Why Marriage Counseling Doesn't Work 

For marriage counseling to be effective, it requires a certain set of conditions:

  • shared power in the relationship

  • both parties will be honest in representing who they are

  • both parties can speak the truth, even if it involves criticism of the other partner without fear of punishment or repercussion after the session

  • willingness to negotiate and compromise

  • a willingness to "do" therapy; a willingness to self-reflect, to examine and be open to modifying their own behavior for the sake of the relationship

  • empathy for the pain one partner's behavior is causing the other and willingness to change as a result

  • a reasonable level of respect, love, compassion, and commitment to the relationship

  • one partner is not afraid of the other

In an abusive relationship, often none of these conditions is in place.

In an abusive relationship:

  • the abuser generally holds all the power and he must win/be right/in control at all times

  • the abuser will often represent himself as the victim, minimize or deny his abusive behavior and grossly exaggerate any negative behaviors of his partner--he will often present his pristine "public/social image which is often very different from the behavior he shows his partner behind closed doors

  • there is a code of silence that prevails in an abusive relationship--she is not to talk about the abuse or acknowledge it

  • the abused partner will be afraid to be honest about the abuser's behaviors for fear of incurring his wrath/punishment after they leave

  • there is an unwillingness to negotiate or compromise on the abuser's part; it is generally "my way or the highway"

  • there is an inability or unwillingness on the abuser's part to do therapy, to critically examine or modify his own behavior--it's all about blaming his partner (ex: if she weren't so "stupid, lazy, disorganized", etc) he wouldn't have to respond the way he does

  • often an abuser lacks respect for his partner or empathy for the pain he is causing her

  • he may use what's said in the session in a manipulative way afterwards, turning the therapist's words against her

  • he may try to align himself with the therapist against the abused spouse/ ganging up on her reinforcing his argument that she is the problem

  • the abuser is generally unable to take any kind of criticism and perceives it as an attack; he will typically punish her for revealing any of his abusive behaviors to the therapist

For all these reasons, marriage counseling with an abuser is generally ineffective at best and usually results in making the abuse worse. If  you are in an abusive relationship and a well-intentioned therapist, lawyer, or religious leader  recommends marriage counseling--run, don't walk to your nearest exit.

Individual counseling is far more effective.