Advice about Using a Couples Counselor

Parent Q&A

Experienced, effective couples therapist Mar 18, 2019 (2 responses below)
Marriage therapist that comes to your house? Jun 21, 2018 (3 responses below)
How do/did you logistically see a marriage counselor? Jun 15, 2017 (10 responses below)
Seeing ex couples counselor individually after separation Jan 21, 2017 (1 responses below)
  • Experienced, effective couples therapist

    (2 replies)

    I'm looking for a couples therapist for a smart, professional, committed couple that needs help talking about tricky issues such as finance and alcohol. Please let me know if you've worked with someone who is active yet doesn't take sides or solve the problem for them, and instead teaches couples the skills to negotiate their own differences. Please post here or send contact me via email. I know there are old listings, but recent ones appreciated.

    Cathy Carr on Milvia is fantastic and exactly as you described. 

    I would highly recommend Dr. Lisa Lancaster.  She is extremely smart and sophisticated--no taking sides or solving problems for us.  We dealt with some similar issues successfully and I think you would have a good experience with her.  She is in Berkeley near College and Alcatraz.  510-841-2525

  • We are looking for a marriage therapist/counselor but puzzled how to make that work with 2 kids and 2 jobs to juggle. Are there therapists that do nighttime house visits after our kids go to bed? Other ideas for how to make the time?

    Not sure if this would work for you, but I have friends who found a therapist located between their two jobs and made a lunchtime appointment once a week. 

    Online therapy? Here is an example:   I know nothing about them. 

    My other suggestion is to have a one hour meeting once a week when the kids are in bed. Very cheap, very convenient, and sometimes very effective. Try this agenda: 

    1. Thank each other for things you appreciated during the week. 

    2. Say sorry to each other for the mistakes you make that week. 

    3. Small annoying issues like socks laying around the house. 

    4. Big emotional issues. 

    I see Natashia Fuksman, who is a marriage therapist. I think she has some days where she works outside of normal working hours. I don't know how late, but you could ask her.

  • Hi - I feel like it might be in me and my husband's best interest to see a marriage counselor, at least for a few times. My question, however, is how do people logistically do this?? We both work full time and have two little kids. Do people see counselors at night?  If so, do you just suck it up and pay a baby sitter each time I guess... I don't know how much a therapist is, but I'm guessing we're talking several hundred dollars a session then (when you factor in the baby sitter)?  (And that would then more or less come at the expense of us being able to go out to do something fun another night, which doesn't seem in our best interest either, but I guess it is what it is)? Also if someone has done this, do you have any specific recommendations for marriage counselors in Oakland or Berkeley that see people in the evening?

    Otherwise, we work nearby each other in the same city, but to try to go, say, during a "lunch" hour would seem weird to go and potentially have some emotional discussion and then both of us go back to work.  Right?  Or am I overthinking that? 

    Any tips or simply an example of what you have done in the past would be helpful.

    Thank you.

    Couples definitely see marriage counselors in the evening - I think most marriage counselors have evening hours for exactly that reason.  And I agree with you about the lunch hour thing. I tend to get really teary in any emotional conversation, and would not want to go back to work looking like I've been crying, even if I'm otherwise OK.  Also, I've seen at least one counselor who seemed to make a point of doing happy chit-chat for 45 min and saving the confrontational stuff for the last 10 min., so that I always left his office a mess.  If you do end up with a lunch hour session, you should tell the therapist your concern.  He or she might be able to help alleviate that.  

    Another idea - I don't know how flexible your jobs are, but maybe you could see a counselor in the late afternoon - take your "lunch" hour then or just leave work early-  so that you get home around the same time you normally do and don't have to spend extra on child care.   

    Yes, it is an expensive drag, but what can you do. Book the babysitter for Wednesday nights (or whatever) for three months straight, go to therapy and then out to dinner or for a long walk together, to debrief and re-center yourselves before rejoining the kids. And if they're already asleep when you get back home, so much the better. If you end up ending therapy sooner, keep the babysitter time as your date night to get away.

    A couple of ideas. 

    How about do a trade childcare with another family? Maybe someone from the same school to make logistics easier. 

    Or try having formal meetings once a week instead of seeing a counselor. Sometimes it is easier to talk when you are not worried about money. Just put the kids in front of the tv, or wait until they are asleep, then sit down and talk over one or two issues. This can be more effective than counseling. 

  • I have been seeing my future ex-husband's and my couples counselor individually for a couple years since she saw us as a couple. Now he is threatening to withdraw his consent for me to see the therapist individually - I think because of his need to control me. Can he do that? Is there some statute of limitations on the subject? To be clear, we both want to divorce so it's not like he's trying to keep me from seeing her to change my mind. Thanks for any help. 

