Help for Troubled Marriages

Newlyweds expect that the glow and happiness of marriage will continue through the years. It is not unusual to have some disillusionment after the first few months of marriage, but knowing when things are more serious than just adjustment problems can be tricky. This information is appropriate for marriages of any length.

 Danger Signs

  • Physical, verbal, mental or sexual abuse
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Fighting dirty
  • Aloof and withdrawn behavior
  • Oppositional and controlling behavior
  • Withholding affection and sexual intimacy
  • Lies, defensiveness, unreliability
  • False accusations
  • Unexplained absences, working unusually long hours
  • Imbalance of negative vs. positive interactions
  • Unwillingness to cooperate in decision-making
  • Retaliation

Research shows that couples are in trouble an average of six years before they seek help and often by then it is too late. If a situation seems to overwhelm or concern you, please get help right away.

Things that don't work: These do help:
  • Gossiping with family and friends about your situation.
  • Thinking that time will cure the problem.
  • Separation, unless it is for your safety.
  • Blaming it all on your partner.
  • Support from others who have been where you are and worked through it and stayed together such as Retrouvaille.
  • Meeting with a mentor couple.
  • Small changes in attitude and acts of kindness towards your spouse.
  • Marriage education classes.
  • Getting marriage-friendly counseling.

Don’t give up. Studies show that couples who learn to work through their differences and hard times experience greater marital satisfaction and time often makes a big difference.

What is marriage friendly counseling? Counselors are taught to be non-judgmental and not to steer a client one way or another. Clients may be encouraged to think of themselves first, what they want, and not of their spouse or family. A spouse may be seen as an obstacle holding them back and preventing them from finding their "authentic" self. The idea of sacrifice or working things through for the sake of the children is rarely heard. Religion is sometimes looked upon as an oppressive force in a marriage. That there may be a difference between becoming the kind of person we want to be and the kind of person God wants us to be, or that the community has a stake in the success of our marriage is truly counter-cultural. In Chicago, help for marriages can be found by talking to your parish priest, or deacon, or calling Catholic Charities' Holbrook Center at 312.655.7725 for marriage counseling.

The website maintains a listing of counselors who understand Catholic teaching on the permanence of marriage and will help couples work toward saving their marriage, if that is possible. Dr. Bill Doherty, a leader in the marriage field, maintains a national registry of marriage-friendly counselors. If you are seeing a lay counselor, be upfront with them and tell them you are looking for someone who is marriage-friendly. If you live outside of Chicago, your local parish, Catholic Charities, and many Family Life Offices maintain a list of counselors who are Catholic or understand the importance of living a faithful life. 


  • Center for Contextual Change - A Group of nationally recognized, highly trained psychotherapists specializing in relationship issues including domestic and family violence, addiction, abuse, compulsion, emotional and behavioral disorders and self-injurious behavior. Help available for adults, children and families.
  • Recovery Marriage Encounter - 12-step program
  • Retrouvaille - a weekend for couples with troubled marriages