September 18, 2014

Katy showed up in my office in tears. She had been trying to get her husband to go to marriage counseling for months. He finally agreed and they went to see someone locally who was referred to them by a friend. In their first meeting, her husband told the counselor he was only staying in a miserable marriage because of their kids. The counselor told him kids were never a good reason to stay in a marriage. Her husband moved out the next week.

Unfortunately, I hear stories like this frequently. And it makes me angry. It should make you angry too. You finally get the courage to show up and spill your guts to a “professional” only to be told your marriage can’t be saved or even worse, shouldn’t be saved.

No one can or should tell you if your marriage is worth saving. No expert is an expert on YOU. But oftentimes clients will ask a counselor to weigh in on this and sadly, many will.

I get emails every week asking me if I know of any counselors in someone’s local area who have our same approach to relationships. A vast majority of the time, I cannot help them this way. And while we do offer long distance coaching and face-to-face couples intensives, counseling is sometimes what is needed most. So to help you choose the right counselor, I’ve listed a few tips you can follow.

  • Make sure you choose a marriage counselor who is truly a “relationship” expert. There are a lot of therapists out there who call themselves “marriage counselors” or “couples counselors” but have a very limited set of skills to deal with couples who have complicated issues or a high level of conflict. You wouldn’t see a podiatrist if you had a brain tumor.  No one can specialize in everything.  If your counselor lists several areas of expertise, it could be a sign they haven’t really mastered any of them.  Before selecting a counselor, do your research. Ask them what their success rate is for couples counseling.  If it is below 75%, go somewhere else.
  • The marriage counselor is really an individual therapist.  The fastest route to divorce is to see an individual therapist for marriage/couple issues.  Ask them how much of their practice is based on couples counseling.  If that number is lower than 75%, go somewhere else.  An individual therapist is likely to focus on the one who is in the most distress and will often sacrifice the relationship for personal growth and happiness.  It is easier to suggest divorce than to fix the problems especially if you don’t have the experience.
  • The marriage counselor is not PRO marriage.  In other words, they are marriage neutral.  Maybe they have been divorced themselves and see it as “no big deal”. Before scheduling, check out their website and any blogs/articles they’ve written.  If you still can’t tell where they stand on the institute of marriage, interview them and find out.  If you aren’t completely satisfied that you are putting your marriage in good hands, walk away.
  • The marriage counselor is simply a bad counselor.  Yep…it happens.  Having the credentials doesn’t mean you know what you are doing.  I’ve heard stories that make my skin crawl.  If you are in counseling and something doesn’t feel right, consider getting a second opinion.
  • The marriage counselor takes sides.  I hesitated on this one because this can be tricky.  You want a counselor who can stand in the truth even if that means one or both of you gets upset or gets your feelings hurt.  Occasionally, I will see a couple where one is overtly acting out in inappropriate ways and I have to call that person out on his/her behavior.  But you and your partner should feel confident your counselor is fighting for your marriage. If one of you is feeling ganged up on, try to ascertain whether or not the counselor is legitimately challenging unhealthy behaviors or if this could be a sign it is time for a second opinion.
  • All too often clients get upset about something a counselor said or did and they simply stop coming to sessions.  No counselor is perfectly on their game for every session every single day of the week.  If you are upset with your counselor or feeling as if you aren’t getting good results, talk to your therapist.  Hopefully, your therapist is checking in on a regular basis and asking how you feel things are going. Give him/her the opportunity to make adjustments and address your concerns.  If you still feel things aren’t going well, don’t hesitate to leave and find another counselor.  If you aren’t feeling good about the service you are paying for, it is likely your counselor isn’t feeling good about it either.  You may be doing everyone a favor.

Contact Us

I can’t express enough how important it is to find a pro marriage counselor who has the training and experience to give you the help you need.  Your marriage is one of the most important relationships you will have, so do your research and be willing to invest the money and time to get things back on track.  It could be the best investment you will ever make.

Oh!  And remember Katy whose husband moved out because their counselor said no one should stay married because of the kids?  We worked with Katy and Mark for just a couple of months and they are thriving.  And so are the kids, btw!    😉

Interested in working with us?

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  1. May

    Great points. I’m glad to hear Katy and Mark are still together. In a previous marriage, I had a therapist that I swear was tag teaming us against each other. We both had individual sessions and couples therapy. It ended in a nasty divorce, which may have and probably was inevitable, but it seemed to be a long negotiation.

    • Kim Bowen

      Unfortunately, I hear this a lot. Sorry your’s ended in a nasty divorce. There are good marriage counselors out there. You just have to find them!

