6 Common Obstacles in Couples Therapy

Couples therapy can strengthen your bond. However, what obstacles can you come up against? Today we'll take a look at them so you can be prepared.

Last update: 14 May, 2020

Couples therapy is an opportunity for the members of a relationship to be able to improve certain aspects of their relationship and strengthen the bond they have. However, there are some common obstacles in couples therapy that can get in the way.

In a couples therapy session, you work on aspects of your relationship like communication, managing emotions, and even problems that affect your sex life (lack of libido, boredom, etc.). In this article, we’ll take a look at the common obstacles in couples therapy that can prevent success.

Common obstacles in couples therapy

1. Wanting your partner to change

Couple on a couch in couples therapy.
Couples therapy should involve work for both of the members of the relationship.

Many couples that go to sessions do so because they want to change their partner. They think that going to therapy will make their partner turn into the person they want them to be so that they fit their expectations.

However, as the article Integral Behavioral Couples Therapy: General Description of a Model with an Emphasis on Emotional Acceptance says so well, it’s crucial that “the patients should stop trying to change the behavior of the other person.”

2. Blaming your partner

This is one of the other common obstacles in couples therapy that has become a behavior pattern in other relationships. Blaming your partner without accepting your own responsibility is a big mistake.

Something you should keep in mind in any type of relationship is that both members have their part of the responsibility since two people make up the relationship. Therefore, it’s important to always consider: How does each person contribute to the problem that brought you to therapy?

3. Inadequate communication in couples therapy

Couple on a couch talking angrily.
In most cases, couples therapy tries to improve communication between the partners.

“Bad” communication is a weakness for many couples. In many couples there are usually thoughts and emotions that aren’t spoken, secrets kept, and a series of strategies to avoid expressing what they feel effectively.

You’ll work on this during therapy, but if bad communication doesn’t change, you won’t get the results you were hoping for. Because of this, it’s important to start taking little steps toward better communication.

4. Hidden intentions in couples therapy

If the relationship that a couple goes to therapy about is damaging (violence, mistreatment, abuse), there may be hidden intentions. For example, an abusive partner may try to accuse the other of being crazy to undermine their self-esteem.

When this happens, it’s important to have separate sessions. In fact, it’s better to do individual sessions and then combine them with the couples sessions. If someone has hidden intentions, he or she may likely say “I don’t need individual sessions, I’m here because my partner is the one that needs help.” If this is the case, the therapist needs to step in and offer individual sessions.

5. Looking for nonexistent solutions

Couple on a couch in couples therapy.
The therapist will help you look for solutions, or confront the end when there aren’t any.

Another common obstacle in couples therapy is when one partner keeps looking for solutions when, in reality, there aren’t any. This can happen for different reasons:

  • The feelings aren’t the same: Your love has turned into just affection or friendship and, no matter how much you fight, it’s impossible to go back.
  • Different life plans: For example, one of the partners may want to have kids and the other doesn’t, or one may want to live in a foreign country and the other doesn’t.

Can you work on these issues in couples therapy? The answer is “yes”. Therapy can help you cast a light on the relationship, break up healthily, and help each person in their grieving process. However, it’s also important to remember that, in some cases, the healthiest solution may be to peacefully end the relationship.

6. Leaving therapy half-done

The last common obstacle in couples therapy is leaving it. This can happen in many circumstances – not just in couples therapy, but also in individual sessions. The reason is that in therapy, you have to analyze, work on, and look at some aspects of your personality that you might not like. It’s not easy. 

The fact that they give you tools to improve some aspect of yourself (responsibility, communication, etc.) is a difficult and time-consuming process. Some people aren’t ready to “waste time” and would rather stay the same.

However, the big problem is that the relationship will keep having the same problems that will only get worse over time. The result may be a destructive breakup where both partners haven’t left stronger since they haven’t learned anything.

Going to couples therapy can be a very enriching process. In fact, you don’t always have to be in a bad place to go to therapy. You can go at least once a year to make sure everything is going well. Just like going to the doctor, going to a psychologist is essential and healthy!

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