11 Sure-Fire Ways to Fail in Couples Therapy

James Killian, LPC
4 min readJan 16


Most people come to couples therapy with good intentions. Sadly though, they often still fall into the usual traps of marriage counseling and set themselves up for failure. Bickering, interrupting, contempt, resentment and so on. So how do you avoid all this nonsense?

When I see couples communicating poorly in my office, I see a window into how they interact at home. These communication strategies are flawed and ineffective and often deeply ingrained into the fabric of their relationship.

A well-trained couples therapist understands each person is trying to get their needs met. They understand the resentful, contemptuous, and painful communication patterns are only a starting point. These dynamics offer valuable information AND an opportunity to teach the couple a better way to engage and connect with each other.

John Gottman, PhD, the prominent figure in the field of marital research, has observed couples relate to each other for over 30 years. His research taught him how to predict (with over 90% accuracy) which marriages will last, and which will end in divorce. He’s able to do this just by observing how the couple interact with each other.

The key to success in couples therapy is work with a well-trained therapist that implements evidence-based methods.

Through his research, Gottman identified behaviors in healthy relationships that result in happy and successful marriages. Additionally, he (and his wife Julie) identified the unhealthy patterns of conflicted, disillusioned and unhappy couples. Using his research as a blue print, couples learn to relinquish painful, destructive, and ineffective habits while building a strong, marital friendship.

Couples therapy can give you a second chance to have the marriage you always wanted.

But you have to work at it. And it’s not easy.

Don’t be like most people and wait until it’s too late to go to couples therapy. The moment things don’t feel right, find a marriage counselor.


So with all this valuable research at the tip of every couples therapist’s hands, why do so many couples fail in therapy? Well, it’s not always the fault of the therapist. Sometimes it is — but not usually. After a decade of working with couples, here are 11 of the most common reasons couples fail in therapy.


  1. Wait to go to couples therapy years after the relationship has gone sour.
  2. Your real goal of couples therapy is to prove you’re right, and your partner is wrong.
  3. Provide evidence to ‘enlighten’ the therapist as to just how difficult your spouse is.
  4. Poorly disguise various strategies to evoke the therapist’s sympathy for your marital misery.
  5. Always operate on the assumption that your partner’s motives are bad and that your motives are good.
  6. Find ways to humiliate your partner in the session. Be creative.
  7. When things get uncomfortable in session, cross your arms and give “the silent treatment.”
  8. When your partner gets emotional, roll your eyes, and dismiss them with a wave of your hand.
  9. When the therapist makes a suggestion be sure to tell them you already tried it and that it didn’t work or always start your reply with “Yes, but….”
  10. Right before the end of the session, drop a “bomb” to ensure a fight with your partner that continues all the way home and into the evening.
  11. When all else fails, use couple’s therapy to try end your marriage so you can impress your next partner, all your friends, and yourself that at least you “tried.”

Life is short, but marriage shouldn’t be. But it can be hard, painful, and infuriating at times. Don’t wait until you’re already fantasizing about leaving your partner to find a well-trained couples therapist you like and trust to attempt to save your marriage. And don’t just try to find the most convenient option; i.e., someone super close, in-network, only in the evening. Find the RIGHT couples therapist for you, not the most convenient. You’re fixing your marriage, not your car.

James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.



James Killian, LPC

Principal Therapist & Owner at Arcadian Counseling in Woodbridge, CT.