  2. Jen

    What a great article at the time when I need it most. My husband and I start counseling tomorrow and I know both of us are terrified, but, finding a pro marriage counselor I hope will make all the difference as we take the steps necessary to hopefully heal, repair and save our marriage. Choosing a counselor is such a HUGE deal because my husband has been so hesitant about going. I read an article this morning about our very counselor we chose and he is pro marriage with extensive experience in couples counseling, so that gives me so much hope for our future together. Say a prayer for us!

    • Kim Bowen

      Hi Jen, Wonderful!! I’m glad you found my post helpful and I’m thrilled you’ve found a pro-marriage counselor. Prayers for you both as you begin this process together! Please let us know if we can help you in any. All my best, Kim

  3. Leslie Holmes

    My husbands pain management therapist told him to divorce me. I am devastated. He said he showed her our texts and she read them for 10 minutes and took notes. She told him to end it. Isn;t this unethical? How does she get to decide my life and his. Is there any legal recourse? Im’ devastated.

    • Tony

      I am in the same position. I have also been told to “end it”. But I am genuinely at a loss. I care for my partner but I don’t want to be there anymore. I have felt more like a brother than her lover. No intimacy no closeness nothing for nearly 10 yrs +. There are too many to mention but I have also been made to feel insignificant just there to be dumped on. I have thrown 32 yrs away. My therapist only advised for my benefit. She is not to blame for the state of my partnership.

      • Kim Bowen

        Tony, no matter what a therapist or any third party says, only you can and should decide whether to end it. 32 years is a huge investment and walking away is rarely the easiest option though it often masquerades itself as such. I would encourage you to fully explore all of your options with someone who can help you make sure you’ve left no stone unturned. Wishing you the best, Kim.

  4. Dr. Ken Newberger

    Excellent article. I couldn’t agree more about the need to find a pro marriage marriage counselor.

    I also think that this sentiment reflected in the statement “the counselor told him kids were never a good reason to stay in a marriage,” is a false. Just read Wallerstein’s landmark 25 year longitudinal study. “The central finding of this study is that parental divorce impacts detrimentally the [child’s] capacity to love and be loved within a lasting, committed relationship.” They found that “divorce begets fewer marriages, poorer marriages, and more divorces.”

    Thanks again.

    Dr. Ken Newberger
    Southwest Florida (Naples- Fort Myers)

  5. Maureen

    Getting in touch with a certified marriage counselor is key! Great article! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Maggy

    Timely article for us. My husband and I saw a “marriage counsellor” for our second session this past week. Only fifteen minutes in after hearing my fears and my husbands report on our most recent disagreement, she pronounced, “It’s over.” “Now let’s start working on a dissolution plan over the next thirty days and discuss what the gains and losses will be.” I am furious and crushed. I found her to be blatantly unprofessional, flippant and insensitive. Heaven knows my husband and I have struggled for a myriad of reasons but there is love and caring and mutual need at the heart of our union as well as grounding in spirituality. I am taking time to heal from this “professional’s” assault and hoping against hope her “direction” has not permanently altered the course of our marriage. I later discovered in internet research that she is a felon on five years probation for aggravated battery. Had I known that beforehand, I would never have agreed to see her with my husband. I need an emotionally stable counsellor and not someone still mired in the consequences of their own questionable behavior.

    • Kim Bowen

      Hi Maggy. I am so sorry to hear this. Unfortunately I’ve heard many stories like this over the years and it breaks my heart. If not approached properly, marriage counseling can turn to divorce counseling quickly. Marriage counseling is very different from individual counseling which is why we take your marriage as the client as much as we do the two of you. Our goal is to represent the relationship at the table. Not all marriages can be saved, but many can be, and will be. I would encourage you to find a counselor who takes a similar approach. If remote coaching via phone or video chat is an option for you, I hope you’ll call us. Kim

  7. Judith

    I just saw a marriage counselor for the first time with my husband, and the counselor advised me to move on since my husband clearly didn’t have an interest in working on the marriage. My husband barely spoke the whole session! I can’t believe the therapist would just let us loose and advise me that “hope is not your best friend right now”. I mean, I get that it’s important I take care of myself through this regardless of the outcome, but what could this guy have seen in us that within 30 minutes said there was no point in me trying to save my marriage.

    I found this very distressing, especially since I thought it a good sign my husband even agreed to go to counseling with me even though he doesn’t feel it’s for him. But now my husband was given “the go ahead” to leave me, and I feel like the counselor betrayed me too, without even really getting to know us as a couple or people at all. I’m devastated and wish we hadn’t even gone at all.

