Is It Too Late for Couples Therapy?

Is It Ever Too Late to Save A Marriage?

Is It Too Late for Couples Therapy?

Revised 1/11/20

People often ask me “is it ever too late to save a marriage?” Another question I get a lot is “What happens if after reading our BIG BIG Book you realize that we should divorce?”  Still, another question I get is “Can you help me decide if I should remain in this marriage?”

The people asking these questions all have one thing in common. They are genuinely hurting, and trying to somehow externalize their dilemma. It’s a human tendency to want to give your power away when contemplating a question that shakes your soul with such profound pain.

How do I answer the question “Is it ever too late to save a marriage?”

I start by telling our would-be client that there are two essential pieces to the answer.

  • The first is the degree of motivation. Have one or both spouses given up? Is entering couples therapy merely a way of ritualizing the prelude to divorce? Or is there a steely-eyed determination, a “last shot”, “burn the boats” motivation to turn it around? Or is the couples’ motivation level somewhere in between?,
  • The second factor is timing. Most couples endure more than six years of misery before seeking help. Dr. K says it’s driving your wheels over and over in the same place so often that you’ve worn deep ruts into the marital driveway. The sooner you enter couples therapy, the better. This is one of the reasons why Millennials enjoy such a delightfully low divorce rate. They pursue couples therapy at the first sign of trouble. And they do so earlier than any other recorded generation.

Here’s a Better Question… “Is It Ever to Late to Try Something Different”?

Angela and Sy (not their real names) have been married for 19 years. They have two kids, Paula 11, and Gordon, 15. They have been bitterly fighting about the same issue for the past three years, and their poor kids have been a captive audience.

Angela wants to give up her family law practice. “I am so burned out.” She tells me as if pleading with me to somehow release her from her plight.

“Tell him what you want to do instead” barks Sy. “She wants to quit a career where she made 226K last year because she wants to write a Noooovel.”

Sy draws out the word contemptuously.

Unfortunately, the issue has metastasized into other marital organs. Angela and Sy both tried to recruit me to their side of the street. Angela and Sy used to have a long-standing feud about this. But now the issue was so massively gridlocked that it was no longer about Angela’s career change…it was now about whether or not they could remain together at all.

“We just fight about this constantly,” said Angela. “I’ve been building this practice for ten years, and I’ve come to hate it. I’ve seen too many families suffering. I’m tired, and I’m done. Sy makes twice what I make. It’s not about the money. He’s crushing my soul, and I hate him for it.” 

When it’s Sy’s turn to give his take on things he gets agitated: “What’s she’s not telling you is that when we first got married, I worked a dog for years flipping houses to pay for her law degree. Now she tells me that she wants to throw that all away, it’s she’s saying all the sacrifices I made don’t mean anything.”

The first step in helping Angela and Sy is to help them see how they trigger and escalate one another.

Ask Instead…Is it Ever Too Late to Have a Generative Conversation?

They need help clarifying what dreams are underlying this gridlocked issue. Angela and Sy have fought about this issue so bitterly that they have fallen into a deeply scripted Groundhog Day.

In science-based couples therapy, we help couples Sy and Angela accept responsibility for their own behavior.

Research tells us that fights about money are the most vicious. Sy and Angela needed to explain to each other what this dilemma means to them. But they first needed a structure and some skills that would permit them to do so.

I asked them to have a Generative Conversation so that each of them can be fully heard. When Sy was the speaker, he was able to describe his sense of pride in Angela’s success, and a feeling of relief that with her additional income they would have a worry-free retirement, and that their family’s financial goals could easily be met.

Angela learned for the first time that although Sy’s real estate business was successful, he was never really able to relax. “My dad lost everything in the recession of ’81. I worked with him right college.

Brokering and flipping houses is all I know. I saw how crushed he was. Mom never worked…and he was too proud to ask. I’m always afraid that it could happen to me.” Sy’s eyes grew wet.

“But I never talk to you about it Angie, because I don’t want you to worry.”

The Inevitability of Conflict

Over the weekend Intensive, Angela and Sy began to accept that they were two separate people. They didn’t have to see everything the same way.

One of the valuable lessons that all couples learn in science-based couples therapy is that conflict is an inescapable dimension of marriage.

Michele Weiner Davis tells us that one of the secrets of a good marriage is learning to choose battles wisely. It’s important to differentiate between small issues and more critical ones.

Sy and Angela learned that if they could self-regulate and co-regulate during a conflictual conversation, they may learn something new and build empathy for one another.

In Dr. Gottman’s book The Relationship Cure, he writes:

“It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.

Does Your Marriage Need a Major Remodel?


Is it Too Late for Couples Counselling?

Is It Too Late for Couples Therapy?

Does couples therapy work? Can I save my marriage? Should I get divorced? These are the types of questions our One Life couples counsellors and psychologists get asked on a weekly basis. So, we thought it might be helpful to write an article that can help you to decide if couples therapy is the best option for you and your partner.

If you have begun the process of looking for marriage counsellor services in Calgary, there is a pretty good chance your relationship needs help right now. And, it can be a challenging step to seek professional help even though many people find working with a therapist to be a valuable and rewarding use of their time.

