How to Have a Better Marriage WITHOUT Marriage Counseling

Many people falsely believe that their marriage cannot be improved unless they can get their spouse to go to marriage counseling. In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will help you to have an approach to building your marriage that does not require your spouse’s participation. This is the same approach that Coach Jack has used with thousands of people to reconcile their relationships.

(go to transcript)

After listening, you may want to continue to build your marriage by:

  1. Downloading some free lessons to help your spouse to enjoy talking with you again.
  2. Get a book on changes you can make to go from arguing with your spouse to connecting with your spouse.
  3.  Get relationship coaching to reconcile with a spouse who has no interest in building your relationship.


Better Marriage without Marriage Counseling

(podcast transcript)



[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.


[Coach Jack’s presentation begins]

Jack Ito, Ph.D. The title of today’s podcast is ‘making your marriage better without marriage counseling’. Many people wish that they could get their spouse to go to marriage counseling because they believe that if they do, that, their relationship can improve and if they don’t, that their relationship is never going to improve. If you are one of these people you’re probably unaware that couple’s counseling is only really helpful when your spouse is motivated to go to counseling and motivated to work on your marriage with you.


If he or she is not, then there are other ways that you can build your relationship that are far better than taking a reluctant spouse to marriage counseling. In addition, even if you could get your reluctant spouse to go to marriage counseling with you, it might not be a good thing to do. Many times taking a reluctant spouse to marriage counseling makes relationships worse. In today’s podcast I want you to discover how you can make your relationship better without marriage counseling, especially if you have a spouse who is not wanting to go to counseling with you.


Getting a resistant spouse to go to marriage counseling is not a victory. Many people who enter couple’s counseling with a resistant spouse find that within a few months time the counseling has actually shifted to creating an amicable divorce. When counseling works, it’s because both people are motivated to make changes that improve the relationship. When I was training to become a psychologist, I learned that if you had a couple coming to marriage counseling and they didn’t both want to improve the relationship, that you needed to tell them that you really couldn’t work with them because it wouldn’t be a helpful thing to do if they didn’t both want to improve their relationship.


Many counselors still do this, however there are a lot of counselors who don’t do this now. The training has changed since I have been in school and the emphasis is not so much on making relationships work as it used to be. It is much more focused now on helping each of the individuals to be happy, even if it means ending their relationship. That shift in focus means that you need to be aware when you go to marriage counseling that the marriage counselor may not be upfront with you in terms of whether the relationship is likely to work if your spouse is reluctant to be in marriage counseling with you. Instead, the marriage counselor is likely to tell you that working together you can both become happier people.


It’s a difference in perspective, isn’t it? I’ve been a licensed clinical psychologist since 1994. I started out as a college professor and then I moved into a private practice. I did marriage counseling the way I was trained with many, many couples and because of that, I am familiar with the methods of marriage counseling. Like most marriage counselors, I thought that what I learned was all that I could do. And it really took me some years to realize that many of the things I learned to do were better for promoting the practice of psychology than it was for promoting marriages. Many other therapists have learned the same things and how to build their own styles of psychotherapy and marriage counseling. There are some excellent marriage counselors and some of them have excelled in the field of psychology. Very few or maybe none of them actually do what traditionally was taught to psychologists to do when working with a couple. They’ve all developed their own ways of helping couples which doesn’t match mainstream teaching for what therapists do.


So just be aware, like in any profession, there are three types of counselors. There’s those who excel at what they do, are very good at it, and you are lucky when you get to see them. There are those who stink at what they do, and if you get to see them, the best thing you can do is to find out soon so that you can stop what you’re doing and move on to someone else. And the rest are the average ones. This is true for whether you’re hiring a plumber, a therapist or anyone else. Most people are gonna be average, some are going to excel, some are going to be very bad. I wrote my first book on how to get more out of psychotherapy partly so that people could recognize what a good therapist was and how to find them. I also wrote it so that people could supplement their therapy with skills learning, because skills are not a part of an average therapist’s repertoire for building relationships. Well, I shouldn’t say they’re not a part—they do use some skills which I’ll talk about in a minute. But it’s not heavily skill oriented. There’s a lot more talking that is going to go on, a lot more introspection, a lot more emphasis on communication and understanding than there is on learning a new skill that you don’t already have.


