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Couples Counseling in the Eleventh Hour

There are a lot of reasons couples might procrastinate about entering therapy.  It might feel shameful, like an admission they can’t do it on their own.  They might be afraid of what will come out in the room, and more comfortable maintaining some level of denial about just how distressed their relationship is.  They might feel overloaded and overwhelmed with all they have to do in their week, between jobs and kids and other commitments.

They might also hold the belief that if things get really bad, they can just do therapy then.  They might as well wait, they reason.  What difference could it make?

A lot.  And here’s why.

I love couples therapy.  I love practicing it, and I loved being in it.  Well, maybe not every moment, but it’s unlikely that my husband and I would have gotten married without it.  So know that I’m writing this from a hopeful place, as pessimistic as my next point might sound:

There is a window of opportunity in which a couple’s issues can be repaired, and if they see a therapist once it’s already closed, counseling can be an exercise in futility.

Think of it as a hardening of the arteries.  If enough hurt and resentment has built up, it’s very difficult to break through that.  Therapy is a lot of things, but it’s generally not a quadruple bypass.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  I’ve met with couples that have surprised me with their determination and resilience, and with their openness to the counseling process.  In those cases, I’ve abetted and witnessed amazing changes.

But those are rare.  For most couples, the window theory applies.

And it’s not about the extent or intensity of their issues, either.  Because in my experience, motivation and commitment by both partners is far more important than how often or viciously a couple fights, for example.  The problem is, when a couple consistently has brutal fights–or the opposite, extreme disconnection and isolation–it’s hard for both partners to feel deeply committed.  Often, one of them is ready to end the relationship but wants to feel they gave it their all.

Unfortunately, they’re no longer in an emotional place to give it their all.  If people are hurt enough, a part of them is likely to shut down.  That part is saying, “Numbness is better than that type of pain.”  It says, “Never again.”  It says, “I can’t afford to care any more.”

I practice emotionally-focused therapy, which works to repair those sorts of attachment injuries.  I’ve seen incredible transformation.  But I’ve also seen couples where one person is simply and truly done by the time they’ve stepped into my office.  They don’t want to open their hearts again, not to that partner, not with that history of pain.

If you feel yourself hardening to your partner, if you find yourself saying “never again” before finally relenting–now’s the time to seek therapy.  Don’t let the damage accumulate.  Most significantly, don’t allow your own or your partner’s investment in a positive outcome to continue to degrade.  That can make all the difference in the world.


Couples Counseling in the Eleventh Hour

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Couples Counseling in the Eleventh Hour. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Mar 2014
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