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Why Couples Counseling Isn’t Working

Therapist taking notes talking to a couple sitting on couch in a room

Maintaining a long-term relationship with someone requires effort. It’s normal to encounter conflict with someone you spend every day with. Couples counseling is a good tool for managing conflict, improving communication, and creating a mutually beneficial relationship. 

But does couples counseling work? It certainly isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. If you and your partner have tried couples counseling, but it’s not working, it might be a sign of a deeper issue that your partner isn’t sharing. 

Factors Contributing to Ineffectiveness

Your first session of couples counseling won’t fix your relationship. It takes time, patience, and work from each partner. If you don’t feel a difference after a few sessions, there are some possible issues, including:

  • Lack of Commitment. For couples counseling to be effective, it requires equal participation from both sides. If one or both partners aren’t invested or making an effort, it will hinder progress.
  • Unrealistic Expectations. While couples therapy can help each person learn and grow, it’s not going to change who they are completely. If you expect your partner to be radically different after counseling, you’ve set unrealistic expectations for the outcome. 
  • Incompatibility With the Therapist. Sometimes, your therapist just isn’t a good fit. You should feel comfortable openly and honestly communicating with your therapist. If you don’t, you may need to find another couple’s counselor. 
  • Unresolved Individual Issues. It may not be an issue with the relationship, but your personal issues that cause conflict. Unresolved trauma, untreated mental health issues, or addiction can impact your relationship.
  • Conflicts on Values. If you and your partner differ in your personal beliefs and it’s causing issues, it can be difficult to overcome. Important issues like religious or political beliefs, values, or life desires often differ in relationships. It doesn’t guarantee the breakdown of the relationship, but for some couples, it’s irreconcilable. 

How Intimacy Disorders May Sabotage Couples Therapy

Intimacy naturally develops when you get close to someone. It doesn’t just include physical intimacy but also emotional vulnerability, mutual acceptance, and trust. 

When you struggle to get close to others, be vulnerable, or form intimate connections, it can cause distress in your life. It can feel like you’re putting on a facade with others and can’t truly be yourself.  

This fear of sharing a close relationship with another person is called an intimacy disorder. 

There are a variety of intimacy disorders with different signs and symptoms, including:

  • Sexual Anorexia. This disorder is an obsessiveness with avoiding sex. It usually stems from childhood trauma, like sexual assault or abuse, or sexual repression. 
  • Love Avoidance. Marked by a desire to stay in control of the frequency and intensity of emotional connection, love avoidance is indicated by exhibiting a “bachelor for life” persona, as well as many intense on-and-off relationships.
  • Love Addiction. Those with this type of intimacy disorder have an unhealthy fixation on others that results in obsessive compulsions. People experiencing love addiction tend to select an unhealthy partner because healthy relationships can cause them anxiety.
  • Sex Addiction. Like sexual anorexia, sex addiction can stem from a history of trauma or toxic relationships. It drives a person to constantly seek sexual gratification to overcome or cope with negative emotions. Pornography and masturbation addictions also are sex addictions.

While each type of intimacy disorder manifests in different symptoms, they usually stem from the same thing — trauma. 

Emotional trauma is a reaction to an intense negative experience that leaves you shocked, wounded, or distressed. 

If you’ve experienced a traumatic experience, particularly in childhood, it can cause difficulty forming relationships in adulthood. You fear repeating the trauma, so you avoid close connections with others entirely. 

Examples of trauma that can cause intimacy disorders include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Verbal or emotional abuse
  • Growing up in a high-stress environment
  • Being forced to repress emotions
  • Losing a parent
  • Infidelity 
  • Betrayal trauma 

Intimacy disorders are rooted in a fear of abandonment or rejection. 

When you’re in a relationship, even a healthy one, this fear doesn’t disappear. You can unconsciously push your partner away because you fear they might hurt you. 

Emotional trauma informs our decisions and actions. If you haven’t been honest with your partner about past trauma or experiencing an intimacy disorder, they’ll struggle to understand your behavior. They may think your lack of affection or communication is a result of their own shortcomings. This insecurity builds, causing more conflict in the relationship.

If one partner doesn’t open up about an intimacy disorder, it thwarts attempts at couples counseling. The obstacles still exist, even under the surface, so it’s difficult to know what problems need addressing.

Healing From Intimacy Disorders

To heal your relationship, you must start by healing yourself. Trauma is complex and often requires professional help to overcome. 

Treatments for intimacy disorders include:

  • Individual Therapy. Healing from an intimacy disorder requires unpacking the trauma you’ve experienced with the help of a mental health professional. They can facilitate a safe, productive environment to work through past experiences and offer treatment, coping mechanisms, and methods for long-term healing.
  • Group Therapy. You’re not alone in experiencing an intimacy disorder. Group therapy with others with similar issues helps you feel less alone. You’re able to share experiences and connect with others who have walked your path. 
  • Residential Treatment Programs. Some people require more intensive care than traditional therapy. If your intimacy disorder has taken over your life, a 14-day or 28-day treatment program can offer the support you need for long-term healing. With 24/7 on-site support, individual treatment plans, and trauma-informed care, a residential treatment program is best for those who need to disconnect from daily life to heal.

To heal from an intimacy disorder, you must first address the root cause of the disorder, then address any adverse behaviors. Intimacy Disorder Treatment at Begin Again Institute

Begin Again Institute uses a trauma-informed approach to intimacy disorder treatment. Our unique Trauma-Induced Sexual Addiction (TINSA®) model helps those experiencing intimacy disorders identify the connection between trauma and their difficulty forming relationships. 

It can be frightening to take the first step toward healing and enter a treatment program. Our team of mental health experts will facilitate this journey in a safe, supportive environment and equip you with the tools you need for life in remission. 

We also offer a partner support program, which helps partners of those undergoing intimacy disorder treatment. We created this program to help partners process complicated emotions, learn healthy techniques for dealing with the trauma they’re experiencing, and share with others in their shoes.

Start Healing Today

If you feel like couples counseling hasn’t improved your relationship, it’s time to look inward at what other issues might be going on. When you’re honest with your partner and couples counselor about your intimacy order, you’ve taken the first steps toward healing. A counselor can adapt techniques and methods to your and your partner’s experience. 

Recognizing how intimacy disorders affect relationships helps you identify obstacles in your path. While it doesn’t eliminate the struggle, it offers a roadmap to navigating it. 

At Begin Again Institute, we know the signs and symptoms of intimacy disorders and how to treat them with compassion and understanding. We offer support for both you and your partner so your relationship can not only survive, but thrive. Contact us today to feel the difference and experience long-lasting healing.

  • Category: Relationships
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • April 19, 2024

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