Do You Need Couples Therapy? These 5 Questions Will Tell You
Don’t wait until things are falling apart.
Near the end of my marriage, my husband and I went to couples counseling. But it was too little, too late. I’d already made up my mind to leave, and my heart stayed home while I sat on that therapist’s couch.
For lots of couples, it’s the same story. Counseling is a last-ditch effort to save something that’s been deteriorating for a long time – often, too long to be fixed. And in some cases, maybe it shouldn’t be fixed. Sometimes it’s best not to drag out a relationship that was never meant to be. But other times, people just need a little help getting unstuck from a bad pattern or learning some new communication tools – before things go too far downhill.
Kirsten Bell and Dax Shepard, one of Hollywood’s most adorable couples, aren’t shy about sharing how counseling has helped their relationship. “We went to therapy early on to learn what our pattern of arguing was,” Shepard said on Good Morning America. “In my previous relationship, we went to couples therapy at the end, and that’s often too late. I thought maybe an ounce of prevention this go-around would be advisable.”
“You do better in the gym with a trainer; you don’t figure out how to cook without reading a recipe,” Bell told Good Housekeeping. “Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about.”
Not sure if you and your partner should bring in a professional to help you sort out your issues? Your answers to these five questions will help you decide whether it’s time to get yourselves onto the couch – before it’s too late.
Do you have the same fight over and over?
This isn’t arguing about whether to go out or order in for dinner; everyone has that fight. But it might be the way he rolls his eyes at you when you disagree, making you feel invalidated and furious. Maybe one of you wants to move to a new city, or have kids, or change jobs, while the other doesn’t. Or it could be that he’s still friends with his ex, or that one of you wants to have more (and kinkier) sex.
Whatever the issue, if it keeps coming up again and again, pay attention. “When you’ve gone over the same thing a hundred times and aren’t any closer to resolving it, that might be a sign it’s time to see a therapist,” sex and relationship therapist Stephen Snyder, MD, tells Prevention.
Do you fight fair?
How often you fight might not be as big a deal as you think; it’s the way you fight that really makes the difference. If you can’t learn to handle conflict in a way that doesn’t tear the two of you apart, there’s not much hope for your relationship – because every couple is going to have conflict.
A therapist can give you tools that make a huge difference in the way you fight, and help you practice them. No one is born knowing this stuff; it’s not a sign that your relationship is doomed if you need a little help. A couple can fight every single day and still have a healthy relationship. Many do. The key is knowing how to fight fair. Then you can take conflicts in stride.
Do your issues have to do with things outside of the two of you?
If the things you’re fighting about stem from things happening outside your relationship – illness or addiction, job loss, stress within the extended family, problems with exes or children from a previous relationship – it’s a good idea to talk to a professional sooner rather than later.
“It can be hard for people to stay connected when they’re dealing with a lot in their personal life. When you just don’t know where to turn, you should absolutely get some extra support,” New York City-based marriage and family therapist Rebecca Hendrix told Prevention. The bottom line? When the issue is bigger than the two of you, don’t try to handle it alone. Individual therapy for each of you, or for the one of you dealing with the sticky issue that’s hurting your relationship, can be helpful, in addition to couples counseling.
Has negativity overtaken your relationship?
Relationship guru John Gottman, PhD, bestselling author of several classic relationship self-help books, says couples need to have five positive interactions to balance out just one negative interaction. So it makes sense that it’s pretty easy to get pulled into a negative spiral and forget all the things you love about your partner after a bad week, never mind a tough few months.
If you’re at such a deficit of positive interactions that it feels like you’ll never make up that five-to-one ratio, it’s probably past time to see a therapist. But go anyway. It’s never truly too late, if you both care about the relationship enough, and are willing to work on things.
Are the two of you little more than roommates?
Once the spark has gone out of your relationship, it can be tough to reignite it. A sex-starved relationship can sometimes be resuscitated, but often, the lack of sex goes much deeper. “A lot of times if you’re not connecting physically, you’re not connecting emotionally,” Hendrix told Prevention.
How often should you be having sex? Consider that the definition of a sex-starved marriage is one in which you have sex fewer than 10 times a year. So, you could be getting busy almost once a month, and clinically, you’re still in trouble. You don’t have to do it every single day, but if you’re having sex less than a few times a month, it’s time to see someone – or call the whole thing off.
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