    • Kim Bowen

      Hi Judith, I am so sorry to hear this. I wish I could tell you it’s the first time I’ve ever heard such a thing but unfortunately that is not the case. I often have clients in my office who have been to another counselor who suggested they walk away from the relationship after a single session, and it makes my heart hurt. I firmly believe the ONLY 2 people who can say a marriage should end are the two people IN the relationship. All too often marriage counseling turns into divorce counseling when you aren’t working with a counselor who is truly “PRO marriage”. That is why my counselors here all take your marriage as the client as much as we take the two of you in the marriage. It is a critical difference in approach. Please consider reaching out to my office. I have counselors and coaches who are experienced in helping clients in your shoes do everything they can to rescue their marriage. Wishing you the best, Kim

  8. kara

    I’ve recently had a therapist told me to leave my husband because he is a narcissist and kids aren’t a good reason to stay. I went in quite ok to the session and have come out shaken, ,unsure of myself, lacking hope and feeling like I’m weak because I won’t leave.

    Perhaps he is a narcissist, or perhaps because the therapist hasn’t heard both sides of the story the things I say are misconstrued by the therapist.

    Either way sometimes think we forget that therapist are just people too.

    • Kim Bowen

      Kara, that is so disappointing to hear and to experience, and my heart aches for you. Unfortunately, this scenario happens way too often. It’s important for you to remember, though, that no outside person, whether they be your best friend, your preacher, or your counselor, can make this decision for you. Nor should they. You’re very wise to recognize that even professionals are only human, and that simply because they are a professional doesn’t make them a good fit for you or your situation. I urge you to search for one who is pro-marriage, who won’t take sides, and who is truly a marriage/relationship specialist. They are out there, and they are worth searching for.

      If we can be of any service to you, please call our office.

      TL (For Kim)

  9. melissa

    I am reeling from finally accepting that my marriage counselor doesn’t believe me, take me seriously and sides with my husband. He is successfull and charming and loved by the community. In private he is emotionally abusive. This is something I’ve just realized over the past few months, thinking our problems were communication and stubbornness. I chose this therapist because she supposedly specialized in narcissism and ran a support group for wives of narcissric partners. My husband is not a full blown narc, but has many qualities. After each of us meeting individually with her and together as a couple for Over a year, I finally had the nerve to tell her that the fights have gotten so bad that the last few times I considered suicide. She didn’t bat an eye and suggested I need more in my life to feel strong and independent. My next individual session she didn’t even bring it up, I told her that he was emotionally abusive. She asked what my goals were and I tried to explain that he didn’t know he was abusive and maybe it could be gently pointed out that this or that action is hurtful to me, then there might be a break and I could have time to heal. Anyway, throughout my time with her she’s told me “your resentment is ruining your marriage. You need to stop dwelling on the past and move on” (telling her about a fight last week is not dwelling on the past, is it? “your husband loves you so much. If you would just stop shutting yourself off from him you two would be happy.” “You can’t heal from abuse.” This last was said and I just stared at her. Someone CAN heal from abuse. But if it’s constantly there or just the fear of it is there, it’s much more difficult, I would think. I realized she didn’t believe me. Is it just somehow easier to believe that he’s as wonderful as he presents himself to be and tell me to toughen up and open up and it will all be ok rather than acknowledge I might be going through some bad things with him? I am not perfect and am working so hard on my stuff but I am worn so thin from years of being put down. Or maybe she doesn’t care. Regardless, I feel really angry but I don’t want to spend money for a session to tell her.

    • Kim Bowen

      Hi Melissa, I’m so sorry to hear about the experience you’ve had with your current marriage counselor. Unfortunately, I regularly hear stories similiar to this one from my clients who went somewhere else first. Marriage and relationship counseling is very different than working with individuals and I’ll be honest, the course work for counseling degrees focus almost exclusively on individual work. Learning the skills and techniques that work for couples requires a counselor to invest serious hours and financial resources post-education. I’ve made this my personal mission and have trained with many of the big names in my field. I require the counselors and coaches on my team to also train weekly, specifically on couples work, and I think this is one of the things that sets us apart. I obviously cannot speak to your specific experience or counselor, but I am sorry that it has not been a healing experience for you. I do hope you’ll give marriage counseling another chance though because I do believe, done right, it can provide you the tools to create the marriage you want. If we can help you with that, I hope you’ll call. Wishing you the best, Kim.