Will couples counseling really improve my marriage?
Article by Don Laird, MS, NCC, LPC, DCC
Seeing a couple’s therapist is not the first step toward divorce or separation. It is not about blaming your spouse or partner for everything that is wrong in your relationship, and it is certainly not about admitting defeat. Couples need to be open to therapy, particularly if the arguments, lies, and hurt feelings are leading both to think that the relationship is permanently stuck. Couples need to be ready to work at their relationship and not expect the therapist to “fix” it for them. So, when is it time to hit the couples’ couch, you ask? Here are some indicators that couples therapy is the next step in your relationship:
Do you fear sharing your feelings with your spouse or partner? Do you feel as though it is not even worth opening your mouth? Then it’s time to consult a therapist. Couples find themselves seeking help for several reasons, but poor communication and mistrust are the two chief complaints of most couples. Communication encompasses verbal contact (how well you converse and argue as a couple), written communique (texting and other forms of electronic messages), and the all-important social cues, “Did you just roll your eyes at me!”
Being “stuck” may be the biggest sign that you and your partner need therapy. But what does “stuckness” look like? Simply put, it feels like the couple is doing the same thing repeatedly, and no matter how hard they try to change, things always end up the same or worse. In many ways, they have just given up because that is the path of least resistance.
Consider couples therapy as a proactive endeavor. I highly recommend that any couple seeking marriage or a live-in situation seek therapy before doing so. Sure, you love each other, sure you’re not your parents or neighbors, and your relationship seems sturdy enough, but why take the risk of not openly and honestly discussing how each of you might react or feel under the stress of life events like: infidelity, family issues, or financial strain? Why wait until you are in a relationship with no clue how to navigate the arguments or respectfully engage with the other, or worse yet, give up all together.
Intimacy in a relationship isn’t just about sex. It is also about our ability to be vulnerable with the other. When intimacy fades from a relationship, couples therapy is a must. Intimacy refers to the feeling of being in a close personal relationship and belonging together. It is a familiar and effective connection with another because of a bond that is formed through knowledge and experience of the other. Intimacy suffers when the space and distance created by one or both people is no longer tolerable. Sex (if it is happening at all) feels empty, moments that used to create laughter and sharing are no longer happening, and that “connection” you had, well, that seems like a distant memory. Can you hug your significant other without cringing? If not, it’s time to seek professional assistance.
Remember it is always important to consider whether your relationship is ready for therapy, but don’t throw in the towel just yet. Give it a chance. You can get all the advice and affirmations you need from family, friends, and self-help gurus, but there is no substitute for working together with a professional therapist in a space that is designed to help your marriage or relationship mature and grow.
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In Good Health,