How do you know if it’s time for couples therapy?

All relationships are different.  Sometimes, couples seek therapy when the fighting is bad.  That’s a good reason.

Sometimes, couples seek therapy when they have stopped fighting because they don’t even talk anymore.  The resentment feels like a wall between them that keeps them at  a distance from each other.  That’s a good reason too.

In my experience, whatever the reason is to seek couples therapy, the most critical warning sign is this:

Feeling lonely in the company of your partner.

Loneliness in a marriage is excruciating regardless of whether it stems from angry conflict or quiet resentment.

It hurts to be lonely in the presence of the person who you chose to be there for you.

Often couples wait until the loneliness is excruciating and the tension has become unbearable.  Many people think that seeking couples therapy is a sign that the relationship is in trouble.  However, getting couples therapy before there is a crisis is ideal.

Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell tout couples therapy for their relationship’s success and are a prime example of how seeking therapy is a sign that the couple values their thriving relationship and keeping it healthy.

All relationships have ups and downs. We build a history that is not always rainbows and puppy dogs.  It may not always feel like it, but working through the struggles creates meaning in relationships. Fighting through the hard part makes it worth fighting for.

So how do you know when it’s time for couples counseling?

Research by the Gottman Institute indicates that Contempt, Criticism, Stonewalling and Defensiveness (the Four Horsement, as Gottman calls it) are strong indicators that the relationship is in trouble.  Feeling contempt from your partner or constantly criticized or shut down are all pretty good indicators that the relationship is in trouble.  But in my experience, research matters less than intuition.

If you’re feeling disconnected from your partner or your intuition is telling you that something isn’t working, that’s the clearest indicator that it’s time to get couples therapy.

Reach out for help before the disconnect grows.

Value your relationship’s health while you still like your partner.  It’s a lot easier when you like them.  Couples therapy is far more painful when you can’t stand the person you’ve chosen.  Waiting for contempt, criticism, stonewalling and defensiveness to creep up sometimes creates unnecessary suffering.

If you’re feeling the distance between you and your partner expanding, your resentment growing, or a sense of loneliness in your partner’s presence, those all indicate that it may be time to reach out for support.

Will couples therapy save the relationship?  Maybe.  And maybe not.  Sometimes good therapy means helping a couple dissolve a relationship cleanly instead of wasting more time making each other miserable.  And that possibility is the #1 reason people hesitate to reach out for support.

But here’s the painful reality–

Loneliness is often more painful in the presence of another. Would you rather suffer in a an unhealthy relationship or be alone?

And for most people, relationships are clouded with the desire to hold on to the life you’ve built with your partner.  Children, assets, property– it may be that you’ve built a life together.  A life worth holding on to.  There’s shared history.  Co-parenting with a partner is easier than co-parenting with an Ex.  It’s a lot to consider and so much at stake.

Improving communication, developing healthy sexual and emotional intimacy, and rebuilding connection allows couples, and families, to thrive.  When both partners show up ready and wanting to prioritize their relationship, relationships can transform hardship and struggle into depth and meaning.

by Whitney Boole, LMFT

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