Why does good couples therapy fail?

I have twelve rules that have proven effective for having productive couples counseling. These rules particularly apply to couples in distress, who wonder if they should even be together at all.

Twelve Rules for productive couples counseling

Rules provide safety for each partner

Why have any rules you might wonder?

Many couples, perhaps most, have waited until they are in crisis before seeking therapy for their relationship. They are quite desperate for help to fix what feels un-fixable. The structure I am providing is a safe and meaningful place to unpack the issues at hand. Rules help provide that safety, and create an environment where I can also be the most effective at providing the help you seek.

My Twelve Rules For Productive Couples Counseling


  1. I am treating the relationship, not each of you individually. The relationship IS the client.
  2. Please KNOW that there will be times when one or the other of you feels I am unfairly tilted in the other’s favor, but there is a method to my madness. See rule #1.
  3. If one partner becomes so angry or hurt in the room that a discussion cannot proceed with a modicum of mutual respect, I will ask the angry partner to take a break. The break may be a few minutes, and then they will be asked to return, or it may be until the next scheduled session. This actually helps both partners learn that when flooding occurs, taking breaks will lead to more productive talk later.
  4. Though it may sound like a kindergarten rule, we take turns talking. I will act as a referee if necessary if both partners start talking over each other.
  5. Ironic perhaps, but the opposite may also happen. One partner may feel so swamped or intimidated they cannot talk, or will habitually withdraw due to the feeling of constantly being overpowered in the relationship dynamic. I will make a safe space for them to speak. I will see the trouble or reluctance they experience and make room for them.
  6. In early stages of therapy, I will help you decide if an issue is too volatile to discuss outside of therapy. We will save those challenging topics for until the more intense emotions subside a bit. This is about emotional safety for both partners, and prevents unnecessary “ramping up” between sessions.
  7. When you start couples therapy with me, it is best to have weekly sessions for 4-6 weeks to get some traction. If you cannot commit to this, we will not be a good fit. Two of those sessions will be individual ones with each partner. After a good beginning, we can adjust the schedule appropriately.
  8. The individual appointment is for each person to speak to their issues without the pressure of the other partner being present. That way I will get a (mostly) unfiltered idea of where each partner feels the most pain.
  9. At my discretion, I may recommend that we have a couple of sessions that are longer than the typical 50-55 minute length. The final decision on that will be up to you, as well as depending on my availability.
  10. Ongoing maintenance of a relationship that has ruptured, and has been successfully repaired, should take place. That means gradually easing session frequency to once a month check-ins, then to once every three months and finally to a general check-in as you feel you need it. This is much like getting an annual physical. My suggestion is to get it whether or not you feel you “need” it. You might prevent a “cavity” from forming!
  11. If the decision by one or both partners is to end the relationship after the initial sessions, we may proceed to co-parenting strategies if needed. I do not harbor any preconceived notions of whether people should, or should not, stay together. I will, however, endeavor to help you make the best decision for you.
  12. Couples’ sessions will not work if any of these three conditions are present: 1) There is an active, ongoing affair 2) Either or both partners have serious, active substance abuse or alcohol addiction 3) There is active, severe emotional, physical, and/or financial abuse taking place. If these conditions are present, seek individual counseling or emergency intervention. Contact local law enforcement or RAINN at www.rainn.org. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

That’s it. These twelve rules have proven effective for having productive couples therapy. Structure helps, and I am there to provide it in your most stressful relationship moments. Contact me here if you think we may be a good fit.