At the time of this podcast, I’ve been a licensed clinical psychologist for going on 28 years and I’ve become very skeptical about anyone who calls themselves a relationship coach who doesn’t have at least a masters degree in psychology and who doesn’t have any training in coaching. Nowadays, it’s very easy for someone just to hang up a shingle, calling himself a relationship coach with no prior qualifications. I recommend that if you are looking for a counselor or coach, that you get one with the highest level of training possible. Usually that means PhD or PsyD (doctor of psychology). One of the main reasons for that is that person had to have enough intelligence to be able to make it through the school system to be able to study and pass their exams. Not only that—they needed to do training in therapy in front of their peers and to have their work reviewed and recorded with lots of training in internships.

( 6:49)

People who call themselves coaches or therapists, they may not say “psychotherapist”, they say “therapist,” but they really don’t have that training, are much more likely to make mistakes or to send you off in the wrong direction. So let me tell you why couples counseling doesn’t work very well if you have a couple who both don’t want to make their relationship better. So I really want you to hear that—if both you and your spouse want to make your relationship better, I think they going to marriage counseling is still a fine choice. Usually the first place I would refer a couple to go if they just want marriage enhancement is to attend a marriage retreat. But if they have issues that make building the relationship worse, so that even if people go to marriage retreat they still wouldn’t be able to employ the skills to improve their relationship, then I think it’s time for them to get into marriage counseling and really work on what those issues are. Since they’re both motivated to work on the issues, it should turn out to be a productive time and the marriage counselor can help the two of you to stay focused in a way that might not be possible talking at home.


Many times, if you get a couple working on something at home, they have a tendency to go off on tangents or to become defensive and so it can be helpful to have a marriage counselor there if for nothing else than to just keep the focus on the subject at hand. But they can also help you in other ways, too. So why marriage counseling for a couple who both want to work on the relationship and not when you need to drag a spouse into marriage counseling? Well in order to improve her relationship with anyone, that person has to desire to be with you more and they also need to enjoy you more when you are together. Let me say that again. Some things really need to be said twice. In order to improve a relationship with anyone, that person has to desire to be with you more and they need to enjoy you more when you are together. Without those two pieces, people will initially make an effort to improve their relationship—if they have to for some reason. But then after that they give it up.


There is nothing about going to psychotherapy—marriage counseling—that actually makes one person have more desire for the other person. So anything learned is likely to be applied only short-term, while that person does what they need to do in order to get through and get out of the counseling. We can’t maintain a personal relationship out of discipline. We need to enjoy the person that we’re with. Let’s take a little bit closer look at how the majority of marriage counseling is done and see how it impacts people’s desire to be together. As I said before, there’s always the cream of the crop therapists who are not doing quite what they were trained to do in school and have developed some really good techniques for doing counseling. So if you have a counselor like that, you have got the exception and this following probably is not going to apply to your counselor.


What the average counselor is going to have you do when you go to therapy with your reluctant spouse is to talk about the problems that are bringing you into counseling. That is how they are trained to start. If you and your husband or wife were both motivated to work on your relationship, then probably you would both be agreeing on what the problem is. That would create some connection and you would be off to a good start. But when you bring your reluctant spouse to therapy, most likely how you identify what the problem is is not really what your spouse identifies the problem as and your spouse is probably going to feel criticized. There’s nothing magical about the presence of a counselor that is going to make being criticized an enjoyable experience for your spouse. After that you’re going to spend the next several sessions (at least) talking about how the problems came about, talking about your feelings, talking about what you wish your spouse would do instead, and talking about things that you have tried that haven’t worked.


There will be a very thorough analysis of history and the circumstances around the problem. At that point you’ll probably have been going to counseling for a couple of months without getting any solid advice from your counselor about how to deal with the problem. The belief is—and it’s a false belief—the belief is that a deeper understanding of the problem by each partner will in itself remove the problem. That doesn’t actually work though, because understanding does not solve problems. There is a very high probability that if you have a reluctant spouse, that your spouse already knows exactly what you don’t like, why you don’t like it, and what you want. Even though your spouse understands those things, that’s not going to motivate your spouse to make the changes that you want. Once all that can be said about the problems, your feelings about the problems, how the problems came about, and you and your spouse are each taking turns talking about your perception of the problem, then the counselor will have you date your spouse and try to increase quality time together. Those are good things, especially if your spouse is motivated to make the relationship work. If not, then he or she will reluctantly spend time with you, will have a bad attitude about it, and your relationship will become more distant.


