Relationships are our greatest teachers…and our greatest challenges.
Ideally, our intimate relationship enhances our lives. There’s no other place in our life where we can get more fulfillment and a deeper sense of connection than in our intimate relationships because those relationships are such a big part of our lives.
Creating a life together with someone else is a very complicated business. Living with someone, raising a family together, sharing resources, being sexually exclusive, and relying on another person for so many parts of our lives…aside from our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with our partners is the most intense, complex, and potentially growth-promoting of our lives.
With our partners, we are dealing with equal power levels and an unmatched level of intimacy that we don’t get or expect in other relationships.
And if our romantic relationship is such a big part of our lives, isn’t it worth the investment of time, money, and emotional work to care for it?
The Importance of Couples Therapy
Many couples wait until the 11th hour to seek help. We often take better care of our cars and houses than our relationships!
Couples therapy is something nearly all relationships could benefit from, but many couples don’t seek it when they actually need it (or better yet, before they need it).
These couples often say “We can’t afford therapy,” or “We don’t have time” as reasons why they do not get therapy, even if they know they are experiencing problems that they may not be able to resolve themselves.
These couples often fail to consider how expensive (monetarily and emotionally) divorce or separations are, and also how much time it takes to get a divorce or to separate. When you look at it that way, couples therapy is a bargain!
Many couples also say that therapy won’t work, and I can confirm that sometimes it doesn’t. Even the most experienced therapist cannot solve problems if couples aren’t willing to work on those issues themselves, and often the reason why therapy doesn’t work is that the couple waited too long to get help.
So the best way to ensure that therapy is beneficial is to seek it when it can do the most good.
Why couples therapy is beneficial, even if your relationship is healthy
Even in the best relationships, we may have blindspots. One or both partners may have concerns that they aren’t discussing. And if unaddressed, these concerns can grow to become problematic.
Therapy is a chance to talk openly about how things are going in the relationship, to sort through concerns, and learn skills that we are lacking.
Most of us enter relationships with inadequate skills and false expectations. No one teaches us how to be in long-term relationships. No one teaches you those skills. There’s no certification course to be in a long-term relationship, and for many of us, our parents weren’t great role models for how to maintain and thrive in relationships.
We can learn to grow in a relationship and go through the ups and downs (because there will always be ups and downs in even the healthiest relationships). Therapy can be an excellent tool to help us navigate these waters and find deeper fulfillment in our relationships.
When to seek help
There are many scenarios where it can be useful to get help.
Before we get into those, I’d like to make one thing clear: seeking couples therapy is not about staying in toxic situations. It’s not about learning to live with someone with narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies. It’s not about learning to live with a partner who is just not great for you or accepting a relationship with no ups and endless down, down, downs.
But if you have a basic, underlying love for each other, therapy can be a useful tool for smoothing out bumps.
I do not believe that a couple must be experiencing massive conflicts for therapy to be useful. In fact, checking in with a therapist when everything is going well, to make a plan for maintenance, can be an excellent way to prepare for conflicts before they arise.
It can be useful to establish a relationship with a therapist you trust who can understand you and be there for the journey. That way, you can check in once a year or so as relationship maintenance. This is like getting a checkup to catch potential problems and promote ongoing health.
Sometimes couples fall into the “roommates” pattern where they feel like they’ve lost the spark. They take one another for granted, don’t pay much attention to each other, and neglect to show affection because they are distracted. This often happens when children come into the picture because the couple’s focus shifts from the relationship to the kids.
The couple is the hub of the family, so it’s vital to maintain the health of the relationship.
A warning sign that your relationship could use help is if you feel like you want to spend more time with other people or activities than with your partner.
This is a sign that significant issues are developing, which can worsen over time. The sooner you address this problem, the more likely you are to discover the underlying reasons for this drifting and to take steps to remedy it.
Get help before the gap grows too wide to bridge.
If you are constantly having spats that don’t get resolved, spinning in the same fights over and over, or feeling resentful and holding grudges, the relationship will quickly become less satisfying and possibly toxic. At this stage, couples therapy can be critical to the survival of the relationship. Without outside help, a couple is unlikely to see their harmful patterns and how to remedy them.
If things are really bad in your relationship, you’re probably aware of it. Constant fighting, threats of leaving, infidelity, indifference, addiction, and abuse are big red flags. Those negative cycles must be broken if the relationship has any chance of becoming healthy.
The trouble is, it can be difficult to break those cycles even with couples therapy, and that is why it is so important to seek help long before things reach this stage.
Care for your relationship
No matter what condition your relationship is in, it’s worth seeking professional help to maintain the health of this most precious part of your life.