We all know the popular phrase, “If you have to work hard at a relationship, it’s probably not the right relationship.” I completely disagree. For most people, relationships are really challenging. Relationships naturally ebb and flow and the ebbs can be painful and confusing especially when we don’t have anyone to guide us through them or positive modeling to draw from.
Sure, it makes sense to question a relationship if it has a lot of challenges. But unfortunately, our culture portrays intimate relationships with a skewed set of assumptions, one of them being that if you think you need couples therapy, then something must horribly be wrong.
There is a lot of fear, shame, and general misconceptions about couples therapy, which sadly, can leave folks feeling more confused about how to handle and accept the challenges we all inevitably experience in our most intimate relationships.
For most people, relationships are really challenging.
Of course, as a therapist, I am pretty pro-therapy myself. But I’ve always felt that when life presents us with challenges we can’t handle on our own, it’s important to reach out for help. We go to the doctor when we are sick. We hire trainers when we want to be in better shape. We get a massage when our backs hurt. We hire executive coaches when we want to figure out our next career move. So why is it that couples therapy remains taboo for so many?
Let’s dig into the misconceptions about couples therapy and talk about the nine signs that your relationship could use some work with a trained professional.
1. You Argue Constantly
We’ll start with the obvious. If you and your partner can’t have a conversation without it turning into an argument, it’s time to get some help. Couples are going to have fights, but a lot of couples don’t know how to fight successfully. The main goal of an argument is identify the problem, process feelings, and work towards solutions. But far too often couples get caught in a cycle of reactivity, defensiveness, and blame. Couples therapy can teach you and your partner how to diffuse arguments and effectively communicate so that you stay away from damaging behaviors that negatively impact your relationship.
2. You Keep Having The Same Arguments
All couples have perpetual problems. However, most repeated fights are not really about what they seem to be about. In fact, they tend to happen because something in our past is being triggered by a present experience, even if it’s minor. Our partner might do something that evokes memories of being bullied, betrayed, or falsely accused in the past and we are actually reacting to our history rather than to what is actually happening now. Couples therapy can help build awareness of these triggers and help you and your partner get out of these negative loops.
Couples therapy can teach you and your partner how to diffuse arguments and effectively communicate.
3. You’re in the Midst of a Big Life Transition
Therapy isn’t just for the hard times! It can also be a place where you and your partner discuss and explore ways to best handle big life transitions. Whether it’s moving in together, engagement, marriage, having children, or relocation, a therapist can help you anticipate what’s to come, prepare for changes ahead, and help you work together as a team to achieve your shared goals.
4. Your Sex Life Has Shifted Significantly
There are a lot of reasons why couples stop having sex. Here are some of the most common reasons I hear from patients:
- We’re too busy with kids/work and don’t have time
- Our spark is gone; I’m not attracted to her/him anymore
- I’m waiting for him/her to initiate; I’m tired of being rejected
- I’m just not that sexual of a person
- He’s/She’s obsessed with Internet porn and has nothing left for me
- It just feels like we are friends, our relationship doesn’t feel sexual
A therapist can help a couple see below the surface to understand what’s causing a disturbance in the sexual equilibrium of the relationship and support you in getting your intimacy back on track.
5. You Have Different Views About Money
If you’ve ever bickered with your partner about money you are certainly not alone. Almost every couple will have some fight about money. Financial concerns are among the most common sources of disagreements for couples. You may disagree on how money should be spent or saved, worry that you don’t have enough money, or feel out of control in your financial life together. Seeking professional help from a trained therapist can help a couple de-escalate this hot topic and help you get on the same page with your finances.
6. You Want Different Things Out of Your Relationship
One of the trickiest parts of being in a relationship is when you and your partner disagree about how you want your relationship to function, but you still dig each other and are compatible in so many other ways. One of you might want to be monogamous while the other wants to me monogamish. Or one partner will want marriage and children while the other doesn’t. Some people know what their deal breakers are, while for others it’s not so black and white. A couples therapist can help you figure out if your relationship goals are compatible.
Couples therapy can save a relationship.
7. You’ve Had An Affair—Or Are Thinking of Having One
Infidelity is a top reason couples seek therapy. There are a myriad of reasons why people have affairs, but more often then not, infidelity is a symptom of disconnection in the relationship. Some of the most common themes I hear are that one or both partners feel alone, feel controlled, feel stuck in negative patterns, or feel they don’t get any affection and they don’t know what to do about it. If you’re thinking about breaking the boundaries of your relationship it’s better to ask your partner to go to therapy with you now, then have to deal with the consequences of an affair later.
8. Your Partner Wants To Go To Therapy
More often than not, one partner is terrified to go to couples therapy. They might think, “Well if we need therapy we might as well end the relationship now because it means our relationship is doomed!” Or, “It’s you who has the problem so maybe you should go to your own therapy!” It is rare to have a couple come to therapy and have both partners genuinely wanting to be there. Usually, at first, one person wants to be there more, and that’s ok. The good news is that the other partner agreed and showed up, even when they were skeptical. It is a sign of care and respect to go to therapy if your partner asks you to. Maintaining a healthy, happy relationship requires us to make choices that leave our ego behind and to act in the best interest of our relationship rather than just our self.
9. You Think You Want To Break Up/Divorce
Couples therapy can save a relationship. And sometimes couples therapy can help two people say goodbye to one another in a loving way. That’s right, some couples come to therapy to break up. Patients are often surprised when I tell them that sometimes a relationship cannot be saved. Sadly, couples often wait far too long to get the help they need. The longer a couple waits the more entrenched their issues become, making it harder and sometimes impossible to heal. If you and your partner have ongoing issues you can’t solve on your own, consider reaching out for help sooner than later.