5 Signs That It’s Time for Couples Counseling
Sometimes when couples contact me seeking relief from hurt and despair, they realize that they want to end the relationship because it just won’t work. There is no hope that things will change and they want different things. These couples have waited too long before seeking help and have already begun their dissolution of the relationship. I decided to make this list as a way for couples to know when to seek help before it is too late. It is easier to change perspectives and behavior before negative patterns become ingrained in the relationship, so here are five signs that it’s time for couples therapy or marriage counseling.
1. You find yourself thinking about how much easier and happier life would be if you were single or with someone else. By entertaining these kinds of thoughts you are starting to emotionally disconnect from your partner. Once you start down that path, it’s a slippery slope to considering ending the relationship or having an affair. Therapy helps address the underlying issues that cause miscommunication and hurt before they cause deep emotional scars.
2. You think negative thoughts about your partner more often and sometimes even say them out loud. To paraphrase the wise words of Gandhi: your thoughts become your words; your words become your behavior; and your behavior becomes your habits, so watch your thoughts and keep them positive. Therapy helps discover a relationship’s strengths as well as weaknesses. It’s just as important to talk about positive experiences as it is to address problems and a relationship with a future has plenty of blissful times to focus on.
3. You do anything to avoid bringing up issues with your partner. For example, you start lying or omitting information, suppressing your feelings, or talking to your friends and/or family about things that should be addressed with your partner. Some couples avoid talking about issues, which can be just as damaging as having a big, loud fight. When you notice that you have become uncomfortable bringing up issues with your partner or you’re fearful of your partner’s reaction, it’s time to seek help with opening up communication and nipping negative patterns in the bud.
4. You have a general feeling that your partner’s actions and behavior are motivated by damaging intentions. When you start doubting that your partner has your best interest at heart, the trust in the relationship was broken by betrayal, however small or large, and needs to be repaired.
5. You notice yourself wanting to hurt your partner for hurting you. You may feel justified in doing something your partner doesn’t like, but this “quid pro quo” view of your relationship serves as a basis for a relationship that’s lacking empathy and understanding. You are not a mind reader and your assumptions about where your partner is coming from may be mistaken. Therapy helps couples talk about their emotions in ways that are validating and productive.
Couples counseling can mean the difference between fine-tuning a few things in the relationship and being faced with a break-up or divorce. It’s kind of like taking your car to the mechanic when you hear a funny noise instead of running it into the ground thinking it will fix itself and then having to buy a new car. You have to first notice the signs that something’s off and know where to go for help. Then take proactive steps to improve certain parts and implement maintenance of the relationship.
6 Signs That You Are Bitter
We all get bitter from time to time. It happens when someone has taken advantage of us one too many times or when plans in life don’t go our way or when we realize that life just isn’t as fair as we once thought it was. It’s that sunken feeling of disgust and anger over something or someone. Even though it happens from time to time, it’s important not to let it fester inside of us and eat away at our core beliefs and values. Here are some signs that maybe it’s time to seek help with letting things go and finding happiness.
1. You talk badly about people.
Putting others down is a sign you are unhappy in your own life, regardless of whether it’s a stranger or someone you know. For example, when you can’t be happy for someone who is celebrating something important to them, consider yourself bitter. It doesn’t matter what it is - a new baby, completing a college program, losing weight. If someone tells you about it and you have thoughts like, “I feel bad for their kids,” “Took him long enough” or “Let’s see how long that lasts” then you are as bitter as a granny smith apple.
2. You constantly compare yourself to others and even get jealous.
Thoughts like, “No one does that for me,” “She gets all the luck” or “It’s me against the world” are the thoughts of someone who is battling with their own sense of self-worth.
3. You are apathetic and avoid people.
You find yourself enjoying people’s company less and less. When you start turning down invites to hang out with friends and family, avoid any real connections, and communicate less with others, there’s something you are harboring. You have a “Who cares?” or “What’s the point?” attitude.
4. You take things personally that may not even be about you.
Instead of asking questions to clarify, you make assumptions that the person is purposefully pushing your buttons or has it out for you. Not everything is about you. Maybe the person is having a bad day or has a lot on their mind.
5. You complain A LOT, sometimes about the same things, and you overgeneralize negative experiences.
When someone disrespects you, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, a bitterness that stays with you. After that happens, it’s difficult to see others in a positive way, so the negative experiences pile up until that’s all you see. Sometimes you talk about the same bad experiences over and over again, like you are still holding on to that feeling for dear life.