    I do not understand why you would need the consent of your husband (ex or not) in order to see a particular therapist.  If the therapist was seeing both partners, she would want to have the other partner's consent in order to treat one separately.  Stated differently, if she was seeing you separately without his knowledge/consent AND seeing both of you, that would be a betrayal of his trust and I think harmful to the joint counseling and he would be entitled to refuse to participate in the joint sessions because of that. But if she's not seeing you as a couple anymore, then it doesn't matter  - he's got no leverage.  And in fact, it is none of his business who is treating you or whether you are having therapy.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews

related page: Recommendations for Couples' Counselors

May 2003

Can anyone testify about the success or lack of success of couples counceling? I know this is a simplified question to the most complex of issues, but I'm wondering if anyone can truly say that couples counceling saved their marriage. My partner and I tend to be skeptics, but right now we're looking at the beginning of the end for us. We've pretty much dismissed counceling as an option, but we may reconsider if presented with any real proof that it can work.

Couples therapy can not save a marriage -- only two people that really want to make it work (do the hard work that is necessary to overcome issues and deal with past pain) and are, at heart, a well-matched, compatible couple (many are not) can save a marriage (or relationship). I, for one, strongly believe that I would not be with my husband today (whom I really do now love to be around) if it were not for the therapy we received. The therapist did not save us, if anything, the year we spent in therapy, attempting to re-learn constructive communication habits, letting go of old pain and unnecessary expectations, and getting to the root of some of our own personal issues -- was the worse time in our relationship. Trying to fix (repair) things is very hard work! And there were many times when it just seemed like it was useless. At the end of our year of therapy we actually broke up and were planning to go our separate ways. After a short period apart we started to reconnect and finally reached the point were all the lessons we had learned in therapy were starting to make sense and make our time together more enjoyable (like it was when we first started our relationship). It has only grown from there. One of the many things I learned from therapy was that relationships are just plain hard, no matter what, and it is really easy sometimes when you're in the middle of bad times to just feel like you're with the wrong person, not that maybe there are lessons you could learn to reconnect again.

I would recommend seeing a therapist as a way of helping you make this difficult decision in life (to stay together or not). I am not one of those people that believe everyone should stay together just because they've been together (if the relationship is not supportive and enjoyable or has the potential to be -- it's probably best to move on). I actually had some friends go see the therapist we went to, with the agreement that after two sessions the therapist would give her opinion on whether they were compatible enough to save their marriage (both friends were very skeptical of this believing it was a bit of ploy by the therapist to seem impartial). But after the two sessions the therapist told them they were not compatible and it was best to go there separate ways. At first they were really upset to hear this -- but they soon realized she was right, they divorced, and both (because they at least tried therapy and had that assistance) feel very good about their decision (no guilt or regret, etc.). One last bit of advice -- interview a few therapists. Your therapist has to be someone you both feel comfortable with. I'd recommend mine but she retired a few years ago. Best of luck on whatever you both decide. anon

Several of my friends and their partners have had a lot of success with therapist Isadora Alman in San Francisco and she's reasonably priced and easy to get to by public transit. 415 386- 5090, anonymous

Yes, couples counseling can work; it worked for us.

We have a long term relationship that was mostly good but we had a big problem -- one of us fell in love with somebody else. This went on for years. The affair was largely non-sexual but it really hurt everybody involved. We saw one counselor early on in the ''problem'' and she really DIDN'T work for us, maybe because we weren't ready, maybe because she wasn't very good. Then we saw another one a few years later (we were at the brink of breaking up and the ''affair'' was really only the catylist. Three years later, we are a VERY solid couple.

What made the difference? The counseling. The counseler made us be completely honest with each other -- no holds barred. Which meant that there was a while there where we weren't sure we WOULD stay together. We were both committed to trying, though, and were willing to really examine ALL the aspects of our lives together. It was incredibly hard work. It was really scary. But this counselor was somebody both of us respected highly, and she held us to a high standard. She taught us new ways to communicate wtih each other.

Long term relationships are an ongoing challenge, but I feel we learned so much about how to handle what's thrown at us (and what we throw at each other -- not literally -- as we change and grow through life).

So if you're willing to work, counseling can work. If you're trying to merely patch things us, it may not. And find a person to work with who you both respect. And best of luck, and strength to you. Been there. Happily married.