Without knowing your specific situation, it’s difficult to actually say whether it is too late or not to repair the relationship. At One Life, we respect each person’s path and believe that you know what is best for you.

The real question to ask yourself isn’t “Is it too late?” but rather, “Are you willing to try?” In our experience, one of the things that can get in the way of an individuals’’ or couples’ willingness to try, is being overly focused in what your partner needs to do to change and missing taking responsibility for how you show up in the relationship.

Marriage counselling works best when both partners say to themselves – “I am going to take accountability for my actions/behaviors, while also supporting you in your journey of taking accountability for your actions/behaviors that get in the way of us having a loving relationship.” Obviously, couples therapy does not always begin there, but that is certainly a goal with learning how communicate better and rebuild connection.

In relationship counseling, our counsellors and psychologists will help you discover and integrate the skills we know to be vital for healthy and thriving communication.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to assess some of these skills:

  • Am I open?
  • Am I easy to open up to?
  • Do I share feedback with empathy?
  • Can I take in feedback?
  • Do I respond when my partner speaks?
  • Do I create a sense of safety for my partner to be vulnerable?
  • I am curious?
  • Do I respect difference? – difference in what we each need to feel good in a relationship, difference in opinion, etc.

Now the question I ask myself with every couple is, are both partners ready to do couples counselling? Because if you have one or both partners who are closed off with invisible walls up and not willing to let their partners influence them, not open to change and are firmly set in a stance of “we can improve, as soon as you change” we will have very slow progress.

This may seem an easy math equation to understand, but the invitation to change is the first step and it begins by empowering yourself to take accountability for your life and that includes your relationship. A good couples counsellor in Calgary will help you learn how to take on this level of accountability and ownership.

Something I hear a lot is, “What if I change and grow and my partner does not?” What would you do in this scenario?

Individual change can be a huge accomplishment and at the same time, very painful when that change is not mirrored in your partner. Relationships are a two-way street. If you are feeling the burden of trying and growing, but not witnessing your partner joining you, while still challenging for the relationship, it is a big win for you individually.

The question at this point is, how much time are you willing to give or wait for your partner to join you?

Again, only you can answer this question. To be supportive, we have provided you below with some tips for asking your partner to join you in changing to make the relationship better.

  1. Share the meaning behind the change you are requesting
    Example: “It would mean a lot to me if WE could spend more time together without devices, so we can really be connected. When we have uninterrupted time together, I feel closer to you”.
  2. Be the change you desire
    Example: If you want to have a partner that is more engaged, happier and compassionate, then challenge yourself with a growth mindset and really work on showing up that way yourself.
  3. Timing matters
    Example: Wait until you are both in the best possible moods to bring up the conversations around relationship change. I know this is not always possible and so do your best here, but if you can, bring up the conversation when you are in connection.
  4. Share the perceived impact if change is not achieved
    Example: Nobody s to talk about consequences, but sometimes it is necessary to be clear on what the perceived consequences will be if nothing changes. “If we do not spend time working on us and making changes towards repairing our relationship, it is really hard for me to have hope that we will ever feel meaningful connection again. And that is not the type of relationship I would want to stay in.”
  5. This is never a one and done conversation
    Example: You might have to have this conversation from a few different angles and on a few different days and that is okay. Change is hard to achieve sometimes.

When is couples counselling effective?

Finding couples therapy services in Calgary that are impactful to your relationship can be challenging in itself and knowing if it will improve your relationship can be anxiety provoking.

The short answer is yes. Couples counseling can be very effective for improving your relationship, but the most important ingredient is having two people who are ready and willing to learn and grow.

Couples counseling can teach you communication skills, help you practice being more open and emotionally attuned to one another, leading you to feel in more connection.

You and your partner are in charge of what your personal relationship goals are and it is our job as marriage counsellors to provide a safe space to explore each partners emotions and thoughts.

We certainly hope that each partner will discover new awareness about themselves and their partners. Think of using the therapy room as a space to really open up to one another with the goal of having a new understanding of one another.

How couples counselling can help

The results of investing in couples counselling can be layered in each couples progress. Progress is defining the situation from a perspective of “We use to be this or do this in our relationship and got very poor results. Now, we catch ourselves and turn things around very easily.

You define what your desired progress is and we aim to help you achieve this in couples therapy.

Here are few of the most common desired outcomes:

  • Improved communication
  • Closer connection
  • More intimacy
  • More meaningful moments
  • Quicker repair in conflict
  • Easier communication
  • Deeper trust

When couples counseling may not help

Many people will struggle with the internal debate of “Does couples therapy help”?

It is a common question. Couples therapy may not help if there is an undiagnosed mental health condition with one partner who is unwilling to seek help for it. This includes active addictions, narcissistic abuse patterns and active violence in the relationship.

Not every couple and individuals within that partnership will be ready for couples therapy. The reality is it is hard work and the expectation is that you are willing to go inside yourself and work through your emotions and develop a greater understanding of yourself for lasting change.

