Will you tell us to break up?

Many people are curious about the role of the couples counselor when it comes to break ups. Should a counselor suggest or even advocate for couples to break up when it seems that the relationship isn’t right from them?  From an individual perspective this is a fair question. An individual counselors’ job is to advocate for the needs and the health of the individual.  If a relationship seems unhealthy, it can make sense to suggest the end of the relationship.  And perhaps they should.

However, when I am a couple’s counselor, my role is different. My client is the relationship, and it is my job to work towards the health of the relationship.  This doesn’t mean that I won’t address a break up or uncertainty about doing the often-painful work of rebuilding or changing the relationship. It is important that I do this because of a number of reasons.  First of all, it can be very important to hear that your partner is also scared about how to make it work. Also, it is okay, and often very understandable; to have a part of themselves that wants out of the relationship because it currently is very painful and maintaining status quo is not possible. However, I don’t advocate for a break up. 

Some people ask, What if one of the couple is really done with the relationship and they are coming to counseling to tell their partner?  A large part of the work that I do involves clients sharing with one another—who they are, and what it going on for them.  If breaking up is really what a person has decided, this will come out in counseling and I won’t try and talk them out of it, but rather I will help them figure out next steps.  However, if instead, there is a part of them that had given up hope because they weren’t sure it was possible to have the relationship they really wanted, it is likely that the process will help them to find that hope and to help them build the relationship that they really want.

In addition, couples that come to counseling are often struggling so hard to find and/or hold on to hope or a way out of the terrible cycles that they are stuck in. They often feel that the odds are stacked against them, that statistics for marriages (not even counting other couple relationships) staying together aren’t good, with over half ending in divorce. It seems to me that it would be devastating to come to someone, hoping that this person can help, only to have them advocate breaking up.

Beyond that, the form of couples counseling that I rely on has really excellent results.  Once they have entered therapy, the odds are now stacked in their favor, with 90% of couples finding significant improvement, and 70% moving from distress to recovery.

And, finally I don’t think it is my job to decide when people shouldn’t be in a relationship anymore.   This is in line with how I work as a whole.  I believe that my clients are the experts of their own lives, and that not only do they ultimately know what is right for them, but they are the ones living their lives. This means they should get to decide if and when they are done with a relationship. I see my role as the person who points the way to the path that will lead to a better relationship.  I can shine a light on it when one or both partners can’t see it.  But it isn’t my job to force them either way.  What I do is to help them see the way ahead and to navigate the bumps and turns until they are ready to do it on their own.


For more information:


EFT research

Johnson, S. M. (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York: Little, Brown & Co.


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