By the time most couples attend their first counseling session, they are far down the road toward irreconcilable differences. There are many reasons they wait so long. They think the problems aren’t really that bad and they can work it out. They tell themselves that time will take care of it. Life and responsibilities distract or get in the way of sincere efforts to work on the relationship. No matter the reason, the more distant or strained a relationship becomes, the harder it is to repair. So, if you recognize problems in your relationship, begin by asking yourself, How important is my relationship to me?
A good follow up question to consider is: How important is it for me to work on making my relationship strong and healthy? It is all too easy to let your relationship become the backdrop as you focus on attending to the many different facets of life. But if you value your relationship, it’s essential that you make a conscious effort to nourish it.
Do what you can to come together with your partner to address problems that arise, but know that there are times when you probably need the help of a therapist. Here are some of the most common signs that it’s time to seek counseling:
- You don’t enjoy each other’s company.
- There is a lack of affection. This might signal negative or hostile feelings. Or, it might reflect a lack of feeling.
- You lead parallel lives. If you make attempts to connect, you still seem to miss each other.
- You feel alone even when you are together.
- Every little difference of opinion leads quickly to tension. Most attempts to discuss disagreements end in heightened conflict or avoiding each other. Both of you feel misunderstood and criticized.
- You are defensive in each other’s company. Because you are primed to protect yourself, you are each quick to see negativity in your spouse’s comments.
- You keep secrets. With a sense of distance or being at odds, you tend to avoid talking about much that is important. You might also lie about things you think your spouse would disagree with or hold against you.
- You have thoughts of having an affair… or you are already involved in one. This includes emotional affairs. (In an emotional affair, you are not physically intimate, but you likely share personal experiences that you don’t share with your spouse. You also either don’t tell your spouse about the person, or you minimize their importance.)
- You feel more like adversaries than a team. You may not care if they are upset, or you may even want to hurt them (most likely because of how much they’ve hurt you).
- You don’t feel any warmth when you think of your spouse. This is true even when you reflect on your early days of dating and your wedding.
- Your trust is broken. This is a tough one. Though you may feel that broken trust can never be repaired – such as after one of you has an affair – this is not necessarily true. Marital therapy has helped many couples regain trust, albeit slowly, and rebuild a relationship that’s stronger than ever.
- You don’t respect your spouse and may even feel disdain for them. (At this point, even marriage counseling may not be able to revive your marriage – though you might still try it, if you are truly motivated.)
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to consider getting outside help. While marriage counseling is not a cure-all for relationships, it does offer a better chance at a happier future together.