This was after I was actually divorced, but my ex and I had to go to court ordered family counseling. After the second session, she said to my ex, "You don't need to come back, I can't work with you and I won't tell the court that you successfully completed counseling." Then she turned to me and said, "But you're doing a wonderful job. You're just wonderful." It was very, very odd.
I do work in the mental health field as a skill builder and have done training in marriage and family therapy. One thing they tell us is that often there is one partner who wants to make it work and one partner who has given up and that the only way it is effective is if both people are willing to put effort into it.
After 15 minutes of counselling the therapist, that my ex picked, told my ex that she needed to check into a psychiatric facility and that she was acting abnormally. Of course the ex didn't do any such thing and then sent papers to the therapist from reporting any of this to the court. This was during my divorce. It was a crazy time. The therapist was correct.
Significant other is a therapist that specializes in working with teenagers. Reports that in cases where a parent brings a child to therapy with serious issues whether substance, school performance, or interpersonal issues, in 95% of the cases the problems are caused and/or exacerbated by poor parenting.
Pretty often one person is the problem - but the other person is the issue. The issue is communicating, acceptance, or indecision.
For example, one spouse is lazy and a lout and the other person has had to deal with it and grown resentful. A lazy lout after 15 years will never be significantly different to you or erase the frustration you have. You being angry about that wont stop them from being what they are.
I have seen couples in therapy for many, many years. I learned early on that the problem is usually an interaction effect. As I tell people, it's like bleach and ammonia - two excellent things that simply become toxic when mixed together.
Years ago in addiction treatment - we had the coke addict husband and the wife who really didn't want him to recover because the coke meant 10K income per month (early 1980's). Who's the problem?
We have the cheater and the spouse who hasn't wanted to have sex in the marriage for 10 years. Who's the problem? Who created that distance, who perpetuated it? What happened to create this schism?
We have the one-income household and the spouse who had no idea this called for a 1950s lifestyle where the stay-at-home took care of the household responsibilities like kids, cooking, and cleaning. They never negotiated what their one-income household would look like. Who's the problem?
To answer your question, I would say I can pick out the "problem" person perhaps 20% of the time. Usually it is truly an interaction effect, two people who simply do horribly as a couple. Sometimes I can see very clearly that one person is Over It. Nothing anyone can do to save this relationship.
Most of the time I can see what broke in the couple. I would say it rarely one person's fault. I definitely tell the truth to the couple as to what I am seeing, fully aware that I am a new visitor to their life, fully aware that I could be totally wrong.
Usually what I have in my office is two people wanting to be heard.
Purely anecdotal I know but a number of years ago my wife and I were having some pretty serious issues. We were on the edge of divorce, and we finally agreed to couples counselling.
We had 4 sessions, one together, one where we each talked to the therapist alone, then another with the two of us.
Right off the bat on the 4th session she sat us down, looked at my wife and said "Therapists don't say things like this often, but you are wrong. You are the cause of all the problems in your relationship and if you do not want it to end, you need to make some changes."
I did have a brief moment of "I can't believe a professional has actually telling her she is wrong and I'm right! Best day ever!" then thinking "what if she can't change?"
Well the good news is that was 10 or more years ago, and life is awesome. We have one of the best relationships I know of, and especially since the kids grew up and moved out things are pretty great.
Own and operate a private practice, been almost 10 years now. It is almost always skewed one way, and often extremely so.
My first big career obstacle was overcoming my own desire for acceptance from others. It prevented me from calling out unacceptable behavior, due to worry of accusations of bias, negative reviews, etc. I definitely "levelled up" when I gained enough experience to feel confident in call outs. It is extremely rare though and the mark of a clumsy therapist. Imagine trying to take apart a computer, but a part is stuck so you whack it with a hammer.
The art of therapy and how you know someone is very good is it'll feel like a regular conversation. You'll have excellent flow, some personal stories and laughs. Skills, tips, insight, etc are integrated smoothly into conversation.
Last week had a client messaging escorts while the client is on business trips. Giving escorts the address and room number. Claims they didn't meet and it's the partners fault for snooping through their phone. Adamant they have done nothing wrong, messaging isn't cheating. Sometimes it is extremely one sided.
Common is the stronger (relationship skills wise) partner pushing for therapy and weaker partner pulled along.
