Tell me about your couples' counselling experience.

My boyfriend broke up with me on Friday. There are a lot of reasons why, but they mostly boil down to he still loves me, but spooks easily and I’ve been missing a lot of subtle signs of him freaking out.

So, because I have no dignity, I couldn’t go a whole 24 hours before phoning him and begging him to come over. He did, and he agreed to go to couples’ counselling with me. He seemed very relieved by the idea that this could be fixable. His current therapist told him he had two options, stay as is or get the hell out of Dodge, and left out option 3, repair and rebuild. His current therapist also thinks I am one of the Borg and my goal is to assimilate his entire life, resistance is futile, etc. I have my suspicions about things the therapist may have said to exacerbate the situation, but am obviously not in a position to be making any demands in that area, so we’ll table it for now. Boyfriend did appear to be making mental notes when I asked why his therapist hadn’t suggested counselling, so I’m generally hopeful that we can work things out with a little help (from a therapist who isn’t a confirmed bachelor who believes marriage is for crazy people).

With all of that background out of the way, I am hoping for stories and anecdotes from Dopers who have tried couples’/marriage counselling. Obviously I’d like to hear from those who had a successful experience, but if it didn’t help, tell me that too. I’m hopeful right now, but I recognise there’s a possibility all I’ll get out of this is both of us agreeing the relationship is over instead of him making unilateral decisions about it.

Man, I hope at least one of you tried it and had it work.

Worked for my wife and me. If you find someone you are both comfortable with it is very useful to have a third party who can help with communications. My wife and I had a hard time saying the things we wanted to say to each other and the counselor helped us get the words out in a way that wasn’t too hurtful. She didn’t preform magic or make my wife stop doing the things I don’t like. She did help me tell my wife how her actions made me feel and visa-versa, she kept us on topic (somewhat) and she gave us tips on how to communcate better, before the problems start.

I have never been a fan of counselling or therapy but sometimes you need another person in the equation. A good counselor is trained and experienced at avoiding the common pitfalls a lot of couples fall into. I don’t know if a counselor will help you and your boyfriend but that would be an excellent opportunity to ask the questions you want answered in a safe place, with an expert who can keep the conversation constructive and on track.

We have a therapist that we use both as a couple and individually (mostly me). It started in about 2005 or so when I was struggling with an eating disorder. My husband found her and made an appointment for me, and he came to most of them. She has seen us through the eating disorder, alcoholism (also me - addictive personality much?), question of fidelity, and now fertility problems and miscarriages. When things are tough, we see her once every week or two. When things are going well, once every few months. We LOVE her, and I almost invited her to our wedding two years ago but figured that was crossing a line, so didn’t.

My biggest advice is to realize that it may take a few tries to find a therapist that fits. People seem to give up after one or two tries, but you shop around for other professionals, right?

Anyway, yes, it worked for us, though our history has been full of huge ups and downs and is probably an extreme example. Yes, we still see her. And yes, it can be expensive (it costs us $180 an hour, and about $100 of that is covered), but you can pay on a sliding scale according to your income.

This too - helping us communicate was the biggest aspect of our appointments.

Typically most therapist encourage people to investigate their own feelings and to own them. Most therapists don’t transmit their own feelings about certain subjects to their patients.

If your boyfriend’s therapist is encouraging your boyfriend to stand up for himself with regard to his relationship for you, it is most likely because it’s how your boyfriend feels deep down. If your boyfriend struggles with committment, his therapist is going to encourage him to decide how he truly feels about relationships and make a decision…not that relationships are bad or good, but that it’s unfair to your boyfriend and to you for him to waffle.

I don’t think that couples therapy will be that good for you, if your boyfriend hasn’t got his own shit figured out.

Part of my misgivings about this therapist is that he’s also an old family friend of Boyfriend’s and I really don’t think he’s unbiased. From what Boyfriend has told me, when they discuss me he (Boyfriend) spends a lot of time defending me. He’s also flatout told me that this therapist hates marriage.

I was told by a therapist that if my husband and I ever wanted to do couples therapy, we’d have to find someone else. He went on to say that, because he already “knew” me, he was more apt to side with me, and that the whole point of the couples therapy would be lost in the process.

I agreed with him 100%.

I did couples counseling a couple of years ago with my ex-boyfriend. It was also an, I broke up with him, he begged to work it out in counseling, I caved and went, situation. It turned out to not work for us because our underlying issue was that we were simply not compatible. He had a tendancy to tell the counselor whatever made him look best, or what he thought the counselor wanted to hear, but never took any of it to heart and, after the first session, I had pretty much already decided that counseling was going to be a waste of time (though I continued to go once a week for a couple of months). As a result nothing got better outside of our sessions and I eventually stopped going because it seemed like a pointless waste of money.

