Rough patches in a relationship are fairly normal when you enter a long term partnership. Fights can break out and disagreements arise, but certain couples are capable of handling these scenarios on their own.
However, while a couple may still love each other and like to stay together, certain issues may seem unresolvable when tackling them one on one. In certain scenarios, handling complex topics or having talks in front of a relationship expert can not only create a safer space in which resolution may occur, but can strengthen partnerships and mend personal and relational pain.
“Most issues within a couple start small and then grow in size when they don’t get resolved. This is where therapy can help, by giving tools and techniques to improve conflict resolution,” explained Kristie Overstreet, a licensed mental health counselor. “The majority of couples that I work with say that they should have started therapy years earlier.”
But when are you supposed to involve a relationship specialist? How are you supposed to know when things have gotten to the point when a counselor is absolutely necessary?
To help make that decision, here are a few tips to determine if you need, and when to go, to relationship counseling.
Communication, sex, and trust issues
As the core tenants of a long lasting partnership or marriage, keeping communication, trust, and sex alive and open is key.
When communication is halted in a relationship, and when ‘he said’ ‘she said’ arguments arise, it is constructive to have a third party present to facilitate open, meaningful emotional expression and come to a clear and truthful answer to certain conflict.
Therapy teaches couples how to communicate with each other in a positive manner that works,” writes Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert. “The type of communication a person grows up around tends to strongly affect how they communicate in their adult relationships. Counseling can help couples make a conscious choice of communication style and not just fall back on what they know from their history.”
Sexual discrepancies can also take a toll on a couple. When sex is healthy and loving, it can heal wounds and bring couples together. When it is bad, it can send both parties into a frenzy and bring out anxious tendencies, embarrassment, anger, and pain.
Sex therapy is certainly an option for some and, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, it can involve initiating experimentation, sensate focus, education, and (once again) communication strategies.
In helping with communication and sex, trust can be formed if previously broken. Trust is a major component when participating in a stable relationship, and counseling can educate and assist couples with understanding the process of regaining trust, and provide tools and direction to help.
Relationship stress is overwhelming
When a relationship is on the rocks, stress from conflict or unhappiness can disrupt our everyday lives.
Relationships can break from stress and also be the very source of our stress. If there is conflict, stress from unresolved issues with your partner can easily seep into your work life, your friendships, and your relationship with yourself. It can even affect our dependence on certain substances like alcohol and drugs that we look to for temporary relief from life stressors.
It is important to know when the relationship is causing more harm than good on your psyche. But it is also important to discern whether the relationship is causing stress, or whether other life forces are hindering your ability to love and communicate with your partner. External forces could be at play when it comes to the dissolution of a partnership.
“It may not be immediately apparent that it’s stress that’s causing you to say unkind things or be unresponsive when spoken to,” says relate.org.uk. “They may feel it’s something they’ve done. This can obviously be very upsetting and frustrating – both for the hurt caused and confusion about why it’s happening.”
Regardless of where the stress is coming from, however, a relationship counselor is professionally trained to untangle the mess of our lives and help us fix what we or others have broken.
Lack of teamwork
Your partner shouldn’t just be a burden. Working together is important to sustain healthy, long lasting relationships.
Everyone has different goals and interests, but when it comes to long term relationships it is important to have a sense of teamwork to tackle large life obstacles and to plan for a future together. Dividing housework, financial responsibilities, and childcare evenly with your partner can be a major stress relief and produce a strong sense of security and bonding in a relationship.
However, sometimes when things get busy, it is easy to see how two partners can drift, each concerned with their own priorities and own interests in mind. This can not only lead to friction when coming together, but can set off a chain reaction of distancing behaviors.
Psychotherapist and relationship expert Nicole McCance says that, in her practice, she often assigns teamwork exercises to help rebuild partnerships and strengthen bonds. “So, if you are feeling as though you and your partner aren’t on the same page and lack communication skills, try doing an extracurricular activity together once a week, where you have to act as a team. Try a dance class or team sport, any activity where you support each other. Don’t play against each other,” she says.
The right time, the right therapist
If you are experiencing any of these difficulties in your relationship, it may be time to sit down with your partner to discuss getting professional help in repairing your relationship.
And when it comes to couples therapy, finding the right guidance is important. For information on relationship counseling, try to search online for reputable resources before launching into a session. Not only do you want to feel comfortable, but choosing professional, proven care is key to giving your relationship a fighting chance.