People often wonder if they should be considering couples counseling when they encounter some rough spots in their relationship. Is it really necessary? Will it really help? Are we not able to solve this one on our own? It can seem puzzling to figure out whether couples counseling is called for, or how to even make such a decision. So I’ll let you in on a little secret that should make this much easier for you.
As with most problems in life, the sooner you attend to it, the better off you will be. Dental work is much less costly and painful if you catch a problem when it’s just starting than if you’ve got a tooth that’s been rotting away for a long time. Cancer patients have much higher survival rates when the cancer is caught early. And relationships fare significantly better when problems are nipped in the bud instead of lingering unresolved for years, with resentment building up throughout.
Consider how much easier it would be to talk to your partner about something they did that bothered you — say they came home late and didn’t call to let you know — if it happened one or two times versus if it had been happening for six years despite your requests for change. When there is six years of anger bubbling underneath the conversation, that is a much harder conversation to have. There will be more passive-aggressive behavior, more lashing out, more defensiveness — all behaviors that are not very conducive to improving the relationship.
Or how about a couple that is finding their sex life is dropping off? A temporary dip here and there, in times of stress or busyness, is totally normal. But if you are not happy with your level of physical intimacy over an extended period, the sooner you take a good look at it the easier it will be to resolve. Three months of celibacy is a discomfort; three years is an agony. Patching up the sexual relationship while dealing with the anger and frustration coming from that agony, not to mention the embarrassment, is going to be a much more arduous task.
People often worry that it’s going to be too uncomfortable, or too expensive, or not helpful. The truth is that it might very well be uncomfortable and expensive and unhelpful. But it might not be — and the idea is that if you find a good therapist who is a good fit for you, it is very likely to be worth your time. As I often point out, it can be uncomfortable to look at the problems in your relationship, but it is generally more uncomfortable not too. Living in a long-term relationship that is missing important components is an unhappy lot; so is losing a relationship that could have been a great one. Much like setting a broken bone, it may be unpleasant in the moment, but the future pain you save yourself is well worth it.
So too for cost – many divorce lawyers have pointed out to me that marriage counseling is far cheaper than divorce! Moreover, people are rarely thrilled at the end of a divorce process. It’s generally hard on everyone and all parties lose out (except, of course, the lawyers). In this case, the lower-cost option — counseling — is actually usually the better one. (That’s not to say that divorce isn’t sometimes necessary — it just means that sometimes, it isn’t.) Research has shown many times over that couples counseling can be effective, and that even in severe situations things can be turned around. But why would you want to wait for a severe situation when you can tackle it when it’s a molehill and not a mountain?
Couples counseling is not a punishment or an admission of failure that needs to be avoided or left to a last resort. Just the opposite — it is a sign of strength to be able to acknowledge that you are not perfect, that you don’t know everything, and that you are willing to turn to someone else for help. And most people who go through it and come out the other side feel like they have been given a great gift, not a prison sentence.
If you are wondering whether couples counseling is a good idea for you, I urge you to try it. You have little to lose and everything to gain!