When I asked Tera Robinson, LCPC of Kansas about her biggest couples’ therapy challenge, she said:

“Couples wait until things have gotten ‘so’ bad before reaching out for help. When they do seek help, generally one party has already made his/her mind up that the relationship is over.”

Have you experienced this too?

I think we all have.

In these situations, it’s incredibly easy to get pulled into convincing the couple they should try to work it out. We do this because we have an innate desire to help. As a group, therapists are hopeful people.

Here’s what I’ve discovered from consulting many therapists on their most difficult cases:

  1. Screen for commitment, beginning with the initial phone call or email. Some couples enter therapy looking for a reason to divorce — and someone else to blame when things don’t work out. By developing an effective intake process and screening for low commitment, you’ll see a significant improvement in your results.
  2. Accept that almost all couples approach therapy with one foot out the door. Julie Gottman told me this once, and I’ve found it to be true. Research shows the average length of time a couple lives with problems prior to seeking therapy is six years. That’s over half a decade of frustration and diminishing hopes. They will be feeling as though they have already tried everything when they arrive at your door.
  3. Assume their position helps them somehow. This pro-symptom response will prevent you from working harder than they are. People decide relationships are over for good reasons. They’re somehow better off having made that decision. Find out how this stance benefits them, and you might be able to convince them to give therapy a legitimate try.

What do you do when couples sit in your office and say they’ve already decided it’s over?

I’d love to hear your ideas, so please take a moment to reply.

To your success,
Sam Garanzini, MFT
Certified Gottman Couples Therapist / Instructor