If a relationship has been stuck in a harmful cycle of disconnection for a long time, it makes sense that each partner would be closed off and would have strong feelings about opening up and feeling hope again.

If one person is not willing to do the work, take in feedback and allow themselves to be influenced by their partners needs, there is little that couples therapy will do to improve that as long as it remains the status quo.

Why do people wait so long?

The Gottman Institute (leader in relationship research) discover that most couples wait 6 years after the relationship begins to deteriorate before they seek out marriage counselling services.

The reality is that therapy is still stigmatized and perhaps one day everything we teach and work on will be part of the curriculum within our school systems — something I would love to see. Until then, we have to find the courage to ask for others help.

Another reason people wait, is because it can be easy to project that when certain events happen, things will get better.

Once the kids start high school, once we take that vacation, once we buy that house, once I get that promotion, and so on.

The challenge is that we bring the same harmful dynamics and mindsets into the relationship once those benchmarks are achieved and our relationship hasn’t improved.

Should I go to couples therapy?

Think of couple counselling as an investment in your relationship. We invest in our homes, vehicles, education, professions, health and slowly but surely, we are overcoming the stigma of going to see a psychologist and investing in our psychology, mental well-being and our relationships.

The invitation to show up differently is always waiting for you. You have that choice and ability to take action in different way. Couple’s therapy will give you the space to explore your feelings and thoughts with the intention of growing your self-awareness and also learning more about your partner.

If after reading this article, you are still undecided on if couples therapy is the best avenue for your relationship, give us a call. We are here to answer any questions you may have about the benefits of therapy in your specific situation.

Give us a call today at 1-888-540-5791 or email


When is it Too Late to Save a Relationship?

Is It Too Late for Couples Therapy?

When is it too late to save a relationship?

The short answer:

When you’ve let too much resentment accumulate between you. You probably no longer see the good in your partner as outweighing the bad.

It’s ly you have few positive feelings left for your partner, or perhaps no feelings at all. It’s surprising how many couples come to couple therapy at this stage of their relationship.

Sometimes their only task is now admitting how little they have left to save.

I’ve seen many couples who’ve lost the aliveness and connection in their relationship years before, but they haven’t wanted to admit it to themselves because it was too painful, or felt too confronting and difficult.  Usually their sense of passionate engagement diminished gradually. There were many opportunities to do something about it but they didn’t.

It felt too hard – but only because they didn’t realise how much harder it was going to get if they did nothing…

Too many couples are only motivated to do something about getting their relationship back on track when something traumatic happens.

Then, they go into crisis mode and are shaken from numbness or silent shut-down, into panicked re-engagement. However, sometimes it’s too late for them to reconnect to the attraction and love they once felt.

It’s especially painful if it took an infidelity to shake the couple their complacency coma.

Years of caring less, or burying hearts’ desires can lead to a place from which there is no return. The tragedy is that most people who end up at that place deeply regret having let things go so far before trying to get it back.

Another frustration in relationships in peril is that frequently, one partner saw things deteriorating and tried to take action, but the other didn’t take them seriously

Frequently, one partner tried hard to get to counselling or reconnect earlier in the relationship, but couldn’t get their partner to admit there was a problem.

It typically goes something :

Partner 1’s dissatisfaction and pleas for intimacy rise over time; they approach partner 2 asking to talk, to go to counselling or relationship education. They talk about getting inspired for having more sex, or wanting to feel more loved.

However, Partner 2 isn’t keen, doesn’t to acknowledge there’s a problem, or just doesn’t see why the relationship should require any effort. They may subscribe to the idea that relationships should just happen – without action or reflection.

Eventually Partner 1’s sadness and frustration turns to resentment and grief. Their desire drops away. Their requests are replaced by silence.

This can happen over many months or years. This may well mark the point where it becomes to late for saving the relationship. Partner 1 has checked out.

Suddenly Partner 2 feels this frightening shift in Partner 1. He or she realises that Partner 1 no longer ‘nags’, no longer cares enough to be openly distressed. Partner 1 may not even be around that much anymore and they’ve certainly stopped planning for the future and suggesting family activities.

Suddenly, after years of avoiding thinking about the problems, Partner 2 panics! He or she realises it may be too late. As they scramble and panic, perhaps finally asking for couple therapy instead of avoiding it, Partner 1 may already have their bags half-packed.

Sadly, this is the point at which we see so many couples enter therapy.

As they sit on my couple therapist’s couch I see Partner 1 raising an eyebrow at Partner 2’s panic. Partner 1 is usually feeling very little for Partner 2 anymore and is surprised to see such emotion where for so long there has been withdrawal.

Sometimes, Partner 1 is only there looking for a calm way to say they’re leaving.

It doesn’t have to be this way

The lessons are quite simple, but they take the courage to be honest and to take positive action even when it’s uncomfortable:

If you start to lose vitality in your couple relationship; if you feel resentment and disconnection growing, that’s the time to take real action together. That’s the time to find passion and greater engagement with life and each other again.

Don’t leave it too late.

Don’t ignore your partner’s pleas for closeness and intimacy.

Seek help sooner rather than later.

Just BE the love that you ARE.

Deb x


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