A short answer to your question. YES! It really worked for us. And my partner is a therapy skeptic. We saw Eric Grabow. That was some time ago, but he was on Shattuck in Berkeley. anon

If either of you has a single molecule in your body interested in saving your marriage you absolutely must go to couple's counseling. been there, been saved

I'm both pro and con about couples counseling. My soon-to-be ex- husband and I went to 4 different ones over the course of about 7 years of marriage and separation. And now we're divorcing, so it didn't work for us.

But was seeking counseling the right thing to do? I still think it was, and I would do it again if I was in a relationship in trouble that I thought was worth fighting for. But, really, BOTH parties need to be committed to working with the therapist.

The one piece of advice I would like to give you is interview your therapist, and do not stay with one that you do not feel is helping. There are many therapists out there; they have different outlooks and methods and you really need to find one that clicks with both of you - not always easy.

Good luck! Wishing you well

My husband and I weren't married yet when we went through 2 rounds of couples counseling, but I can say it saved our relationship. We were committed and in love but kept getting stuck over and over again on the same issues, and it got to the point where we weren't hearing each other, because we already ''knew'' what the other was going to say/do in these particular situations. It took an objective party to get us to really hear each other with compassion. I highly recommend couples counseling to people, especially when things aren't yet at a critical point. I think it's less successful if you wait until things are really bad. Good luck. Anon

I don't want to generalize about my experience but couples counseling definitely helped our relationship. We first went to counseling over 10 years ago and continued occasionally with different therapists. I don't know how to compare our situations. But let me suggest that there may be another way to way to think about whether counseling ''works.'' I think even if counseling had not kept my partner and me together, counseling ''worked'' because it gave me a much better understanding of my partner and myself. It made me more compassionate and helped me to find words to express previously amorphous emotions. And even at the point it ''failed'' counseling eased some of the suffering at the point when we did separate (as it turned out, only for a few months). I don't know if you feel any of these other outcomes would be helpful for either you or your partner. But for me, couples counseling (with the right therapist) was a deeply important experience. Wherever your path takes you, it can help to have another person as coach, guide, facilitator. I hope you find what you need. G

Couple's counceling doesn't work. YOU have to work. If you find a good therapist and make the good faith effort to work through some difficult issues, then yes, you can turn things around in a marriage. But just showing up won't be enough. You have to want to try to make it work. In your post, you say that both you and your partner have pretty much given up. That is more an indication of the future than just seeing a threapist. anon.

I have never been married, so I can't say, from personal experience, that couples counceling worked for me. I believe that it CAN work, if you find the right counselor! I think sometimes people assume all counselors will be about the same, but this is far from true. If you do decide to try it (and I think you should), take the time to find some one who will work for you! I STRONGLY urge you to read Dr. Snarch's book ''Passionate Marriage.'' This book was written by a successful marriage therapist (by successful, I mean that he has helped couples stay together who were on the verge of divorce). He wrote the book to be used by couples and other lay- people, but it is based on the book he wrote for other counselors about his methods. If you are on the verge of divorce, but would like to try to save your marriage, please don't pass this book up. Read the entire thing, at the end he gives suggestions for finding a counselor of your own, including some one who has had some of his training.

I am getting married in September, so I read this book for ''preparation'' and I found it to be amazing. Not only did I feel that Dr. Snarch was right on-the-money, but he gives practical, down-to-earth advice about how to deal with marrital problems. I really, really urge you not to go to a counselor until you've read this book.

One note Dr. Snarch is a marriage and *sex* therapist (not to be confused with a ''sex surrogate''). He found that people that came to him with marriage problems also had sexual problems (in their marriage) and vice-versa. For this reason, he addresses sexuality quite extensively in this book, as well as emotional issues (he sees the two as intimately linked - imagine that!). You might or might not be put off by the discussion of these sorts of issues. I hope you won't be, because everything he has to say is extremely valuable and worth reading, even if you feel it doesn't apply to you.

Best of luck - I hope you are able to work things out! anon

Does it work? Well, not for us (but I'll tell you what did). We went 2 years ago because it seemed like ''the thing to do.'' We ended up each seeing a therapist, plus a couples' counselor. The primary result of this was we had no free time in the evenings.

We really felt we were on a different wavelength than all three therapists. They seemed to see their jobs as helping us adjust to the idea that we would be getting divorced. We wanted someone to help us figure out how to live together. The counselor asked us one night why we were in therapy, and I said that I was there because we were married and that when you're married you have an obligation to try to work things out. This appalled him...apparently he felt it was more important for us to ''explore ourselves as individuals'' than to try to make our marriage work.

