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Why do people not get the help they need when their marriage is struggling?

Updated: May 6

Derek and Missy Irvin discuss the reasons why couples don't get the help they need when their marriage is struggling.

Different people will have different reasons for not getting help. Many do not know where to begin or don’t’ believe that they have the money to get the help they need. Some perceive getting help as a sign of weakness, so when one partner wants to get help, the other refuses. Often, couples see their partner as the one who needs to change. It’s easy for them to see their marriage problems as a “you problem” rather than an “us problem”.

As a marriage pastor, I used to think that the primary problem was simply a lack of good accessible resources. I believed that if we would build affordable programs to help marriage, they would come. While many did, it still baffled me when people who were so clearly in need of help were so often unwilling to take advantage of low-cost resources that could help them.

One of the more challenging elements of marriage work is that most couples are not intentional in creating a healthy marriage. Many couples approach their marriage the same way many people approach getting healthy physically. We tend to neglect our physical health until we have a compelling event that makes it a priority. It could be doctor’s visit or a number on a scale, but until some external source gets are attention, we are slow to change and when we do it is often short lived. The same is true for marriage. It is easy to go along with the status quo and not invest in the health of the relationship until faced with a big fight or a reality check of some sort.

Another challenge is that people are often really bad at self-assessing the health of their marriage and even worse at being honest with others. To make things worse, we are often not on the same page with our spouse about the level of satisfaction in the marriage. I often will ask couples in a counseling session to rate their marriage on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being bad and 10 being good.). It is very common for one person (often the husband) to rate the marriage higher than their spouse. I often tell couples that you don’t get to average the scores. The low number is the actual number and knowing it, you can work together to improve it. There is power in knowing where you are in the marriage. When you know where you are, have a vision for where you want to go, and a means to get there, you can create an awesome marriage.


Think of it as maintenance for your marriage. It's never too late to start!


However, if you don’t get on the same page, the danger is you will drift further apart. For the spouse who thinks that the marriage is better than their partner does, it is common for them to minimize their spouse’s feelings and to believe they are overreacting. Therefore, they will drag their feet in getting help. The spouse who feels that things are worse will eventually begin to lose hope because they feel like they have brought it up many times and it never goes anywhere, and they slowly start to let their heart die.

When a spouse who has been reluctant to get help, finally realizes that the marriage is not in a good place, it is sometimes too late. When the spouse who has wanted to work on it, gives up, it is infuriating that now their partner wants to work on it. It is also hard to trust it. Do they really want to change, or do they just want to appease their spouse until it blows over and they can get back to status quo. It is difficult, though not impossible, to bring a dead marriage back to life.

When things go from rocky to toxic, a whole new dynamic emerges in that one or both parties may have lost all desire to want to work on their marriage or to believe that change is possible. Hope and desire are two powerful forces in a relationship. Hope is the belief that things can get better, and desire means there is at least a part of you that still wants to try to make it better. When things are bad in a marriage it can be very difficult to get both hope and desire for both parties at the same time.

Even in cases where there is little to no hope or desire left, it is still possible to recover and to build a healthy marriage. A marriage intensive can be a good way to stabilize the relationship, get some skills, and set your marriage up to get the most out of counseling. It is unrealistic to think that you can get to a healthy place without help. The same two people who created the problems in the marriage are not going to be able to get to a healthy place without a skilled third party. Find a good marriage intensive and a skilled Christian counselor that can help you heal and create the kind of marriage you both desire.


Are you ready to dig deeper in your marriage?



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