Do this several times and you will start to give up. Your counselor is actually going to see you starting to give up as progress, believe it or not. And the reason for that is that your giving up signals your acceptance that your relationship is not going to work. In fact, you’re actually getting to the place where your spouse is. You’re both getting on the same page. The counselor can then shift to working with both of you to have an amicable divorce. At that point, your reluctant spouse is more likely to be into that and will become more friendly with you. Your relationship will seem to improve even though you’re on your way to divorcing and being friends. For marriage counselors who are trained nowadays, this is THE goal of modern marriage counseling—it’s to move people from, it’s to move people from unhappy marriages to happy divorces. No real relationship skills are learned along the way. Both people will eventually repeat bad marriages with other people—further damaging traditional families and helping more counselors to get more clients. That’s a real win for the field of psychology; it’s a real loss for traditional married couples.


Marriage is not being promoted in schools now as something healthy to do. Christian therapists and traditional conservative therapists are not going to have quite the same perspective as people being trained nowadays, and so you are somewhat safer to get a therapist who has traditional Christian values, in terms of working with you more to preserve your relationship with your spouse and to enhance it—to see that as a better goal than just ending the relationship so that the both of you can be happier because of that. Even so, many conservative Christian psychologists have not received the kind of training that they really need to have in order to help someone to build a relationship with a spouse who does not want to be in the relationship. I know that when I went to school (and I have three graduate degrees and I was a professor and I taught psychology and I taught graduate students as well) I know that nowhere in that curriculum were there any skills being taught to therapists for how to get a reluctant spouse to want to work on a relationship.


The emphasis always was on helping people to do what they have decided to do, and so you could only work with a couple both wanted to be together. Make sure your spouse is really motivated to work on your relationship before you go to marriage counseling. And I would say that’s true no matter who you see, simply because there are better choices for building your relationship with a reluctant spouse. And working on problems with a reluctant spouse is likely to make even more distance in your relationships, since it will actually make your spouse enjoy you even less—decreasing  their motivation for the relationship. Counselors primarily focus on how to talk about problems, how to communicate with each other about problems and needs and feelings. These are communication skills that most people believe, falsely, believe will actually build their relationship. This is probably one of the most common false beliefs people have about relationships—is that relationships are built by working on communication skills.


Communication is a vital part of any relationship. The most important thing about that is enjoying communicating with each other. That’s not the same thing as learning how to talk about problems. If you have been to marriage counseling before then you will know what I’m talking about. You probably learned to do reflective listening, how to make “I statements,” how to ask your spouse for what you want, how to negotiate. People who do that typically do have some improvement in their relationship, but that improvement is temporary. Those kinds of talking skills are not things that people do very well on their own, so they build the relationship while people are working together with that third person. They kind of have to moderate what they’re talking about. But once they  end therapy and their off on their own usually that improvement will gradually fade because it’s a discipline to continue to do that kind of communication exercises and real life gets in the way of discipline. We do what is most important in our day and we let those other things go. Many people have been back to marriage counseling many times in order to bring improvement in their relationship which is then temporary. Their relationship gradually slides back to a bad place again. Then they get into marriage counseling and build it and then it slides and so forth.


If the only place you can have a good relationship is in marriage counseling, then I think you’re really not learning what you need to do on your own to keep a good relationship going. So, after saying all these things which make it sound like I’m really down counseling—which I’m not. I want to remind you I’m mainly down counseling for when you have a spouse who is not motivated to work on the issues with you. And I am recommending that people go to marriage counseling when simply going to a marriage retreat won’t work and they have something they need to talk through—some kind of obstacle that without good communication, they’re not going to be able to move on in their relationship. Therapy is the best place to go for that.


So what is the alternative for building a relationship with a spouse who is reluctant to go to coaching. And let me tell you about my experience with this. I have worked with more than 9000 people now on reconciling and helping them to reconcile with a spouse who is not interested in building their relationship. So what is the alternative to taking a reluctant spouse to counseling when you want to build your relationship? Or, if you are like the people that I work with, you’re just wanting to save your relationship. Well let’s consider a little scenario. Let’s imagine that you were a single woman (you can reverse genders if you want). Let’s consider you were single woman and you were interested in a single man who had no interest in you. A single woman who really likes this guy but he’s not interested in you at all. In fact, he probably doesn’t even like you, is not very attracted to you. Do you think the best approach to getting that man to love you and commit to spending the rest of his life with you would be to try to talk him into going to couples counseling with you so that you can talk together about problems?


