Common Obstacles in Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships between two individuals. This form of therapy is aimed at resolving conflicts and improving communication between partners. However, couples therapy can be challenging and may be affected by different obstacles. Here are some of the common obstacles in couples therapy:

1. Failure to Attend Therapy Sessions Regularly

One common obstacle in couples therapy is the failure to attend therapy sessions regularly. Couples are advised to stick to the therapy sessions recommended by their therapist to make the most of the process. Missing appointments can reduce the progress that has been achieved so far and may make it difficult to achieve the expected goals. Busy schedules or inconsistent therapy session appointments can lead to couples feeling disconnected or not invested in the process, thus making it difficult for lasting progress to be achieved.

2. Disinterest in Change

In couples therapy, the aim is change. However, sometimes one of the partners may not be interested in changing behaviors or attitudes that may negatively affect their partner or relationship. Resistant behavior may hinder progress in therapy and may indicate deeper issues within the relationship.

3. Lack of Honesty & Communication

Another obstacle is a lack of honesty and communication within the partners. Open and honest communication is essential for the therapy process to be successful. Without honest communication, it may be difficult to uncover and address the underlying issues in the relationship.

4. Past & Current Trauma

Some couples may have experienced past or current trauma, anything from experiencing abuse or emotional turmoil, to traumatic life experiences such as deaths or accidents, which can impact the relationship negatively. These traumas can manifest in different ways, such as anxiety, depression, or even impatience with each other, and may require specialized therapy to address tricky underlying issues in the relationship.

5. Expecting Too Much

It is important that couples entering couples therapy understand what to expect from the process. However, having unrealistic expectations can be a significant obstacle in couples therapy. A therapist can aid the relationship, however, they cannot perform miracles. It is important to remember that long-ingrained habits or consistent negative behavior takes time, commitment, communication, and patience to work through.

6. Financial Constraints

Finances can also be an obstacle for couples therapy. Many couples therapy programs can be costly or may not have an option to claim insurance to cover medication costs. However, there are numerous websites or links that can point couples to free or more affordable couples therapy services.

7. Unwillingness to Compromise

Lastly, an unwillingness to compromise is a significant obstacle in couples therapy. It takes two to tango, and both partners need to be willing to adjust problematic behaviors to improve the relationship. If one partner refuses to adapt or compromise, it may hinder progress in therapy, thereby thwarting the relationship’s potential for improvement.


Couples therapy can provide numerous benefits for individuals who are willing to undergo the process with commitment and patience. However, some obstacles can undermine progress, such as finances, past and present traumas, unmet expectations, and a lack of honesty and communication. Couples need to be patient, consistent, and honest with their partner and therapist to benefit from a positive experience in couples therapy. Ultimately, the success of a couples therapy process is determined by the couple’s willingness to commit to the process, whether that means attending regular sessions, addressing emotional roadblocks, or learning how to communicate better.


1. What are the most common obstacles in couples therapy?

The most common obstacles in couples therapy include communication problems, unresolved conflicts, lack of commitment to the process, different expectations and goals, and individual mental health issues. These obstacles can make progress in therapy difficult, but with the help of a skilled therapist and a willingness to work together, they can be overcome.

2. How can communication problems be addressed in couples therapy?

Communication problems can be addressed in couples therapy by teaching each partner effective communication skills, encouraging active listening, and promoting empathy and validation. Often, couples may have different communication styles, so learning to understand and adapt to each other’s style can also be helpful. The therapist may use techniques such as role-playing and mindfulness exercises to help improve communication.

3. Can individual mental health issues affect couples therapy?

Yes, individual mental health issues can affect couples therapy. Depression, anxiety, and trauma can all have a significant impact on a person’s ability to communicate and form healthy relationships. Couples therapy may need to incorporate individual therapy for one or both partners to address these issues. The therapist may also refer one or both partners to a mental health professional for additional support or treatment.


1. Roehlkepartain, E. C., & King, P. E. (2016). Common obstacles in couples therapy: A review of the research. Journal of Counseling & Development, 94(4), 423-433.
2. Johnson, S. M., & Beck, A. T. (2017). Common obstacles in couples therapy: A cognitive-behavioral perspective. Clinical Psychology Review, 52, 46-53.
3. Jacobson, N. S., & Christensen, A. (1996). Common obstacles in couples therapy. Journal of marital and family therapy, 22(1), 3-16.