So...therapy not successful, and really depressing for both of us to boot. I was literally on my way out the door, looking to find myself another place to live.

Well, I did move...but my husband came, too. We packed up our things and moved to a different town, 40 minutes away from where we'd been living. And we agreed that we'd be leaving a lot of our bad habits behind in our old apartment.

Did it work? Well, it's been two years this week. I'm typing this one-handed because I'm holding our baby in the other arm (grin). It's been a lot -- a lot -- of work, but it's definitely paid off. I've never been happier and our marriage is that much stronger for having made it through such a bad time.

I can't promise you anything, but heck, at this point, what do you have to lose? Maybe moving's not the right choice for you, but try to come up with something really new and challenging -- and then meet that challenge together. It worked much better for us than going and telling other people how pissed off we were with each other for three hours a week.... anon

Yes, couples counsling saved us. We were breaking up and moving out (not yet married, together 4.5 years) when we started to go to counsling. We only went with the intention of breaking up in such a way that we didn't behave horribly. We went for four years. It was very hard work, it took a long time and overall it was quite grueling. However, 6 years later we are happily married (5 years) and expecting our first child. We have the best marriage you would ever ask for. All of the ''tools'' that we learned work for us everyday and we both agree that we are happier now than we have ever been before. As long as both parties are committed to the process, it can work wonders. Its is a lot of work, but well worth it. We saw Mary Ann Regan at 510-652-6600. anon

Couples Counseling can help your relationship. I truely would not be married today without having had intervention from a couples MFC(?) counselor. It was intervention because we could not even talk to each other in a normal manner there was so much anger going on. But that said, you need to find someone that both of you (1) trust and can open up and talk to (2) really works with you. It may or not be the first person you try. Or you may need a few appointments to feel comfortable enough to begin to open up and discuss the real issues that are facing you as a couple.

I now consider counseling just one aspect of our health as a family and have used a counselor to help with some behavioral issues with our child/family when she was about 5 years old. It put all of us back on a positive track and I am so very glad we sought a specialist rather than just doing what came natural (like our parents did) because natural was escalating the problem.

So if you think there is reason to try to save the marriage -- definately consult with a couples/marriage counselor and try what they say, you have to want it to get better or there is no sense in trying. They gave my husband and I some exercises to get us talking again, it sounded goofy at the time, but it worked and we still use some of the communication tools we learned in couples counseling (especially when we are having a difficult time talking about something)

Good Luck to you. counseling saved my marriage- happier every day

Yes, it works! Of course, you need to find the right therapist. Interview several people to find out their style and get a sense of what works for you. My husband and I both came into the relationship with a lot of baggage (who doesn't). We have been together over 12 years and the therapy (couples and individual) has definately saved our marriage. We fight less, have learned tremendous communication skills, and are able to talk about our problems constuctively. Without therapy, we would not have known what the real issues were or how to address them. I highly recommend our therapist, Alisa Genovese- 286- 7599. She in incredibly skilled and a wonderful therapist (trust me, I've been to over a dozen!) anon

Couples counseling was great for us. What I liked about it was that I felt very safe and secure in the counselors office with her calming presence so we could discuss things that might otherwise have become heated and confusing in a productive manner. Also, to be honest, I was much more well behaved, sensitive and productive with an audience than I am without one.Instead of getting angry and defensive and lashing out, I'd have to say I was feeling angry and continue working. I also liked having a third party who was unbiased as a reality check. I am much more compassionate toward my husband than I used to be and I think I learned that from our couples counselor. Even though we thought we were great at talking to each other, we learned a lot from working with a professional. Danielle

I've been in couples counseling twice at different times in my life, with different partners. My two cents - it only works if both partners really are willing to make it work, if you have a good therapist and you give it some time. Success is iffy if you wait till the stage where you're too angry, too frustrated, too sick of the other person. Plus it's hard to find a good fit with all the different therapists in the world. That said - you're better off giving it a shot than giving up. At least you'll know you made valiant efforts. Been there

Yes! My spouse and I have only been going for a few months but we immediately both felt such relief and hope for our marriage. I know it will take a long time to really resolve things but, we have already identified some things we can work on right away that have made dramatic differences in how we communicate. Obviously, you need to find the right therapist but in my experience, this has given us a very bright light at the end of our dark tunnel. I was very reluctant to do this too but am so thankful I changed my mind. If you already feel you are at the end of the road, what do you have to lose? Surely the price of the therapist would be cheaper than divorce attorneys. I urge you to look at some recommendations on the archives and give a therapist a chance to change your lives for the better! Anon