Relationship Problems: Why Counseling Is Often the Last Resort

Newspaper and online advice columns are rife with relationship problems. And quite often, a columnist’s recommendation to seek professional counseling ends up being a last resort solution. After couples have tried everything else that they can think of, they finally resort to seeing a counselor. But why?

At Rye, New York’s Relationships & More, counselors do not tell couples to stay away until their marriages are facing imminent collapse. Most would probably tell you they would prefer getting involved as early as possible. Still, couples counseling tends to be put off until there is nothing left to try.

A 2015 Psychology Today piece from Suzanne Gelb Ph.D., J.D. may explain why. Gelb offered up five reasons people resist going to therapy. While she may not have been specifically talking about marriage problems or couples counseling, what she wrote may still apply.

1. The Desire for a Quick Fix

Unfortunately, those of us who are now adults grew up during the drive-through generation. And as adults, we want every problem solved as easily as hitting the drive-through for dinner. We want quick and easy solutions to problems that took years to create. Life doesn’t work that way.

A couple heading to Relationships & More for couples counseling has to know that their marriage will not be fixed in a single 30-minute session. They know counseling will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. They also know the counselor is going to require something of them. This is not the quick fix they want.

2. Skepticism Over Its Usefulness

This writer personally knows multiple people who declined much needed counseling because they had already convinced themselves it wouldn’t work. This is a common trend according to Gelb. In fact, she says this particular issue is the most common barrier of all.

Gelb illustrates the point by explaining the certainty of buying something online. You know exactly what you are getting for your money. This is not true for counseling. Couples are afraid of investing time and money and getting nothing in return. If they suspect counseling will not help, they are likely to avoid it for as long as possible.

3. Feelings of Shame

Some people know they need counseling but won’t go because they are too ashamed of their own failures. They dread the thought of sitting in a counselor’s office and having to admit their failings. This is especially true during couples counseling. Spouses have to admit their failures to both the counselor and spouse, which amounts to twice the stress.

4. An Unwillingness to Face Feelings

An extension of those overwhelming feelings of shame is an unwillingness to face such feelings. It is too emotionally difficult to process them in an open and honest way. Conversely, it is easier to just bury one’s feelings and go about one’s daily business. Such behaviors are dangerous for anyone, especially couples whose marriages are on the brink.

5. An Unwillingness to Be Happy

As strange as it sounds, Gelb says that some people in desperate need of counseling believe that their own desires for happiness are frivolous. In other words, they believe there is more to life than being happy. By pursuing counseling, they are pursuing their own happiness, and they don’t want to be perceived as being frivolous for doing so.

Relationship counseling can be quite rewarding when couples and counselors invest themselves in mutual collaboration. Unfortunately, counseling is seen as a measure of last resort in far too many circumstances. This is too bad. If it were the first resort more often than not, how many couples would never reach the point of relationship collapse?