7 Small Signs Your Marriage Counselor Is Giving You Terrible Advice

Your marriage isn't getting saved in therapy.

Stressed woman thinking about marriage counslor Monkey Business Images, vkstudio | Canva 

Sometimes we wonder why so many good folks in America have fallen prey to the lies and distortions about marriage they hear from uninformed "experts" or people with political agendas. They may not be able to recognize the signs of a bad marriage counselor and take poor marriage advice. But why are so many willing to accept the negative pronouncements about marriage? It is a failed institution (it is not); the divorce rate is over 50 percent (it is well below that number for first-time marriages); people don’t get married anymore (three-quarters-plus of adults in America will get married at least once in their lifetime); we can just live together and be happy (not that simple); good intimacy is all that matters (over 33 years of research rates the importance of intimacy to a successful marriage as only 6 on a 10-point scale)? The pronouncements go on and on.


As you seek someone to help your marriage work through the issues confronting it, it is critical to find marriage advice or advice for your relationships from a marriage counselor who doesn't make bad marriage counseling advice like these seven mistakes. The reason it is so important to look out for these seven signs of a bad marriage counselor is that an expert who employs any of these failing techniques can set back any progress you are hopeful of making.

RELATED: 8 Subtle Relationship Problems That Can Ruin Your Marriage

Here are 7 small signs your marriage counselor is giving you terrible advice, and ruining your relationship in the process:

1. They talk jargon with their clients when simple truths are required

Here’s the bottom line: it doesn’t matter to you if your marital relationship is at “Stage 4.” How does knowing that help your marriage? The simple truth is, that marriages facing challenges need to come to grips with the fact that marriage is not always fair, just, and beautiful. Marriage is simple to understand, but making a marriage successful takes lots of hard work. The best help a counselor can give you is to guide you and your spouse through whatever challenges your marriage is facing without resorting to jargon that you don’t understand. Working through the trying times in a marriage is not about the mystical powers of your counselor. Rather, it is about your relationship and their ability to help you and your spouseresolvet important issues that confront you. 


2. They overly intellectualize marriage and marital conflict

Without a doubt, love is something you feel — in your heart, your soul, and your being. When your relationship needs help, the last thing you need is for someone to tell you that what you and your spouse are feeling about your relationship can be explained by some entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the most widely-used psychiatric/psychological reference book and standard diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals worldwide. 

Don’t get us wrong, the Manual is a great reference source, but in the end, an intellectual tool can’t measure love! Love is an emotion, and the best counselors know this. They act as a “guide on the side” as you and the one you love address the challenges confronting your marriage. The best marriage counselors help your marriage get in touch with the respective emotions of you and your spouse. The best counselors help you understand what love has to do with it. They help you feel the emotions that cause you to come to grips with what you want from your marriage.

RELATED: My Marriage Counselor Told Me I Was Being Overly Responsible For My Husband

3. They're an advocate for a particular marital perspective instead of focusing on YOUR marriage

Here’s a truism you can take to the bank: it is not the role of the marriage counselor to be an advocate for anything while counseling you and your spouse about your marital problems. Frankly, their personal opinions are not relevant to your marriage. Their stories about their marriage, their parent’s marriage, or other marriages they have treated do not matter when it comes to YOUR marriage. Your marriage is, in most ways, unique! The answers you and your spouse are seeking about your marriage are not always informed by the experiences of others. While common positive themes run through the best marriages, and while there are telltale signs of failing marriages, in the end, each marriage that is in failure is in failure for reasons that are unique to that marriage. 


4. They make marriage too difficult to understand when, in fact, "simple things matter"

A marriage counselor failing to explain and focus on the simple things required to have a successful relationship can make the marriage relationship seem more difficult than it is. Unfortunately, when a counselor makes marriage too difficult to understand, they inhibit the relationship development of the couple they are trying to help. The best marriage counselors work by guiding you and your spouse to understand that acts of kindness, respect, love, and caring must occur every day of the year consistently for your marriage relationship to be successful.



5. They choose sides in a marital dispute during counseling

If you are in marriage counseling, make sure your counselor is not taking sides, or favoring the perspective of one of you over the other. Doing your best to resolve the challenges your marriage faces is an admirable goal. Working hard to make your marriage work is a good thing. However, if your counselor chooses sides, it is time to move on. Settling or resolving a marital dispute(s) requires objectivity on the part of your counselor. The best marriage counselors understand that unconditional positive regard for their clients is of the utmost importance. Making judgments, taking sides, and advocating for one or the other can be destructive. Choosing sides can fracture the trust that is required in marital counseling.

RELATED: Our Marriage Therapist Fired Us


6. They fail to understand the simple notion that most marriages are worth saving, but not all

We have said for years that most marriages are worth saving, BUT NOT ALL! Most couples that go into marriage counseling truly believe that their marriage is worth saving and can be saved. In their heart of hearts, they want their marriage to be successful. But the truth is, some marriages are NOT worth saving. Some marriages have traveled so far down the path of no return that there is no hope. Some marriages are beleaguered by abuse — physical and mental — that they cannot and should not be saved. The consequence of saving such a marriage is destructive. Marriage counselors make a mistake when they tell you that they can save every marriage with work. They must understand their limitations and the fact that sometimes saving an abusive relationship is downright dangerous.



7. They interject their personal opinions and experiences into the counseling session

The research on marriage counseling over the decades is clear: the best marriage counselors hold back from expressing their personal opinions and experiences during the marriage counseling session. Here is a telltale sign: you are having an exchange during your therapy session and your counselor says something like, “Well, my wife and I have never experienced what you and your spouse are experiencing.”

The question is, who cares? The relationship your marriage counselor has with his or her wife or others is irrelevant to your marital relationship. And frankly, the interjection by the counselor of his or her marital relationship teeters on the edge of unethical behavior on their part. People participating in marriage counseling are very vulnerable. They deserve the best counseling they can get. Counselors are not selling snake oil. They are selling their expertise, their professional judgment, and their years of training as professional counselors. They do not have the right to be incompetent and make any of these mistakes. When you seek marriage counseling, you have the right to seek it from a trained and competent professional who meets the requisite requirements to be a marriage counselor.


RELATED: 10 Realistic Pieces Of Marriage Advice That Actually Work

Dr. Charles and Dr. Elizabeth Schmitz are renowned love and marriage experts and multiple award-winning authors. Their best-selling book, Building A Love That Lasts, provides readers with insightful and practical tips from thousands of happily married couples.