When Do You Need Relationship Counseling?
Unfortunately, many couples wait too long before they seek professional help. The longer you avoid the problem, the more difficult it will be to address the issues. One of the most important things you can do for your relationship is to seek help rather than “hope” that things will get better by themselves. Couples, married or not, will argue – that’s normal. But there comes a point when the fighting is indicative of a more serious problem. If you don’t address these problems, it will lead to a loveless marriage or a divorce. Some telltale signs that your relationship is in trouble include stress in the following areas:
Not Communicating: If you find that you and your partner “never talk anymore”, or that one person talks and the other doesn’t feel listened to, then you know you’re heading towards trouble. Sometimes you are afraid to speak because you fear being ridiculed or having your ideas brushed aside. Other times a person may speak but only criticize or degrade their partner. Poor communications will decrease the quality of your relationship.
Financial, Emotional, Sexual Blackmail: Your relationship is in trouble if you or your partner is withholding money, affection or sex as a way to control or punish the other person. A hallmark of a healthy relationship is one where a couple can share their feelings and be in a consensual sexual relationship. Finances are always an issue especially when there is not enough of it to go around. Couples will argue over how much you can spend and what you can spend it on. Couples disagree on how much sex is “normal”. This type of dispute is normal, but sex, money, and love should not be denied as a form of blackmail.
Kids and In-Laws: Most couples who have children will argue about how the children are to be raised. It could be something simple like eating one or two scoops of ice cream, or it could be something serious like whether or not they should go to church. The more strict parent usually ends up being the “bad cop” and that may seem unfair. Extended family members can also be a source of stress. Opinionated family members might make one partner feel like s/he is being ganged-up on.
Pet Peeves and Little Things: Experts agree that the top three things couples argue over are: money, sex, and kids. However, there are a million little things that can irritate you or your partner to the point of distraction. Gestures that seem quaint at the beginning of a relationship can drive you crazy year after years. What happened? Who changed? The answer is that you both changed and in order to maintain a thriving relationship, you need to be willing to do a little work.
What Makes a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist a true Relationship Expert?
There are lots of therapists around. Many of whom hold a license to practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, and yet, there are many who, even with that training, decide that working with both parties of a couple is a lot to manage in a session. When you are seeking a therapist to help you improve your relationship, or are seeing therapy to help you have healthier relationships in your future, it’s important for you to seek out someone who is not only holding the license, but makes it their passion to help others have the best relationships they can.
That’s where I come in. I’ve been passionate about healthy relationships for my entire career. In addition to my Masters Degree and Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy, I also have spent thousands of dollars to get trained by the masters of research in the field- Drs. John and Julie Gottman.
Anything someone can do to improve their relationship should be explored**
Well, although divorce rates for 1st marriages are not what they used to be (upwards of 67% in the 1990’s), but the rates are hovering around 40-50%. The rates are even higher for 2nd and 3rd marriages. That also is a switch. A decade ago, if a person married 3 times, they would at least have a chance of that marriage lasting, but today those marriages have a fail rate of about 75% (http://www.divorcestatistics.org/). I Know, I know, not everyone gets married. Cohabiting couples tend to report lower rates of relationship satisfaction, increased rates of financial stress and emotional instability**. Newer research into marital satisfaction appears to be linked more to age of commitment than does whether a couple marries or just chooses to live together. (If you’re curious, couples that paired up later, rather than earlier in life tend to last the longest***). As a marriage therapist, I see couples in all stages of conflict. For as much as we are all very different individuals, the basic needs for an intimate relationship are similar across demographics. It looks like we live in a world in which the union of marriage is taken lightly, but what I’ve observed is throngs of people who don’t have the emotional equipment to fix what becomes broken.
**(Side note: I would be remiss in not mentioning that when there is active domestic violence by one or both partners, or active substance abuse, relationship counseling or coaching is contraindicated. I am happy to connect you to resources in your community in which each partner can work on those more pressing problems first before tackling underlying struggles around intimacy.)