Ok, so you’re having difficulty with your partner. Maybe you’ve had a rough week, month, or kajillion years (quarantine time). Maybe you moved in together a month before the quarantine hit and you are hanging on by a thread. You might be asking yourself: Is this the person I fell in love with? Are our relationship problems just the stress of a world-wide pandemic? Do we need couples counseling?
In this blog we’ll explore how you can tell if you could benefit from couples counseling, and whether you should wait to make the appointment. Spoiler alert: you should not.
It’s Helpful For Healthy Couples
But wait, what if my partner and I aren’t having any difficulty? What if everything is completely perfect?
Good question. Every relationship goes through ups and downs. Though you and your partner may be starry-eyed every day, that doesn’t exempt you from the hard work that comes with the territory. At some point, you’ll face challenges like everyone else. If you’ve had preliminary couples counseling those challenges will be easier to face.
How comfortable are you with communicating difficult feelings to your partner? How reactionary are you when faced with a challenge? Do you and your partner have patterns that might eventually lead to trouble? Are there small annoyances that you frequently ignore or forgive in your relationship? If they aren’t addressed, these small issues can grow into large ones.
A few sessions of relationship counseling can equip you with tools that allow you to do the proper maintenance that will keep your relationship healthy for a long time.
Do We Need Relationship Counseling?
If you recognize yourself in any of the items on this list, it might be time to get help from a licensed relationship therapist.
- You have difficulty communicating
- Patterns or traumas from previous relationships show up in current relationship
- Dealing with trauma or intolerance due to sexual orientation
- You have an unbalanced power dynamic or codependency
- You want to set a strong relationship foundation before marriage
- You are thinking about divorce or breakup but not sure
- Physical or emotional betrayal has occurred in your relationship
- Navigating a big decision (eg. new job, moving, should we have children/adopt, etc)
- Navigating a major relationship transition (eg. new parents, newly empty nested, newly retired)
- Feelings of monotony, boredom, or numbness about your partner
- Difficulty matching intimacy needs between partners
- Difficulty with, or desire to more deeply explore sex life (learn more about sex therapy)
- You want to be able to disagree without it turning into a fight
- You have the same fight again and again with no lasting resolution
- You aren’t getting something you need from your partner
- You feel distant from your partner
- You just want to have a better and deeper relationship with your partner
What Can I Expect At Couples Counseling?
Many people find the idea of couples counseling to be uncomfortable at first. It’s worth remembering that most people’s impression of couples counseling comes from TV and movies where it is either reduced to a comedic bit or overly dramatized to serve a story. Couples counseling may be portrayed as eye-rollingly trite, unfair towards one partner, or just an opportunity for exposition (“…and how does that make you feel?”).
Additionally, the issues we face in relationship often have their roots in deeply personal thoughts, beliefs, or traumas that we’d rather not discuss with our partners, let alone a counselor.
If this is a concern for you, you may safely set it aside. A good counselor will never pressure you to discuss something you’d rather not. An environment of safety where both partners are comfortable speaking, listening, and being heard is of primary importance.
A good counselor will never take sides. They may ask questions to help both partners communicate in a healthy, honest way. They may guide a partner towards understanding the other’s perspective. However, they aren’t an adjudicator—they don’t get to make decisions about who is right and who is wrong in your relationship.
It may feel as though you are placing an unknown third party (the counselor) in a position of authority for your relationship, and that idea can feel threatening. Understand that you, as a couple, are always in control of your relationship when you come to counseling. If you or your partner feel threatened by the idea of relationship counseling but feel it is necessary, be sure to discuss those feelings with your counselor beforehand.
Finally, just because you are seeing a counselor does not mean that they are going to magically save your relationship. Believe it or not, it’s not up to your counselor. Whether or not your relationship continues will depend on your willingness as a couple to work, listen, and take responsibility for your issues.
Some couples find that it may not be worth it to stay together, and that they will be happier moving on with their lives. Some couples come to relationship counseling specifically to end a deeply intertwined romantic relationship with minimal suffering, or with the goal of remaining friends. It’s never up to your counselor to decide what is best for you. Your relationship counselor is only there to help you gain perspective and understanding of how your relationship functions as it does, and present the tools that allow you to change it to better fit your needs.
When Should We Get Help?
The honest answer is that if you are asking the question, the answer is now. The fact is that the longer you wait to repair a broken relationship, the harder it is to fix. Difficulties in a relationship can be like wounds. You may be able to ignore them or work around them but that doesn’t mean they aren’t present. If they aren’t addressed, layers of scar tissue and behavioral compensations build up until the relationship reaches a critical point. It is at this point that many couples decide to seek couples counseling—as a last resort.
Now the relationship counselor has to sort and sift through layer upon layer of hurt and conflict. Resentment and retaliation have manifested event after event that must be forgiven. It may take many sessions and deep reflection to reach the real heart of an issue. Dramatic healing and transformation can take place in a relationship, but it takes real work and commitment.
It’s much simpler to build a strong foundation with couples that have a low amount of existing shared trauma. If you value your partner and want to create a healthy relationship that can last, the best gift you can give yourself is relationship counseling.
If you believe you are ready for couples counseling (and you’ve discussed it with your partner) reach out to us to get the process started.