I think it’s gotta be really tough to be a couples therapist.

You’re doing your best to help out people who are really trying to make their relationships work out during troubled times, but you know that some of them are probably doomed…and you see the huge red flags right off the bat.

Are you ready to get some insider stories about how this whole process works?

Therapists talked about their experiences on AskReddit.

1. Retaliatory cheating.

“I saw a couple that was doing “retaliatory” cheating (and telling each other about it). When they got through their anger, they decided to call a truce and made peace.

With their level of emotional maturity, I doubt it lasted. I don’t know if I helped them or prolonged their suffering. It was their decision to come to counseling, so I think it was the help they wanted.

Other clients realize what they really want is “divorce counseling”. What’s the best way to behave civilly and minimize damage to the kids while we go our separate ways?”

2. That’s not good.

“People who approach therapy with the idea that they must convince the therapist that they’re right and their partner is wrong.

Almost like they’re complaining to a parent or boss to have them sort out the problems.”

3. Remember the good.

“One of the biggest red flags I see when working with a new couple is when they’ve totally forgotten the good.

Part of relationship therapy is reconnecting a couple with what they like about each other, what initially attracted them to each other, and what the positives are between them.

When people come in and they’ve been so unhappy for so long that they actually can’t remember what it was like to be in love, or to even like each other, they’re just about hopeless.

You don’t have to be happy for therapy to work–but if you can’t even reminisce about the good times, then the good times are probably over.”

4. All bad things.

“Couples in a tit for tat arrangement. For example: I cheated so you can have one night to cheat with whomever. Or I violated your trust and did drugs, you can go out and do whatever for one night. It erodes trust and compounds the hurt.

An affair that won’t end. I’ve never seen a relationship bounce back where a partner is still in contact with their gf/bf (I don’t mean an ex gf/bf, I mean the person x is having the affair with), or is lying about it.

Control to an excessive amount. I most commonly see partners having to send pictures holding up a certain number of fingers or proving that it’s a live picture. This is abuse.

Overbearing parents and in laws. I understand there’s a ton of cultural nuance here, and I work with couples who have arranged marriages, as well as the south Asian community.

However, when a spouse is more allied with their parents and calls them on speakerphone for fights, or often speaks ill of their partner to their parents, I usually see these couples stay very unhappily married for years. It’s sad.”

5. Escalation.

“Constant, needless escalation.

When “I dont think we need this expensive thing” is escalated to “you don’t really love me” – major problem.

It shows up quickly in therapy if you’re watching for it.

Mostly because the one using this to avoid accountability is almost guaranteed to play this card in relation to therapy itself, either “I had to drag them here” or “they’re just trying to break up with me”

What they’re doing is avoiding conversation about the issue by blowing it up into a bigger problem then it is, so they can make the other person respond to their feelings rather than dealing with their concerns.”

6. Lots of conflict.

“High-conflict relationships.

If frequent and bitter conflict began a few months (or less) after the relationship began, and continued, relationship therapy is going to be a sh*tshow, won’t be helpful.

Either the conflict will continue indefinitely, or come to an end. Not just my opinion. The research supports this.”

7. Dependency issues.

“When one person is entirely dependent on the other, especially at a relatively young age. I mean financially and emotionally.

These are typically young women (sometimes young men as well) who do not work, do not have children, stay home all day and have no friends or hobbies outside of hanging out with their spouse. Very unhealthy, and a huge red flag. Always ends in a painful and messy breakup.”

Generally, we try to get them to find a friend, join a community, get a job or volunteer – something to provide them with self worth and personal fulfillment outside of their spouse.”

8. Part of the deal.

“Refusal or inability to compromise is a ginormous red flag, one that, I believe, is empirically validated.

Compromise is a significant predictor of satisfaction in relationships, and it plays an important role in the long-term success of marriages and relationships in general.”


“The biggest one I notice is respect.

Respecting space, boundaries, feelings, interests, relationships are all so important and lack of respect by either person for the other is going to mean big problems.

I would definitely try to help them work through it but it’s hard to point out to someone that something they are doing is hurting the other.

Which leads to my second red flag, lack of communication..”

10. Yikes.

“Welp, they used meth together on a regular basis. They continued to cheat on one another.

Fighting in front of their kids, cheating in front of their kids, and oh wait! Meth in front of their kids. When doing couples work, your client is the relationship itself not person à or b. So of course we try to work it out even knowing in our head “there’s no way these toxic MFers ever work this out”.

And believe me I tried… I tried so hard, until this thing happened that I will never forget and tell my students about all the time. Person B was like “why don’t you tell him (me) about you sleeping with your nigger bf”. Quick note, I’m black and will type this word out to illustrate the hurt this word can cause. At that point I was just like “nah f*ck this”.

My dissertation was finished, I had maybe a month left at this spot before leaving the state. I just told em that were done today and advised them to seek another therapist at the front desk because I was no longer able to accommodate them.”

11. A whole bunch of them.

“Saying, directly to each other, “I don’t love you. I am just here to try and like you enough to stay together”. And the other person replaying with “good. We can do that”.

Partners refusing to listen. Absolutely deafening themselves to certain explicit statement.

Active physical abuse and each person admitting it and trying to be OK with it.

Name calling in session and when I intervene they both get mad at me.

Complete disrespect and true contempt with each other. Yet refusing to accept their relationship is over.

I could keep going. These are obvious red flags…”

What do you think are immediate red flags in relationships?

Talk to us in the comments and share your thoughts.

Thanks a lot!