It think what it boils down to is that couples counseling can work if your relationship has a solid core. Is your problem that you just can’t figure out how to communicate your feelings to each other properly? Counseling could be great! Is your problem more along the lines of one of you being an overbearing control freak who always has to be in charge and in the center of attention, constantly trying to mold their partner into something they are not, thereby smothering their partner in the process? (This was our issue, can you tell?) Counseling will probably not do anything for you but confirm that you really aren’t compatible and that it would be healthier for both of you to move on and find someone you can truly be happy with.

Ours seemed crazy expensive at $150 an hour (partly covered by insurance) until I considered the cost of divorce and the heartache involved. For that kind of money I expect any professional to come prepared and not waste time being reminded of things that were said in previous meetings Our counsleor had clearly reread or remembered her notes from last time so we didn’t have to remind her of the names of our children, for example, or who said what to whom that caused the current problem. Worth every penny in the long run.

Current therapist’s opinion of me aside, I think that our core issue is he tends to go along with things because they make me happy, which resulted in us moving too fast for his comfort level. I try really hard not to push him into things, but he’s bad at saying “this is too fast for me” until the point where it’s built up to a giant panic attack. I’m hoping a counsellor can 1) help him be more assertive about these things, and 2) help me be more perceptive about when he’s starting to freak out.

Like couples therapy after he broke up with you?

IMHO, your best bet is to move on. It’s clear your ex-boyfriend is not ready for a long term relationship, despite the fact that you are. You will both be happier in the long run if you just move on and find someone else that is more aligned with your long term goals.

Good point, ours does that too. She remembers events that we had planned when we last saw her two months ago and asks how they went. She clearly makes notes and reviews them.

My sister and her boyfriend went to couples therapy. It helped a lot with things like communication skills (which it sounds like both of you need, a lot), and they did fight significantly less. However, like kkrose, they did break up in the end because they happened to be completely incompatible in style and life goals and sense of humor and basically everything else you can imagine.

However, the communication skills she learned in counseling have, I think, helped her in her marriage (to a different guy). (They also did premarital counseling.)

I also recommend John Gottman’s book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail – applicable to any long-term relationship, really.

I didn’t push. I asked if he would consider it. He said yes, and seemed relieved and happy about the whole idea.

Begging him isn’t pushing him? Especially knowing that he tends to go along with you just to make you happy.

It seems like his therapy was working when he had the backbone to break up with you, and you sucked him back in.

Why do you want to continue a relationship with a guy that sounds like he has relationship issues, doesn’t want to commit and then broke up with you?

Because if she isn’t focused on his relationship/commitment issues, then she’ll be all by herself and will have to face up to her own?

It sounds like he doesn’t like to stand up to you very often and is afraid to tell you “no”. And when you do confront him he likes to hide behind the therapist even though it’s how he feels.
What he’s too afraid to say: “I don’t really want to be with you anymore.”
What he says instead: “My therapist thinks I shouldn’t be with you anymore.”
By doing this he reflects any negativity or confrontation you bring off onto the therapist.
Get him to stop talking this way by asking him more direct questions about how he feels about it. “Well, my therapist thinks blah, blah, blah.”
Ask him “Yes, but how do YOU feel about that ? What do YOU want to do about it?” I’m guessing when you confront him directly about it you’ll get a lot of wishy-washy non commital answers since he’s not able to stand up for himself.


Well, I’m thrilled that some of you have managed to diagnose all of the problems with our three-year relationship based on my approximately 500 words of description.

Maybe I really am deluding myself into thinking he is as as broken up and scared about this as I am and counselling is just my pathetic desperate attempt to keep a failed relationship going. Or maybe there’s a whole spectrum of possibilities between ‘irreperably broken’ and ‘we’re ok’, and wanting to try and fix that just means I don’t like giving up just because things got rough. Maybe that means I’m a pushy controlling bitch, or maybe it just means it really didn’t occur to him as an option.

Can we please go back to my original question about how counselling worked for other couples, and leave the question of my sanity and/or fitness as a human being and girlfriend for some other thread?

Sure we can do that…in my experience when one person comes to the conclusion that the relationship is over…it normally means that it’s over regardless of couples counseling.

Now you want to argue that your boyfriend doesn’t really believe it’s over…his therapist just led him down that path…if you really believe that…then your boyfriend is lummox.

The ex and I went to couples’ counseling to work out communication problems after TheKid was born.

Too bad he failed to communicate that he was sleeping with someone else the entire time we were in counseling.