When Is it Time to Seek Couples Counselling?
If you are part of a long-term love relationship you are likely familiar with the ups and downs that accompany it. The nature of being intimately involved with someone you share your life with is that inner and outer conflict will arise as you try to meet each others needs.
All relationships go through difficult seasons. Some of the time challenges are a result of external stressors such as a job loss or death in the family and may resolve themselves once the stress is relieved. Other times, the problems are more about the connection between you and your partner and feel more deeply rooted. These may include communication issues, a lack of intimacy, or feeling misunderstood and lonely.
If the relationship has a solid foundation, external stressors will put a temporary strain on the relationship but they won’t usually break it. It is the internal stressors that tend to lead to more chronic problems, and need to be addressed as early as possible. So how do you know whether you can work through it alone or if you need professional help? If any of the following resonate with you, it may be time to talk to your partner about couples counselling.
The same issues keep going unresolved
This is probably the biggest reason couples seek out help. The same issues keep coming up and they feel like they are going around in circles. Typically in these situations there has been a past hurt that has gone unresolved, or there is an underlying need that isn’t being met. The couple will start fighting about something, usually innocuous, and the memory of the hurt or reminder of the unmet need is triggered. You think you’re fighting about dishes but in reality you are fighting about something that happened between you years ago.
The past is preventing you from moving forward in the present
If previous relationships have left you feeling hurt and unable to trust, you may struggle to give and receive love in subsequent relationships. The damage may not have occurred in a romantic relationship; it can go as far back as your early childhood relationships with your main caregivers. Those primary attachments often determine your attachment style in later life and if those bonds were traumatic or unhealthy, you may see repeated patterns of behaviour in yourself or your partner that stem from childhood. In many cases individual counselling may be required before it’s time to seek couples counselling.
There has been an infidelity
In a monogamous relationship an infidelity is often devastating and very challenging to recover from. With hard work the couple can move past the betrayal but trying to do so without couples counselling is extremely difficult. Both must take responsibility for the problems that lead to the betrayal in the first place and a new relationship with renewed trust must be built.
You or your partner wants an open relationship
As relationships progress over decades a sense of inertia can set in. The couple may long for the excitement they first experienced and want to explore other connections outside of their relationship. Going from a monogamous to an open relationship can bring up many issues around trust and security. The couple must have a solid foundation and be very clear about the boundaries around opening up the relationship. It is rarely a good idea to explore an open relationship when there are issues in your current relationship, as a secondary relationship will likely put strain on the first. Exploring your reasons for an open relationship in couples counselling will help you determine whether this is a healthy decision for you both.
Physical and/or emotional connection is minimal or gone
The biggest needs in a long term love relationship are for a strong physical and emotional connection. People often seek couples counselling when one or both are missing or when there are varying needs between the two partners. Therapy will usually delve into the reasons why the connection has waned and the needs of each partner for both.
You (or your partner) are questioning your feelings
It’s common to go through periods in a long-term relationship where you don’t feel in love with your partner. This can be both disconcerting and confusing. Does it mean you shouldn’t be with your partner anymore? Usually, no. Periods of disconnection and external stressors can put pressure on a relationship causing fights and consequent feelings of irritation and anger. It’s rare to feel in love with a person whom we are constantly fighting with. This doesn’t mean the positive feelings can’t be cultivated or won’t come back. Therapy will help you to determine if the two of you no longer love each other and would be happier apart, or if those feelings can be revived.
You don’t feel able to talk to your partner about your needs
We all have needs in our relationship, from emotional and physical connection, to validation, alone time, and being heard. If you feel unable to talk to your partner about unmet needs, it may be because you tried in the past and nothing changed, or you are afraid to express your needs. Sometimes we believe our needs are too much or we aren’t worthy of having them met. Whatever the reason, being able to meet your partner’s needs and have your own needs met is an important part of a healthy relationship. In couples counselling you will receive help in expressing your needs and addressing why you or your partner is having difficulty meeting the needs of the other.
If you are still unsure about whether couples counselling is right for you, reach out to a local therapist for a consultation and they can help you decide if you would benefit from professional help. I personally offer couples counselling in Surrey BC.