When should we stop marriage counselling or couples therapy? A guide to the right decision.

Marriage Counselling

Couples therapy can be a powerful tool for partners who struggle in their attempts to resolve their own disagreements. It provides a safe space to communicate and create a happier relationship. However, people ask me: When should we stop marriage counselling?

There comes a point when everyone starts to wonder if it is time to either end the counselling process or to take a break from it.  Even though the decision to end psychotherapy can be complex and even emotional, I can give you some guidance on how to make that decision wisely.

  1. You have reached the main goals that were set at the start of marriage counselling or couples therapy.

    If the reason you initially came to couples therapy is to address the conflict with the in-laws, then once that conflict is resolved, and provided nothing else came up during the process, you should simply end the process of marriage counselling. There is no need to look for additional problems or issues if they are not there.

    Another example would be if you initially came with the intent to improve your communication, then once your communication platform is functional and you can effectively discuss difficult issues without the therapist facilitating that conversation – end couples therapy.

  2. Stop marriage counselling if you are going in circles.

    The best way here is to go with your gut feeling. Use your intuition. Are you moving forward, no matter how slow? Are you working on the right issues? Is the therapist going deep enough with you during sessions? If your gut answer is yes, then give it more time and see if it continues going forward. By the way, two steps forward, one step back is still going forward. Having one difficult session or one negative experience during a session should not be the reason to end the therapy process. Remember, effective couples therapy challenges your deeply held beliefs and may be at times uncomfortable.

    If, after about 5-8 sessions (if you are feeling generous make it 6-12 sessions), you are pretty much where you started at the beginning of the counselling process – you are probably going in circles. Change your couples therapist. Nothing against your therapist. Psychotherapy in general is very complex and couple therapy is even more complicated. No specialist can successfully move every single case forward. Maybe your therapist could not find the right approach to connect with you or with your spouse. Maybe they connected well but cannot resolve this particular issue, for some reason.

    Have an open and honest conversation about your gut feeling of going in circles with your partner and with your therapist. Then, if the partner or the counselor does not offer a different perspective on going forward – bow out. Try another specialist.

  3. One partner is showing consistent lack of engagement or even resistance to the process.

    If there is consistent lateness or cancellations at the last moment or even no shows, it may be a sign of resistance to the process. Some people say it directly. Others sabotage the process in one way or another.

    On a smaller scale, the person may show up consistently but give short answers without any meaningful elaboration. Marriage counselling can then feel like pushing a piano uphill. That lack of engagement may be a sign to take a break from therapy until the partner is ready to participate fully.

  4. You both realize that the differences in your values or life goals are irreconcilable.

    One of you is absolutely certain that they do not want to have children. The other one is absolutely certain that they want to have two to three children. One of you is set on downtown living. The other one is certain about spending the rest of their life on a farm.

    Please note that if the differences are not certain then the underlying ambivalence can be explored in marriage counselling or couples therapy. However, if the differences are certain, it may be time to end therapy.

  5. Emotional strain

    Participating in couples therapy can often unearth underlying issues within your relationship. This may give rise to temporary emotional turbulence and instability. Should these recurrent escalations fail to yield resolution and instead intensify emotional strain, it could be worth considering a break from marriage counselling or couples therapy. Seeking individual counselling may be a better option at that point.

    An overly involved or an overly detached psychotherapist may also cause an emotional strain on one or both partners during couples therapy. To learn more about what an unbalanced therapeutic relationship looks like click here and scroll down to “Things to consider when choosing a therapist.”

  6. Financial strain

    Marriage counselling can be relatively expensive. If frequent sessions create a financial burden, it may be a good idea to space out the sessions or to take a break from therapy.

No matter what your reason for wanting to end the process of couples therapy or marriage counselling, it is a good idea to talk to your partner about it. Be open and honest about your doubts or concerns. Then talk to your therapist about it. You will then be much better informed making the decision to either continue or end therapy.

Vitali Rosen is a Registered Psychotherapist and a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist in the City of Vaughan of the Greater Toronto Area.