You and your spouse used to vibe like peanut butter and jelly. But now you seem to come together like oil and water. Is it time to send for reinforcements — in the form of marriage counseling?
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Admitting you need help can be both scary and humbling. But it can also lead you to a happy ending: a healthy relationship built on open communication. Clinical psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD, shines a light on relationship red flags — and how couples therapy can help you deal with them.
5 signs it may be time for couples counseling
Marriages are like fingerprints — no two are the same. Each partner brings a set of hopes, dreams, personality quirks and family baggage to the relationship. And when you mix the two together, it can be fireworks, a firestorm or both. That’s why Dr. Borland says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to figure out the best time to seek help.
“Earlier is generally better, but it depends on the couple’s dynamic,” relates Dr. Borland. “For some couples, counseling happens when one partner is finally willing to go — though that’s often when the relationship is on the brink of divorce or separation.”
By paying attention to these signs, Dr. Borland says you may be able to pull out of the fire before your house burns down:
- Bad communication: Your home is either really loud (from all the yelling) or very quiet (silent treatment, anyone?) “I often have couples say, ‘It feels like we’re having the same argument over and over again.’”
- Lack of physical or emotional intimacy: “People tell me, ‘We live like roommates. There’s no sexual chemistry in our marriage anymore. We’re just kind of passing each other in the hallways.’”
- Broken trust: You suspect your partner is lying. Or you know that you definitely are. Perhaps there has been infidelity. But cheating comes in many forms. “It doesn’t have to be physical, person-to-person infidelity. Trust can be broken through actions carried out online or while using social media.”
- A major life change: “The birth of a child, the death of a loved one, moving homes, a new job or retirement — these changes have a huge impact on your marriage.”
- Addiction: “An addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography or spending can strain a relationship.”
The benefits of couples therapy
To have a healthy relationship, Dr. Borland says you need three tenets: good communication, honesty and trust. Couples counseling can help you restore — or even establish — all three.
Marriage counseling can:
- Improve communication so you both feel heard, understood and connected.
- Strengthen the emotional bond between partners.
- Increase cooperation.
- Reduce stress.
Like the tooth fairy, the idea that couples therapy is a one-way ticket to separation or divorce is a myth. According to the American Psychological Association, marriage counseling works about 75% of the time. Those in abusive relationships and those already actively separating make up a big portion of the remaining 25%.
“There are plenty of couples whose marriages have been strengthened and saved by marriage counseling,” notes Dr. Borland. “When my patients express that their marriages are doing better, they often say, ‘We’re laughing more. We’re doing things that are fun.’” And who doesn’t want more fun in their life?
How to find a marriage counselor
Finding the right counselor can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. So where should you start? Dr. Borland suggests these resources:
- The American Psychological Association.
- Psychology Today.
- Your insurance company.
Once you identify the person who will hear your deepest, darkest secrets, Dr. Borland recommends giving it three or four sessions before you pass judgment. “But I tell people it doesn’t matter if I have diplomas from the greatest universities in the world. If you don’t feel like you can talk to me, then this is all for nothing.”
And don’t worry. If you or your spouse feel like you just don’t connect with your new life coach, it’s OK to keep searching until you find a counselor that clicks.