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When Couples Therapy Doesn't Work

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

Many of the men who make their way to me are on the brink of divorce and not sure how they got there.

It’s not so much that they don’t care, they just don’t really know what’s going on with themselves, with their partner and their relationship.

Something isn’t right. Their partner is frequently upset, frustrated and irritable.

The man feels confused, with low self-esteem and not fully sure what he’s supposed to have done ‘wrong’.

Some couple try couples therapy or counselling and for many men it doesn’t work out. Adjectives men have used with me are ‘awful’, a ‘disaster’, ‘I was being blamed for everything’, ‘felt targeted’.

What’s happening is that the person leading the session is hearing that the couple have got themselves caught up in the Mother & Son dynamic which I talk about here. Now I want to be clear that this is a dynamic. Which means both people are playing their roles in this. Either of them can change their behaviour at any point to get out of this dynamic. I know this from personal experience.

My husband and I found ourselves in this dynamic. I was hyper-critical, took everything on in the house. If I asked him to do anything and he got it wrong he was heavily criticised. I became frustrated and my treatment towards him became increasingly critical. In response, my husband helped less and less for fear of getting it wrong and upsetting me. He spent much of his time like a rabbit caught in the headlights not knowing what to do for the best. Through so many changes in our communication that I initiated, we began to change our roles. As an example, my husband can now see that the washing needs doing, does it without me asking, and remembers to put it in the tumble dryer when it’s finished. He would never even have thought to do that a few years ago. He would never have even noticed that the washing needs doing in the first place. We aren’t perfect and I would like to make everyone aware of that, however we are better communicators and that dynamic is something that is firmly in the past. So how does this relate to clients?

Initially I started working with people in this dynamic who were the ‘mother’ in it, the woman. My own experience of it and the changes I made and how my husband began to change too was where I started my coaching. Supporting mothers stuck in the Mother & Son dynamic and who wanted to feel passion again, to feel sexy and alive and not take on the mental load. My clients had great success and the men in their lives began to feel more empowered too because from my coaching, the women were learning how to communicate more effectively what they needed.

What started happening was that every so often I would have a man come to me for support having read about the Mother & Son dynamic. I soon began to realise that men were really struggling. Often blamed for the situation by the world at large, feeling completely alone and totally misunderstood.

So I switched. And now when I speak on a podcast I am always looking to create awareness around the phenomenon that the men find themselves in that I have called The Forgotten Father.

My coaching of men in this situation is to give them space to explore how they feel. Other than lost and rejected, many men aren’t really able to access their full range of emotions around the situation. The most common ones are confused, unsure of what’s happened as they feel they really did try very hard but that it just wasn’t good enough.

We do inner-child work which takes a look at how in situations of stress they default to ways of behaving that they did as children. So we look to create new empowered ways of behaving.

We start to take a look at things like boundaries, how they are communicating them and in what situations. We take a look at what their desires and needs are. Quite often many men have either dissociated from really tuning into what they want or they are just reacting to life rather than taking charge and moving forward.

We look at tools for them to become better listeners so that they can hear what their partner is actually trying to tell them and ask for clarity when they aren’t sure. We also do ‘internal’ work around self-esteem so that they can ask for feedback from their partner, set boundaries on how that feedback is delivered and then not take feedback personally by getting stuck in story about their feelings of self-worth. Many of the men who work with me are experiencing low self-worth, loneliness, feeling rejected and missing intimacy.

They are given home assignments to return to their partners with to rebuild intimacy emotionally first and then gradually physically until they are in a situation where they are having sex better than before the baby arrived. Many men who come to me have not been intimate or had sex with partner for months and in some cases many years.

The tools are varied. Each client an individual. But the stories quite often are similar. So if you’re a man reading this know that…

You are not alone.

You are not ‘wrong’.

It isn’t your fault.

Your situation can change at any time you choose to make it happen.

Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at


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