6. You think the world owes you something.
When you have a big chip on your shoulder, you feel wronged and like life is unfair. You also start to feel powerless and the more you try to ignore that feeling, the more defensive and bitter you become.
If you’ve seen these signs in yourself, it’s probably time to talk to someone about it. Bitterness often comes from feeling hurt. Talking to a professional helps you explore the underlying issues and develop healthier habits that can foster a great sense of resiliency and peace. A professional therapist can help you lift that weight off of your shoulders and free your mind and spirit for amazing life experiences. It’s time for change.
The Relationship Dance
Sometimes relationships can start out like a book or movie with intrigue, romance, lust, and novelty. The thing about books and movies is they always have a beginning, middle, and end. The story is expected to have some dramatic transition that affects the outcome in some way. The characters then resolve the issue and go on living normally, if not happily. However, when you’re in a committed relationship, you experience many transitions and there is no end. You have a continuous string of moments together. I like to think of the moments as dances. Sometimes the dance is the waltz, where you glide along smoothly, moving close together, smiling. Sometimes the dance is the tango – full of passion, ups and downs, pushes and pulls. Sometimes the dance is the cha-cha and you take steps forward and backward. The interesting thing about viewing moments in a relationship like dances is that for the dance to work, each person must anticipate their partner’s moves. The pair have practiced it so many times that they know how the other person will respond. The partners influence each other so that when one missteps, the other is affected. When one leads, the other follows. Successful dance partners keep practicing with the goal of togetherness in mind and the emotion behind the dance conveys this goal. Similarly, satisfied couples respond in ways that keep them moving together because they have a fondness for each other.
It is easier and makes more sense to maintain togetherness, even during arguments, when you have fondness and admiration for your partner. You remember that even though you aren’t getting along in the moment, you still want to be with the person and will turn toward him or her instead of away. Having this basic foundation is key to building a lasting relationship. In therapy, I address this with my clients by first assessing where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Then, I invite couples to participate in activities that help them build fondness and respect for one another. Turning toward and having fondness and admiration are key themes of Gottman Method Couples Therapy, a research-based model.
By viewing your relationship in terms of a dance that takes practice, you are opening yourself up to emotional growth, new possibilities, and new-found joys with your partner that have been waiting to be expressed. Although you may be out of sync on some days, the music keeps playing, creating new opportunities to try again.
While the holidays are meant to be a joyful time spent with loved ones, for some it is a very emotionally difficult time. For some, the holidays amplify feelings of loneliness and disconnection from a partner, family members, or oneself. You may be experiencing these feelings and have been coping by turning toward destructive behaviors like hostility or conflict, alcohol or drug use, overeating or under-eating, not sleeping or sleeping too much, excessive spending, or isolating yourself. You may be feeling stressed and reluctant to fully open up, yet wanting to make a change. Instead of spending more money on temporary fixes, why not give yourself a lasting gift that will transform how you feel about yourself, your relationships, and your future. The gift is therapy.
Here are some ways that therapy is helpful:
1. Therapy provides support and guidance to help you take your life in a new direction.
Change is hard! It takes courage to imagine a better life and actually do something about it. The first step is taking responsibility by accepting where you are in life and making a commitment to change your situation. Therapy helps you gain insight about yourself, allowing you to heal and grow so you can move toward self-improvement and a more fulfilling life. Counseling provides the support and guidance you deserve.
2. Therapy is the place where you can open up without fear of being misunderstood or judged.
How often do you avoid sharing your thoughts and feelings for fear of being judged? How often do you share your thoughts and feelings only to be disappointed by the responses? Do you feel ignored, feel belittled, or does the advice you receive do nothing to help you? Therapy is a chunk of time to focus on you and feel free to openly express yourself without knee-jerk or careless reactions. Imagine feeling fully accepted and validated while being thoughtfully challenged to grow as a person.
3. Therapy provides long-lasting benefits.
Does therapy require that you invest your time and money? Yes. Will it provide you with an experience that will prove beneficial well beyond its completion? Definitely! Therapy gives you the tools you need to learn self-reflection and avoid triggers and damaging patterns whenever you are faced with a difficult situation. It also gives you the confidence to be yourself, which is the key to meaningful relationships.
So this holiday season, instead of suffering silently amid a frenzy of played-out holiday jingles and shopping sprees, give yourself permission to be self-oriented and let therapy help you focus on making yourself jolly. Because you deserve to be happy.
Ilianna Luna is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Owner and Director of Happy Home Therapeutic Services, a private practice center in Plantation, FL. Ilianna enjoys helping people see their lives in new ways with new possibilities.