All relationships go through rough patches, and professional intervention is necessary in some cases. Still, if things have been less-than-perfect for a while, you may be wondering, “is it too late for couples therapy?”
The good news is that going to couples therapy is an option that can help if you and your significant other cannot resolve your differences on your own. Continue reading this article to know the different ways it can help you, the core purpose of counseling, and the important things you need to consider while trying to save your relationship.
How couple’s therapy maintains a marriage
When your relationship is struggling, couple’s therapy can help you to maintain your marriage in several ways:
A couple’s therapist can help you improve your communication to resolve conflict that arises in the marriage effectively. Therapists can open the lines of communication where hesitation takes over and help you actively listen to each other to improve understanding.
In couple’s therapy, you and your partner will share your deepest emotions, drawing you closer.
Focusing on strengths
When you go to couple’s therapy, you may enter it thinking that everything is wrong about the relationship. A therapist will help you draw upon your strengths, so you realize that the marriage isn’t all bad.
After you go through couple’s therapy, you’ll have better communication, improved conflict resolution skills, and a stronger bond with each other. You can use the strengths developed in therapy to nurture your marriage.
Does couples therapy work?
Can counseling save a marriage? Is it effective? There are certainly some benefits associated with couples counseling. For example, couples who find their relationships in a rough patch have often developed patterns of behavior that lead to the ongoing conflict.
In counseling, a trained therapist can help couples identify and correct these patterns.
Fortunately, studies show that the answer to “can couples counseling save relationships?” is a resounding yes.
A review of nine different studies found that a type of counseling called emotionally focused couples therapy improves marital satisfaction, and the benefits of this couples therapy are lasting.
This means that couples who go to counseling have improved the relationship, which is sustained over time. If you and your partner are experiencing high conflict and are both willing to work on the issue, couples therapy is a viable solution.
When to go to couples therapy
There are different schools of thought regarding when to go to couple’s therapy. For instance, some people go to couple’s therapy before getting married, even if they do not have any conflict, to learn about tools they can use for a healthy marriage.
On the other hand, some people wait until the conflict is at an all-time high or the relationship is near its end. When it is too late for couple’s therapy, it’s probably not the best time to start counseling.
For couples who seek counseling to deal with conflict, some of the following scenarios are signs that it may be time to go to couple’s therapy:
You’ve hit a rough spot in your relationship, and both you and your partner want to work things out.
You and your partner are struggling with communication.
You’re fighting more often than usual with your partner, and you can’t seem to find a solution.
You’ve experienced a significant adverse event within the relationship or family, such as an affair, job loss, or ongoing illness.
You and your partner are having the same arguments- over and over.
You have ongoing disagreements over important issues like finances or parenting.
The above reasons to go to therapy are just examples of what may lead a couple to seek counseling. There are, of course, any number of relationship problems that may signal that it’s time for counseling.
Most importantly, you seek outside intervention as soon as you recognize that the issue is more than what you and your partner can resolve on your own, instead of waiting until the relationship is so damaged that you cannot heal it.
5 Situations when it is too late for couples therapy
The answer to this question depends on your situation. For example, some marriages can be saved after a devastating event, such as one partner having an affair, whereas others cannot.
While everyone’s situation is different, some general scenarios suggest it may be too late for marriage counseling:
1. Repeated Affairs
If one partner has had repeat affairs, this suggests that they are making no attempt to repair the marriage.
Research shows that factors like open communication and commitment to healing are helpful and can allow couples to recover from an affair; however, repeated affairs suggest that one partner is not committed to healing.
Once a relationship has reached a state of repeated affairs, couples coaching is unlikely to help.
If your relationship involves abuse or domestic violence of any kind, your priority is to ensure your own emotional and physical safety.
Ongoing abuse may indicate that the relationship is not salvageable, and you have a right to do what is needed to protect yourself, including making an exit plan.
Another answer that arises when someone asks, “When is it too late for marriage counseling?” is that it may be too late if one person is unwilling to change or work on the relationship.
