Time for Couples Counseling?
By: Costa Provis, LCPC, CPC
Relationships take effort. Or at least they should. You have to work at having happiness within them. It’s all too easy to take your relationship (and partner) for granted though, and stop putting forth much effort at all. Most relationships begin with going out on dates, creating new, fun experiences together, talking and learning about one another.
Then gradually, the fun seems to fade and in its place there is routine, responsibilities, and the potential neglect of the relationship. Quite often people see couples counseling as a final resort before breaking up. If only folks were more proactive when it came to working with a trained relationship expert, rather than reactive once they’re fed up and can’t take any more negativity.
To me, it’s the difference between solving a problem and avoiding the problem all together. And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s ever “too late” to start, and solving a problem is certainly better than ignoring it. But here are 5 signs that you may want to be proactive and consider couples counseling to avoid future resentment or animosity:
- You are about to make (or recently have made) a major transition together. Things are going really well and you’re thinking about moving in together, getting engaged, or having a child. All wonderful and exciting things! It may be a good idea to take this proactive step early on to get on the same page and avoid potential frustration and disappointment down the line. Adjusting to major changes in life can be difficult, especially when there’s two of you involved. Get ahead of possible stress and conflict by talking about your assumptions, fears, expectations prior to being in (or as you’re adjusting to) the new experience.
- You find yourselves arguing more I constantly hear that “we are always fighting over little things” and surprise over getting so fired up over something “petty.” More often than not you come to realize that the real issue is something entirely different. Pent up frustration that isn’t being vented along the way, usually leads to some type of explosion. Figuring out what it’s really about, helps couples start to really resolve their “issues” and stop cycles of negative communication. Counseling is certainly a good venue to talk about and process some of those triggers and figure out the tools to be able to resolve conflicts along the way.
- There is generally less communication, or different styles of communication. This could become a vicious cycle and usually does. The longer you are in a relationship, the more you know your partner, the more assumptions you tend to make. You can assume conflict, and in an attempt to avoid it you might decide not to express yourself. The path of least resistance. Unfortunately this usually leads to suppressing your emotions and eventually resenting your partner. It becomes a cycle in that the more you wait until you are mad to talk, the more you associate talking with fighting, and therefore the more likely you are to not express yourself. Instead, counseling can give you the tools to talk about your frustrations when they are at a level one or two, instead of a nine or ten. Calmer, more proactive communication, can be extremely helpful in any relationship.
- There is less affection and intimacy than before. While there are many factors that can play into this, sitting quietly is never the answer when it comes to intimacy. This is such a vulnerable part of your relationship, that it becomes easy to view your partner through a negative lens when you are feeling disappointed by them. Sometimes there are physical changes that may have you feeling less attracted to your partner, or perhaps you have been hurt due to recurring experiences of rejection, or maybe you are burned out from work. Whatever the case, it is very important for the long-term happiness of your relationship that you address these concerns and try to align your overall expectations. Make plans and try different things, but talk it out and work together. If you are feeling rejected by your partner, it may just be that they don’t realize it; that complacency has kicked in, and it’s time to create a jump start.
- Trust has been violated. As I mention throughout this post, being proactive is very important when it comes to seeking out couples counseling. However, after an infidelity or trust violation of any kind it can be extremely helpful to participate in couples counseling. For starters there are usually unresolved feelings of pain, anger, and hurt that should not be ignored. But there are also a lot of expectations involved with trying to stay together for the immediate and long term future. Quite often you may not even realize what they are, but your expectations at this moment will really dictate if and how you will be able to move forward. It’s a crappy thing to deal with, but if trust is broken and you’re choosing to stay together, couples counseling will help both of you. Talking things out with an objective third person in the room should help you each gain clarity, and help figure out the path moving forward (not to mention gaining insight into what led to infidelity in the first place).
In conclusion, relationships can be full of happiness and satisfaction but many variables can get in the way. Being proactive in addressing both the positive transitions and various concerns in your relationship, as well as learning the skills to effectively communicate, share affection, and cope with trust issues are all reasons to at least consider couples counseling.
It’s never too late in your relationship to try counseling, but please try not to look at it as a last step, but try to think of it as training for success – the more you train ahead of time, the more success you typically will have.