professional help. People revert back to their pattern of behavior. The best indication of future behaviour is a person’s past behaviour. So many times women in
    abusive relationships stay because the man blames them for their mistreatment or promises to change. No one can make you act like an asshole and you don’t have the power to change an asshole into nice guy, no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.
    You only have control over your own actions and you both have to want the same thing. Sometimes people need help communicating with each other, learning to compromise or and understand each other best but they are both working towards having a loving healthy relationship together and accepting responsibility for their part in it; not expecting the other person to change in order to make them happy.

  3. I can’t tell you how much I agree with everything you’ve said. I hope everyone reads this post carefully and takes it to heart – the last paragraph, in particular.

  4. Isn’t this the goal of marriage counseling? I attempt to lead each individual to the point of seeing how they can change to make their relationship better. Since the Bible says “two shall become one,” I see marriage as a multiplication equation: 1×1=1. Each individual has to be a whole for the relationship to work optimally.
    Good words for us to consider.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s