Maybe you’ve reached your breaking point, and you cannot tolerate your partner’s behavior anymore. Or, perhaps your partner is unwilling to go to counseling and wants to end the relationship. In this case, it’s probably too late for counseling.
If you find yourself experiencing the scenarios above, it may be too late for couples therapy. On the other hand, if you and your partner are genuinely committed to working through your differences and healing the relationship, a therapist may be able to help you.
8 Things to consider while trying to save a relationship
When you’re asking yourself, “is it too late for couples therapy?” consider the following 10 things that are of utmost importance when you’re trying to save a relationship:
If you want to save a relationship, you must forgive. You cannot hang on to past hurt and transgressions and expect the relationship to work.
Being unable to forgive leads to resentment and disdain for your partner. If you can forgive, you’re moving in the right direction.
2. Letting go of anger
When two people constantly react with anger, the conflict will continue. There may be feelings of sadness, hurt, or anxiety underneath whatever anger you have towards your partner.
To save the relationship, you must be willing to react with something other than anger and express your underlying feelings.
This video by couples counselor Susan Adler can help you understand the secrets to happier relationships:
You and your partner must both be willing to be transparent and trustworthy if you want the relationship to heal. Perhaps one or both of you have betrayed each other’s trust in the past.
You can work through this in counseling, but you must be willing to build a trusting relationship.
If you have started thinking about trying out counseling but still have doubts, questioning yourself again and again whether is it too late for couples therapy, you may be stuck in a pattern of always doing the same thing.
To make progress, you must be willing to try new ways to repair damage within the relationship.
For couples therapy to be effective, both parties must be willing to participate and make changes to improve the relationship.
It likely won’t be effective if one party is not motivated to heal the relationship through therapy.
5. Acting sooner rather than later
Time is of the essence when you and your partner want to save the relationship. It may be too late if you wait until the marriage or partnership is full of tension and conflict.
For this reason, it’s most beneficial if you and your partner can agree to seek counseling as soon as relationship problems become noticeable enough to interfere with daily life.
Letting problems fester and worsen will only make it more challenging to save the relationship.
Sometimes, couples enter counseling hoping to see immediate changes, but this isn’t realistic. Don’t give up if you do not see improvement after one or two sessions.
It takes time to change old behavior patterns and genuinely move forward. Sometimes you may take a few steps forward and then one step back.
The chances are that if you and your partner have decided it’s time to take couples therapy, there have been communication breakdowns between the two of you.
Therapy can help you improve communication, but you have to be willing to work on it. Stop holding feelings inside or assuming that your partner knows what you are thinking.
One mistake that people make when couples counseling is assuming that their partner is to blame for all relationship problems and that the counselor will “fix” the other person. This isn’t how marriage therapy works.
When there is ongoing conflict in a relationship, both parties play a role, and both must be willing to be accountable for making changes to allow the relationship to flourish.
Instead, couples counseling aims to help couples identify underlying issues that are causing distress in the relationship and work towards resolving those issues.
A couples counselor is a trained professional who will listen to your concerns in a non-judgmental fashion and offer you a new perspective to help you get to the root of your relationship problems.
The counselor can view marital conflict more objectively by being a neutral third party.
In relationship counseling, you and your therapist will work together to identify problem areas and create a treatment plan to address them.
As a couple, you will improve communication, rebuild your emotional bond, and learn to deal with relationship problems in a realistic fashion.
Take the call for your relationship now
Is it too late for couples therapy? If you and your partner are both motivated to work out issues in your relationship, and you haven’t reached a breaking point where you’re ready to give up, it’s probably not too late.
A trained therapist can walk you through couples counseling activities, so you can improve your communication, resolve ongoing conflict, and work toward repairing your relationship.
With a willingness from both parties to build trust and practice forgiveness, relationship restoration is possible. If you’ve noticed ongoing problems in your relationship, going to couples therapy sooner rather than later will likely increase your chances of success.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.