There is a common misconception that couples must be “in crisis” to seek counseling for their relationship. The truth is that couples counseling can be a valuable tool for any couple looking to strengthen their relationship. And seeking counseling early on can prevent small problems from developing into much bigger ones.

So, when is the right time to find a couple’s therapist? That is a question you and your partner must decide, but many relationship experts agree that there are situations that require professional support, such as:

–Intimacy feels stale or is non-existent

–You are living very separate lives from your partner

–One or both of you is thinking about having an affair

–You feel like you don’t really know your partner anymore

–One or both of you keeps big secrets: friendships or finances for            example

–You cannot agree on how to raise children, deal with in-laws, or make   long-term plans

–You feel bored or numb about your relationship

Another strong indicator is when you are facing a major life transition: getting married, changing careers, deciding whether to have children or moving to a new location. The birth of a child or the death of a parent can also cause upheaval in a relationship.  Having a safe and neutral support person during difficult times can serve as an emotional safety net when things are particularly difficult.

Like all types of therapy, couples counseling is not a quick-fix solution, but rather a ‘process’ that, over time, can help couples to:

–Improve communication

–Increase emotional intimacy

–Resolve conflicts effectively

–Build trust

–Enhance overall relationship satisfaction

A skilled therapist will help you and your partner identify and understand the emotional patterns that play out in your relationship.  Keep in mind that you and your partner come from different families (and possibly cultures) and each of you was influenced by the relationships you witnessed as children.  One of you may have seen conflict resolved quickly and the other experienced conflict as something to be avoided or ignored. So, when a disagreement shows up in your relationship, those old behavior patterns feel “safe and comfortable” even if they are not ideal for emotional growth and intimacy.

While it can be challenging for couples to recognize patterns in their relationship, a trained therapist with a “fresh pair of eyes” can provide different perspective and serve as a neutral third party. Very often, couples have the same disagreement over and over, often over trivial issues such as who does the dishes. A good therapist can help you understand unmet needs that might be fueling these repetitive arguments.

Couples counseling –like individual therapy—can be an effective tool to improve and enhance relationships and foster personal growth. It is not a sign that your partnership is in trouble. Rather, it is proof that you are in a relationship that you want to work on!

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About the Author: Maureen Cary
My first career was in journalism and corporate communications before I embarked on my second career raising four children. I returned to graduate school when my eldest started high school, earning a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Boston College. I enjoy indoor and outdoor fitness, acrylic painting, live music, traveling, spending time with my husband and adult children, and keeping food away from my mischievous yellow Labrador.

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