Can your marriage be saved?

Your marriage is in trouble, will marriage counseling help?

You can’t get along any more. Maybe there is just no love between you anymore. You wonder if your marriage can be saved. You’re not sure you partner wants to work things out. Some days you wonder if this was all a mistake. You ask yourself “Do I really want to be in this relationship?” Will marriage or relationship counseling help me- us?

Professional counseling can help, sometimes. But one risk of coming to a relationship counselor is that you will finally have to face the issues and one or both of you may decide it is over. If you and your partner are having trouble getting along or if you just can’t talk are you really on the same page?

The terms marriage and relationship or partnership are interchangeable here. Marriages are becoming less permanent with no fault divorce. Lost of relationships don’t involve a marriage anymore. But while you can break up with a partner, you can’t ever divorce your children. I tell teens to pick their baby’s mothers and fathers wisely. The same principles apply if you are together and not married, only if there are children, married or not the stakes are higher.

Why do people come to relationship counseling and what might happen? Let’s look at the possible scenarios from worst case a divorce, to best case a renewed happy relationship.

Some people come to see the therapist with their mind already made up.

They want out, they want to end this and they want a divorce. What they don’t want is to be the one that gave up on the relationship. When it fails, and they hope it will, they want it to be their partners fault. If both parties feel this way we do this dance of why the marriage is bad for a while and then eventually it comes out. Someone wants out. Lots of the time there is an affair going on and this is a way to get this out on the table and start making plans for after the divorce.

In these couples the topic quickly moves from saving the relationship to negotiating an end. Counselors can help you work out co-parenting issues. They may be able to help you talk about separating your lives, but when it comes to money or legal entanglements you need to seek legal advice.

Some couples really want to improve their relationships.

These couples are the ones Marriage and Family Therapists look forward to working with. Often they have lots of wreckage to clean up. Poor communication, no communication, or worse yet they may have harmful communication styles.

Pressures of daily life may force in on couples, finances, work, or loss of jobs, children and sick relatives.  Couples forget to invest time in their relationship. They need to rebuild the relationship. The therapist can help in cleaning out the rubbish and designing new couples tasks to ramp up the relationship.

What if you’re just not sure?

This is the tricky part, for both the couple and the therapist. You don’t want your helper getting way out in front and setting a direction that one or both of you aren’t sure about. This calls for some relationship exploration. Why did you get together in the first place? Where are you going in life and in your relationships? What have been the problems that have gotten the relationship off track?

Some therapists call this discernment counseling, or problem solving. The reason people chose to do this kind of counseling rather than talk it over between themselves is that by the time you are to this “I don’t know” stage you probably can’t talk together. The therapist creates a safe place for you to have this conversation.

If there has been events that have damage the relationship, like an affair, drug and alcohol abuse or domestic violence, those issues need to be addressed before one or both parties can be sure which direction they want to go.

Many of us have problems from our past that come back to haunt us. If you or your partner had an unhappy childhood or trauma you may need to do some individual counseling to work on that old baggage that keeps getting unpacked in a relationship.

If one of the partners in the relationship has mental health or addiction issues these need to be resolved, either individually or in couples work. There is an old saying “It takes two healthy people to have a healthy relationship.” The therapist should be encouraging both parties in the relationship to work on themselves as much or more than they work on their partner. Mostly we can’t change others. We can request changes but it is up to our partner to decide to change or not.

Couples who aren’t sure can vacillate from day to day. One week the wife wants to save the marriage and the husband is on his way out, the next week they switch roles. It takes some time to explore all these emotions, resolve some issues new and old and decide that some things just may never change.

Sometimes one partner is sort of trying to save the marriage and the other is sort of not. One term for this is called “leaning.’ One partner leans in the other leans out. This can also be thought of as the distancer and the pursuer. The more the pursuer tries to make the distancer commit the farther they run. Getting this dance right takes time and patience.

Eventually uncertain couples make a decision and then they either work on the relationship or work on the divorce.

What if the two of you are on different pages?

Therapy is a really good place to resolve this. Sometimes one person is trying to save the relationship and the partner is already packing to leave. In the safety of the counselor’s office may be the best place to find this out, before you go to work and get served with papers or come home to find your partner gone. If your partner has already decided, you need to know this.

If one of you is unsure that offers all sorts of possibilities. We often have the thought, when times are going bad that if we had just picked someone else that things would be better.

When you pick a partner you pick a set of problems!

This is important to remember. If you have time invested in the relationship, if there are children or financial issues, it may make sense to work through the problems. If you run from the relationship issues you are likely to have to work on them with the next partner.

If you are wondering about saving you relationship, or feel it is at risk, consider contacting us, or another Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist about relationship counseling.

David Miller, LMFT, LPCC

For more on our counseling and therapy services in Fresno California see the David Miller Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist page at

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