When should a couple seek counseling? In almost 28 years as a counselor I would say that at least 1/2 of my clients have come to therapy for relationship difficulties. A great number were marriages in trouble and many were seeking help as a “last ditch effort” to avoid divorce. (Though research shows that less than 5% of couples seek counseling before getting divorced. ) So…when should a couple seek counseling? For many the answer would be “years earlier!”
As researcher Dr.John Gottman has reported, many problems in marriages continue for up to 6 years before anyone seeks help. Given that the average marriage lasts 7 years, its clear that many people live with unhappiness and relationship distress far too long. What would happen if we waited that long before seeking medical attention for something wrong in our bodies? Marriage therapists agree that more couples can be helped if they seek help much earlier and that the odds are against success if you wait too long. What we’ve learned about early detection and treatment in the field of medical survival rates is also true in the area of couples counseling.
Here are a few “red flags” that might indicate therapy could benefit you as a couple:
1. You have problems communicating.
- Do you find that whatever the issue, it seems to quickly escalate?
- You can’t bring up issues.
- Nothing gets resolved.
- You fight over the same things again and again: You’re stuck.
- You have difficulties listening, understanding and validating each other’s position on issues.
2. There is a growing sense of distance or alienation, and a lack of enjoyment of each other.
3 Your sexual intimacy is diminishing or changing. (One partner could be feeling arousal from another source.)
4. You have experienced a family trauma – a death, bankrupcy, etc. – and one or both partners can’t seem to adjust. It’s affecting your marriage.
5. You have financial disagreements that you are not able to resolve, or one partner is withholding decision-making power.
6. There are conflicts due to parenting styles or in deciding whether or not to have a child(ren).
7. Or perhaps, you are being pro-active! You love each other and want to learn some new tools.
Couples counseling doesn’t cause divorce or save marriages. But it does give you a safe place with a trained, impartial and non-judgmental professional to help you discuss issues and work toward a better, more satisfying relationship. And isn’t that something we all want?