When is Couples Therapy Not Appropriate?


In the quest to mend, maintain, or enhance relationships, couples therapy has proven to be a pivotal resource for many. Yet, despite its proven effectiveness, it’s crucial to understand that it’s not always the appropriate solution for every couple’s challenges. This prompts an essential question: “When is Couples Therapy Not Appropriate?” Identifying these situations can help save time, energy, and emotional distress, paving the way for more suitable options. In this article, we’ll explore various circumstances in which couples therapy may not be the ideal choice.

Statistics/FactsInformation Source
Approximately 70% of couples show improvement after participating in couples therapyAmerican Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
Over 40% of first marriages in the US end in divorceAmerican Psychological Association
An average couple waits six years before seeking help for relationship problemsGottman Institute
Studies indicate that domestic violence occurs in approximately 25% of relationshipsAmerican Journal of Public Health

Understanding Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps two individuals in a relationship gain insights into their relationship, resolve conflicts, and improve their relationship satisfaction. This therapy can be beneficial for couples at any stage of their relationship, regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation. A trained therapist facilitates these sessions, providing a safe, unbiased environment for open communication.

When Couples Therapy May Not Be Appropriate

While couples therapy has a host of benefits, there are specific circumstances when it may not be suitable:

1. Existence of Domestic Abuse

If there is physical, emotional, or sexual abuse present within the relationship, couples therapy is often not advisable. Such therapy can inadvertently create a platform where the abusive partner manipulates the sessions, while the victim might feel unsafe or coerced to participate.

2. Active Addiction

Active addiction can also be a hindrance to effective couples therapy. Until the addicted partner commits to recovery, therapy can often be unproductive, as addiction often leads to broken trust and dysfunctional communication.

3. Unwillingness to Participate

Unwillingness to Participate
When is Couples Therapy Not Appropriate?

Both partners need to be willing to engage in the process for couples therapy to be effective. If one partner is resistant, coerced, or not invested in the therapy, the chances of success significantly diminish.

4. Mental Health Issues

Severe mental health issues that are untreated or not properly managed may impede the effectiveness of couples therapy. Such conditions may prevent an individual from fully participating or benefiting from therapy.

The Importance of Timing in Couples Therapy

Research shows that couples often wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help. However, the timing of initiating therapy can significantly influence its outcome. In cases where resentment has built over time, or the relationship has severely deteriorated, couples therapy might not be effective. Such situations often lead to what relationship expert Dr. John Gottman refers to as the “Four Horsemen” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling – which can be challenging to reverse.

Alternatives to Couples Therapy

Alternatives to Couples Therapy

If couples therapy is not an appropriate or viable option, there are other avenues for assistance:

  • Individual Therapy: If one partner is dealing with issues that hinder couples therapy, such as mental health disorders or addiction, individual therapy could be beneficial.
  • Group Support: A family of an alcoholic may find support and resources from groups such as Al-Anon or local domestic violence support groups.
  • Online Resources: Websites, blogs, and forums can offer advice, strategies, and community support for dealing with relationship difficulties.
  • Self-Help Books: Publications by credible experts can offer insights and strategies for handling relationship problems.
  • Retreats and Workshops:
    • Immersive experiences focused on relationship enhancement.
    • Feature expert facilitators and therapeutic exercises.
    • Provide opportunities for couples to reconnect and deepen their bond.
  • Relationship Education Programs:
    • Structured courses to enhance relationship skills.
    • Offer tools for conflict resolution and communication.
    • Available in-person or online for flexible learning.
  • Mediation or Conflict Resolution Services:
    • Involves a neutral third party facilitating communication.
    • Helps couples find mutually beneficial solutions.
    • Rebuilds trust and resolves ongoing conflicts.
  • Couples Coaching:
    • Goal-oriented approach to relationship improvement.
    • Works with a coach for guidance and specific strategies.
    • Supports couples in overcoming challenges and achieving goals.
  • Spiritual or Religious Counseling:
    • Incorporates faith and spirituality into the therapeutic process.
    • Provides a unique perspective and support system.
    • Guided by a spiritual or religious leader.
  • Retreats for Relationship Healing:
    • Specialized retreats for addressing traumas or challenges.
    • Focuses on healing, forgiveness, and rebuilding trust.
    • Offers a structured environment for deep emotional work.


While couples therapy can be highly beneficial for many couples, it’s essential to recognize when it may not be the best course of action. A thorough understanding of the constraints and limitations of this therapeutic modality can guide couples towards the most effective resolution path. If you find yourself in a situation where couples therapy may not be appropriate, explore other avenues of support and guidance – there’s always help available, regardless of the situation.

Remember, investing in the health of your relationship is never wasted effort, and finding the right kind of support is the first step in navigating these often complicated waters.


What are the disadvantages of couples counseling?

Couples counseling can be helpful, but it may not work for everyone. It can be hard to talk about painful things and it takes time and money. Sometimes, it can also show that the relationship can’t be fixed.

Why don’t people go to couples therapy?

People may avoid couples therapy for several reasons. They may worry about what others will think. They may fear being judged. They may not want to admit there are problems. They may be concerned about the cost. Lastly, they may not be sure if it will help. They may also avoid therapy because they don’t want to cause more problems or talk about personal issues.

What circumstances lead a therapist to consider couple therapy when is it contraindicated?

Therapists suggest couples therapy when both partners are willing to take part. This is especially true when relationship problems are causing stress or unhappiness. Therapy may not be recommended in certain cases. These include domestic violence, severe mental illness in one partner, or if one partner is unwilling to participate or make changes.

What not to say in couples counseling?

Avoid blaming your partner for all problems, as therapy should be a safe space to express feelings without fear of criticism. Statements that attack the other person’s character, known as character assassinations, should also be avoided. Try to stay away from absolute language such as “you always” or “you never,” as it can escalate conflicts.

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