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.
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.
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.