Common split is 60/40 or so. Most common issues: attachment style conflicts, anxiety, communication, lacking personal skills, toxic models, addiction, weak resolution/recovery, unrealistic expectations about partner/life in general
My now ex and I were told to break up about a half hour into our first couples therapy session. Of course we didn't listen. She also tried to get us to call a pet psychic who could read our dogs minds over the phone for $100 an hour. So...
I am a therapist. I have seen many couples in my experience in which one person bears more of the responsibility for the chaos or distress in the relationship. In fact, many times couples therapy is a soft introduction to individual therapy for the person that needs it (often someone with anger issues or substance abuse problems).
I actually have several instances of this with my ex-husband - go figure it took me so long to make him my ex.
Before we had kids, we went to couples therapy because we were just fighting a lot and wanting to work on communicating better. We went to two sessions and then we had one session where I basically battled my way to get to the office in rush hour traffic only to find out when I got there that he "didn't feel like" coming that day. The therapist suggested I have a session on my own since I was there anyway and told me that I was not the problem, and that my husband had some serious issues. It seemed a bit much to me at the time and I ended up not going back at all after, but hindsight is 20/20, yeah?
While we were divorcing, he demanded that we put the kids in therapy and chose a therapist to have them go to. I figured "what the heck" and let him take them during his visits and went to meet the therapist and go through the various steps she wanted to take. After three weeks, my ex decided that I must have "got" to the therapist and tried to break down her door while I was in her office after my daughters' session. He was informed he was no longer welcome on the premises, but I was told I could keep bringing the girls if I liked. She actually refused payment and came and spent 8 hours at court to testify against him during our divorce trial.
Finally, I requested a parent coordinator (who is kind of a therapist with some power) because my ex was just difficult and we needed someone in between us. My ex wanted our kids to go to daycare instead of using the nanny we had hired (together, I might add) because he decided the nanny liked me better. Anyway, he presented his case to the parent coordinator and I presented mine and the parent coordinator sided with me and said the girls could continue to be taken care of by the nanny. My ex actually filed an ethics violation suit against our parent coordinator, alleging that he had an "inappropriate relationship" with me, "proven" by the fact that I had referred to him by his first name in an email I had written. This case, of course, was thrown out, but not without the Parent Coordinator having to spend money to defend himself. Needless to say, he requested to be removed from our case after that.
Not a therapist here, but training to be one.
My professor was a couples therapist for 25 years. She said on the first session she would take each person in her office separately and ask them "on a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you want to work on this relationship and stay together?"
She said that she could construct a treatment plan based on where the numbers were relative to each other. So her plan would look different if a couple answered like 8&9 than if they looked like 1&2. She said the saddest were when it was like 1&10 because then it was more about helping that person who was a 10 slowly accept that things weren't going to work out.
Was considering marrying my long time girlfriend, but she insisted there were issues we needed to address in couples counselling before she could consider it (second marriage for both of us). We went, and she laid out a series of ridiculous complaints, such as what I did in her dreams and sometimes I might be 5 minutes early or 5 minutes late when I said I was going to meet her (who can plan plan around that much uncertainty!). Therapist looked incredulous, but suggested we could work on these issues if my girlfriend might be open to changes as well as me. She wanted none of that and two weeks later announced that we were breaking up.
I had no idea how much crazy I was dealing with until she talked to the therapist, and even then I tried to make it work (denial is a powerful force). I dodged a bullet because of that therapy session.
I never tell them something isn't going to work, but I ask the hard questions at appropriate times. "Do you want this to work?" "What needs to change to have the kind of relationship you want to be in?" "Are you willing to make changes or compromise on some things for the sake of the relationship?"
I've had clients who were obviously heading towards breakup do it during a session. I've told clients when their behavior was abusive. I've had clients who literally would not stop fighting during the session long enough for me to make it through an exercise that illustrates how different perspectives on the same thing doesn't make the other person wrong or a liar. I've had clients that would cancel their session multiple times a month because they had broken up but then reschedule when they were back together within 72 hours.
Basically the whole premise of therapy is not to tell people what's wrong with them or what they should do, but to help them figure it out on their own.
In the majority of therapeutic orientations, the goal is to help the clients understand their lives better and give more positive options. One awesome case study I found, of a married couple who had a child, had the phrase: "I'm not here to save your marriage, I'm here to save your relationship so your child can be cared for."
