5 Arguments That Might Mean It's Time for Couples Therapy, Relationship Experts Say

These types of conflicts can signal deeper issues that warrant professional help.

Conflict isn't just normal in relationships—it's actually a good sign. Being able to argue with your partner means you feel safe expressing your opinions, feelings, and needs. That said, not all fights are productive. Experts say there are certain arguments that might mean it's time for couples therapy.

According to Domenique Harrison, a licensed marriage and family therapist, healthy relationships often go through a continuous cycle of harmony, disharmony, and repair. However, "When partners find themselves in conflict, are stuck in disharmony, and are ill-equipped to repair, it may be time to see a couples therapist," she says. "The longer the disharmony remains, the longer feelings of abandonment, resentment, anger, and disillusionment go unresolved."

With that in mind, here are five types of conflict that may call for outside help.

RELATED: 5 Body Language Signs That Mean Your Partner Wants to Break Up, According to Therapists.

1
Arguments over boundaries with family

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Maybe your spouse's mother is a little overbearing, or their father frequently shows up at your house unannounced. Perhaps your own parent has been undermining how you raise your kids. If you and your partner often argue about setting boundaries with in-laws, you're not alone.

"Couples commonly have differing feelings about how involved parents or in-laws should be in their lives," explains Hannah Yang, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Balanced Awakening. "One partner may feel like mom should be allowed over at any time, and the other may feel like mother-in-law's presence is unwelcome at some points and would prefer more privacy."

Yang says it can be extremely beneficial to see a couples therapist if this is a persistent issue in your relationship, as a professional can help facilitate more respectful discussions where you and your partner can express your thoughts and emotions and feel heard by each other.

"Couples therapy would also help them work through a solution or compromise to what boundaries to set which can feel good to both members of the couple," she adds.

2
Arguing to "win"

young black man pointing his finger at black woman putting her hands out while they argue on the couch
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In a healthy dynamic, you fight to understand each other—and of course, find a resolution. If you and your partner are always focusing on being "right," that can destroy intimacy over time, says Harrison.

"Interestingly enough, being right or winning the argument feels good and comforting to us, but unfortunately, it results in us moving away from each other rather than drawing closer and collective learning and exploring," she tells Best Life. "A good couples' therapist would help the couple to see and name this pattern, explore how good 'being right' feels to the couple, and invite them into growth and 'good' discomfort to become relationally closer."

RELATED: 8 "Small But Toxic" Things to Stop Saying to Your Partner, According to Therapists.

3
A never-ending fight about housework

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Shutters

According to Yang, housework is one of the most common topics that couples argue about repeatedly.

"If it keeps coming up time and time again, it means that there's an underlying need that one partner has in the relationship that is not being met," she says. "This could be a need to feel taken care of to have their feelings acknowledged."

Since fights about divvying up the housework are usually about a deeper problem, Yang recommends seeking a couples therapist to get to the root of the emotional need. Specifically, she suggests seeking out someone who's trained in Imago Relationship Therapy, as they can teach you a useful tool called the Imago Dialogue.

"The Imago Dialogue is a structured way of communicating that emphasizes safe, slow, mindful communication by teaching mirroring, empathy, and validation," she explains. "Through an Imago Dialogue, the couple can express and hear the underlying needs behind the conflict."

4
Arguments about an imbalance of effort

Shot of a young couple looking frustrated and arguing in the lounge at home
iStock

Relationships take work. Sometimes, one partner has to pull more of the weight—say, because the other is dealing with a serious health issue, had a death in the family, or is just overwhelmed at their job. But ideally, your contributions should ultimately balance out.

When one partner feels that they are giving more physically, financially, emotionally, or spiritually, Harrison says that can lead to mounting resentment, anger, and frustration. This can be a difficult problem to untangle on your own, which is why she advises seeing a couples therapist.

"A good couples therapist will identify the patterns of each partner's 'giving to' the relationship, explore what if any manipulation tactics—people pleasing, gaslighting, mindreading—are present, and invite the couple to step into awareness, stand in their integrity about their needs, and renegotiate individual and collective contributions to the relationship," she explains.

RELATED: 5 Signs Your Marriage Is Divorce-Proof, According to Therapists.

5
Conflicts that don't lead to taking accountability

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One of the most important components of an argument is taking responsibility for your part. It's the only way that you and your partner will be able to learn from your mistakes, as well as repair and heal from the conflict. So, if one or both of you aren't able to acknowledge or apologize for your missteps, it might be time to see a couple's therapist.

"Partners often need each other to take responsibility for their actions but haven't created agreements or defined each person's role," says Harrison. "A good couple's therapist will define how our caregivers might not have directly taught us skills to be more accountable, help the couple create agreements that benefit both partners, and name how rigidity, the experience of threat, and feeling overwhelmed leads us to experience one another more negatively."

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Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more