If you’re a man, just imagine trying to approach a single woman that way. What do you think would happen even if you could somehow talk that person into going to counseling with you? There’s no way that he or she would fall in love with you with such an approach. It would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it? What you would need to do instead if you are really interested in this person who is not interested in or attracted to you, doesn’t even really like to be with you much, if at all, what you need to do is you would need to learn first how to attract that man or woman who is not attracted to you, and you would have to help that person to have a good time with you. That’s no different when you’re married to someone who isn’t interested in you. You’ve got to attract that person and then you’ve got to help them to have a good time with you. You don’t go to them and say, “Hey, I know you’re not into me, but let’s talk about problems, let’s go to counseling, lets work on it, let me point out things that are wrong with you, so that you can fix them. Then you can be attracted to me and in love with me.”


If you think about it in that light, then you can kinda see how is not going to work in your marriage either. Why is that? Why won’t it work in your marriage? Well because people are people, whether they are married or theyre single, they still like the same things, still dislike the same things, they’re still going to have the same kind of reactions, attractions, and feelings and interests. So what works when you’re single works when you’re married and what doesn’t work when you’re single doesn’t work when you’re married. The way you maintain a single relationship is the same way you maintain your marriage relationship. And people who do that—people who get married and continue to treat their spouse like their girlfriend or boyfriend—they continue to have a good relationship for a really long time. Maybe you are thinking, “Well, what if your spouse has damaging behaviors you need to stop? It’s not just that he or she is not attracted to me, not interested in me. It’s also that they have this really damaging behavior, and if we can stop that, then it’s going to make our relationship better.


Well, just like when you are single, you don’t do that by nagging, by arguing, or by negotiating. You do that by having boundaries that prevent your husband or wife from behaving in that damaging way. The key to building any relationship is by helping the other person to want to be with you, to enjoy being with you, and then not to be able to be with you when he or she is behaving badly. Those things, in that order, and it doesn’t matter what kind of relationship—kids, parents, coworkers—whoever. It’s going to be these things, in that order. You need to help people to want to be with you. That’s first. To enjoy being with you. That’s second. and then not to be able to behave badly with you. That’s third. If you start with the bad behavior, as counseling does, then an unmotivated spouse will be even less motivated to continue his or her relationship with you.


This is the main reason that I switched to relationship coaching. People need to learn the skills for attracting the other person, connecting with the other person, and managing the other person’s behavior. None of those things happen by working on communication with the other person. An effective coach, focused on these skills, can often help a client to reconcile with only one month of coaching. In just four sessions, learning basic skills that person needs to continue until the relationship is rebuilt. Yes, if the situation is much more difficult, they may need another month or two, but it is nothing like what you experience in therapy, where you’re going to talk a lot, have distance, learn a little, and then struggle to keep what you learned going with a spouse who probably gave up on therapy a while  ago.


What I hope that you take away from this podcast is that there is still a lot of hope for your relationship, even if your spouse is no longer interested in it. But of course you can see what I’m trying to do—I’m trying to turn you off of getting your reluctant spouse to go to marriage counseling with you. Why am I doing that? Because it’s my value to help people to have good relationships and not need to divorce each other in order to be happy. I think when we re-attract and reconnect with each other, then will be happy. We don’t need to say, “Well, we’re miserable so let’s get out and be friends so we can be happy,” and I think that most people, if they can find a way to make their relationship work, and to enjoy each other, they are going to take that option. Knowing this can help you to become unstuck if you believe your relationship cannot be improved unless and until your spouse works on it with you. To make these changes, you will need to learn how to interest your spouse in your relationship, rather than focusing on getting your spouse to go to counseling with you.


Most of the time, working on the first couple of steps of re-attracting and reconnecting with your spouse actually ends the need to talk about any problems with your spouse. It usually creates the connection that help both people to enjoy their relationship more. And, if there are problems still left after that, usually they’re much smaller and the spouse is more motivated to make changes because they are enjoying the relationship, too. I encourage you, no matter who you are having problems with, to think about helping that person to enjoy their relationship with you first, before working on dealing with the problems with them.


If you would like more ideas for how to save a relationship with a spouse who is checked out, who is cheating, who is no longer interested in you, so that you can both enjoy your relationship again, then I invite you to visit my


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.