Nearly always, if positive behavior is shown, the client will either try to move towards that situation, or they won't and you'll uncover more of the underlying problem. If you find enough of the problem, you get to a solution point or a separation point.
Unless there are serious issues, like physical abuse. Then, the steps are entirely different.
It depends on the situation, but I generally do not tell people to split. I explore the relationship and see if this is the kind of relationship the client likes or wants. We'll then compare and contrast the two relationship types and explore how to either 1) make the relationship fit or 2) change relationships.
The reason it depends? Abusive relationships. They tend to require a different approach. You can't sit and watch your client being beaten while you process through positive and negative relationships. You have to be a little more proactive when safety is involved.
For me, generally "This is a bad relationship you don't need" comes after the client identifies the relationship isn't one they need. It's used as a confirmation instead of a demand.
At the first session, I explain to both partners the goal of therapy is not to keep them together. The goal is to help them improve how they communicate with each other to resolve conflict and/or differences. No guarantee of the outcome. If they decide to end the relationship, at least they can be civil about it and communicate respectfully, honestly, and in ways they feel good about themselves. When I have been directly asked my opinion about a couple staying together, I usually ask if the one person can (1) imagine their future without the other and (2) look past and/or accept, because the relationship is worth it or the person has more positive qualities. I have talked to individual clients about why they should end their relationship, especially if it is abusive or toxic, but usually I try to help the individual look at pros/cons of staying and identify consequences for choices.
My friend went in couples therapy for some girl he was dating. Dating, not engaged or married. She sucked. She wanted him to sign over his car, so she could 'trust' him (a goddamn Ferrari). She installed a tracker app on his phone - "What were you doing at Joe's Tavern at 9pm, you said you were home at 8:30". And put a listening device in his house. She got those tentacles in deep. Luckily, they've been officially broken up for a while, and I'm certain they won't be getting back together.
When I was married, we tried marriage counselling. My ex didn't like what any of the therapists were saying because it wasn't what she wanted to hear. I was also the one setting these appointments up and trying to make it work. The third one we saw suggested maybe just a one on one session with each of us after the initial session. I agreed but again my ex didn't like what she was hearing and declined. I went for that one on one session a few weeks later and it lasted five minutes. I told her I knew we were done and she agreed but wanted to make sure I was okay. While I wasn't, I assured her I was and left. A good therapist will tell you what's up and I'm appreciative to this day that she was looking out for me even though I already knew.
A good therapist is only directive when there's no other option. Therapy is all about autonomy and self-knowledge. Couples therapy is less about fixing or giving up a relationship, and more about making the couple think, by themselves, about what can and has to be done, be it fix, be it part ways, and make their decision from a position of knowledge and respect, for themselves and for each other.
When my ex-wife and I were divorcing, I managed to get one court-mandated counselling session, because I wanted to try to work on my relationship with my kids - I did the leaving, and there was a bit of Stockholm stuff going on with the kids.
I suppose it was almost sneaky of me, but I was the voice of calmness and reason (or is that just what reasonable people do?) and my ex just did her usual psycho thing.
The most interesting thing of all was the therapist's face. He looked pretty incredulous at times. I can't remember if he actually asked if we were trying to patch things up.
He wasn't super partisan or anything, but he pointed out a few things that were favourable to me. She did not like that one bit: "oh, I didn't think much of him" afterwards.
It was kind of vindicating.
I once read something about how a therapist can tell if a couple is going to work out based on positive affirmation. Not sure if that is the right term but it was basically if one person points out something their interested in/excited about a good partner acknowledges that with positivity (even if they dont really care) while a bad partner doesnt.
A friend of mine just went into business as a couples counsellor. If the couple splits despite her efforts she considers it a personal failure. I hope she gets over that so she doesn't have to be upset.
As a therapist, I know it's common for one or both people to go to therapy to check a box. You know the "I did everything I could" box. If that is the did attitude that you have your chances for success are slimmer, though not impossible.
I don't tell anyone they shouldn't be together. I do point out that their actions or attitudes might not demonstrate that the relationship is very important to them.
The only time I recommend seriously that people not be together is in the case of abuse. The first priority them is to protect the victim.
Did a few sessions with my exhusband. She then said it usually helps to spend some sessions individually and she'd like to see me first.
I sat down, she looked at me and I'll never forget her words, "R.U.N. - run. Now." Then she explained why. Best decision I ever made.