A good time to attend marriage or relationship counseling is when:
You want to learn skills and tools to have a good or even better marriage or relationship
Or, As soon as one of you thinks you need it, even if the other person doesn’t think so.
Or, You feel stuck and what you have tried on your own is not working.
Or, One of you feels emotionally or physically/sexually disconnected and can’t seem to change it on your own.
Or, You fight or withdraw or refuse to address issues of conflict.
Or, You think your partner is what is wrong with the marriage or relationship.
Or, You are thinking you might be happier with someone else
Most people do their best to try to fix things in a marriage or romantic relationship when things are not going well. The bad news is, that often, the very things many people try to do to help, end up making it worse. That does not mean it cannot be repaired and changed to become more of what you both want. It just means that we tend to try to fix things in ways related to our own needs, fears, patterns and those are usually the very things that drive your partner nuts!
It is very common for one person to be unhappy and the other seemingly clueless that there is any problem at all. They are relatively happy. The relatively happy one tends to not want to go to counseling and will frequently say things like “If you are unhappy, you should probably get counseling for yourself.” If one person is unhappy in the marriage or relationship, it is a relationship problem. Everybody has individual issues and patterns, and those do play into any relationship. So while those need to be addressed, it is within the context of couple’s counseling that you see how they accidentally get triggered on both sides, and how each of you contributes to both the distress and the joy.
When there is distress in the marriage or relationship, one or both will usually feel some emotional disconnection. Frequently, although not always, sexual passion diminishes as well. (However, sometime one partner will try to increase frequency of sex in an effort to feel connected.) No one wants to feel disconnected form the person they are or plan to spend their life with. And often, people will busy themselves with work or kids instead, or do other things to either try to feel connected or to avoid being alone with the person with whom they feel the pain of disconnection.
Many times, couples who say they have great communication in many ways, still cannot work through conflict well. One may yell and another withdraw – or both yell or withdraw – when their buttons get pushed. But either way, the conflict doesn’t get resolved. Often people say things that are hurtful or discounting. Some just hope it will go away and act as if nothing has happened. Some even do some problem-solving, but find that after a few days or weeks, they are back to their old behavior, or that other conflicts pop up in other areas.
Part of that is because there tends to be one or two roots in each partner that fuel most conflict. If you don’t address the roots, any ‘solution’ will tend to be like a band-aid.
When couples come in, one or both tend to think that the primary problem is their partner. BOTH people co-create the climate of the relationship, day in and day out. BOTH put distress into it, often without meaning to. And, BOTH need to do some things differently to create the marriage or relationship they both really want.
Conflict is growth trying to happen. It can lead you to a better relationship – if you know how to work with it.
Find a counselor or workshop that will help you both learn the tools to work with conflict. While you do important work with a counselor, she or he should also be teaching you how to work with issues better on your own. You cannot take a therapist home with you (although many people want to!). But you can take home tools and insights that will help you not only in your marriage or love relationship, but in all relationships.
One of the saddest things to me as a counselor is when I see a couple who really have loved each other, who have issues that are very workable with a little effort, but have waited so long to get some help that one partner is simply “over” it and doesn’t want to put any more energy or effort into it. I frequently hear partners whose spouse or partner has started talking about divorce (often after having said for a year or more that they should get some help), who finally realizes they are about to lose the person they love. They get scared, agree to come to counseling and are willing to work, only to find that the person is emotionally “done” and doesn’t want to try anymore. That is a shame and sad and so unnecessary.
Couples have turned marriages and relationships around after years and years of distress – even when they felt hopeless that anything could help -- because both people value the relationship. In fact, I would say that in my experience, about 80% do with some good help—IF both do some work. Others have lost the person they love through pride, failure to take their partner’s unhappiness seriously, or who didn’t want to spend the money. To lose your marriage or relationship for those reasons is indeed sad. I see couples who will buy a new electronic gadget or vehicle or toy, go on a cruise or other vacation, but not be willing to spend anything to save their marriage or relationship. In my experience, people find money to pay for what they value, even those who say they don’t have extra money! At the same time, I also realize that there are some who truly cannot pay for counseling even when they want to. For those, there are agencies who do counseling on a sliding scale based on income. Some counselors take insurance (although insurance will not pay for marriage or relationship counseling unless you meet the criteria for a mental health disorder diagnosis.)
Don’t wait any longer. Find a good couple’s therapist. Make sure after your first or second session you feel like it is a good ‘fit’ for you. If not, ask for referrals or find another therapist on your own. Don’t lose the most important relationship of your life by default or delay!
If you have any other questions about Imago Relationship Therapy, let me know. You can also read more about it here on my website at: What IS Imago Relationship Therapy?