When to Seek Couples Counseling or Marital Therapy

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Have you ever wondered if your relationship is on the right track?  Have you thought about seeing a professional but weren’t sure it would be helpful?  You’re not alone.  Research from The Gottman Institute on couple’s therapy has found that couples wait an average of 6 years struggling in unsatisfying relationships before seeking help.  By the time they arrive to their first couples counseling appointment, there has often been a buildup of hurt, betrayal, and emotional distance.  Many view counseling as a “last ditch effort” to avoid divorce when commitment and trust are already very low.

Couples counselors universally agree that therapy could be much more beneficial if people sought care years earlier!  Research has shown that couples are at greatest risk for separation or divorce during key points in their relationships.  The first is around 5-7 years into the relationship when conflict is high.  The second is around 10-12 years when intimacy is low.  However, less than 5% of divorcing couples ever seek couples counseling.  They miss an incredible opportunity to experience their relationship differently, to learn skills that help them managing conflict more effectively as well as increasing intimacy.

Couples counseling is most effective when both partners are motivated to change and are committed to working toward a healthier relationship together.

Here are some “Red Flags” that may indicate it’s time for you to consider couples therapy:

  • You don’t feel like good friends anymore. You’ve lost a sense of mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.  You may feel like your partner does not really like you anymore and/or you’ve lost a sense of fondness for him too.
  • You stop trying to listen and understand each other. Conflicts occur in every relationship and most of them are unsolvable even in the happiest of couples.  However, if you find yourself arguing to win rather than to understand each other, these conflicts create greater pain.  You may even avoid bringing up difficult topics for fear that your partner will either dismiss your concerns or respond negatively.
  • You feel growing distance from your partner. You just don’t feel connected anymore.  You may have stopped communicating with your partner about the little details of your lives.  You feel like you’ve lost touch with each other’s passions, dislikes, hopes and dreams.
  • Your sex life and physical intimacy has diminished. While every relationship goes through changes over the years as we adjust to having children, aging, and various health conditions, couples still need to find a way to reconnect intimately on a regular basis that is mutually satisfying.  If you no longer want to be physically close to your partner (even to hold hands or snuggle), then this indicates a lack of emotional intimacy as well.
  • You and your partner engage in toxic behaviors.
    • Criticism: pointing out faults, name calling, blaming
    • Contempt: expressing superiority toward your partner
    • Defensiveness: protecting your point of view and avoiding personal responsibility
    • Stonewalling: feeling so emotionally overwhelmed that you disengage and don’t respond
  • You’ve experienced a recent trauma, loss, or major life event. Managing stressful life events can create a burden on your relationship.  You may find yourselves feeling overwhelmed and alone in the midst of the changes.  You may be struggling to learn new ways to support one another and feel connected.
  • You want to be pro-active! You love each and just want a “tune up” to learn skills that will keep your relationship strong to weather any storm.

Couples counseling is not intended to “save” relationships or “cause” divorce.  However, it does provide a safe space to work with a trained, impartial, non-judgmental professional toward building skills that can improve the quality of your relationship.  And this is something most of us want.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. at Linden BP based on research from The Gottman Institute. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment for individual or couples therapy with Dr. Smith, contact LindenBP at 440-250-9880.

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