15 Signs You Should Go to Couples Therapy
If you're struggling while quarantining together, it may be time to seek marriage counseling.
With couples spending more time together than ever before, tensions could easily rise. Since we don't know when social distancing will end, it's definitely in your best interest to patch things up with your partner to ensure a peaceful atmosphere at home. The odds are you both have a little more time on your hands, so now is the perfect moment to give your relationship an overhaul, or even just a tune-up. And while you may not be able to see a marriage counselor in person at the moment, virtual couples therapy is still an option you should consider.
Most experts suggest attending couples therapy proactively, or at the first sign that something is off. Genesis Games, LMHC, says, "You don't have to wait until you are reaching your breaking point to seek couples therapy. Couples therapy is most effective when preventive rather than reactive." There is no shame in asking for a little help, especially if it will save your marriage down the line. The warning signs may be difficult to spot, so we reached out to relationship experts to compile a list of some surefire signs that you should seek marriage counseling. And for more professional marriage advice, these are the 50 Best Marriage Tips of All Time, According to Relationship Experts.
Your partner isn't listening.
If you're feeling like your partner is hearing you but not really listening to what you're saying, that's a clear indication that it is time for couples therapy. While you have been quarantined together, you've likely been doing more talking than usual—if you find that your partner has begun to tune you out or placate you rather than offering genuine help, there is an issue.
"A lot of problems stem from how we communicate with our partners or, conversely, how we don't communicate," says Chris Leeth, PhD. "The overwhelming majority of problems I see boil down to a very clear issue, which is made very complicated by communication and then overshadowed by emotion."
You're forever stuck on the same issue.
If there's one sticking point that every conversation, argument, or discussion seems to end with, it would be wise to book a session ASAP. "If you come back to the same initial hurt or wound no matter what the subject is, your negative dance becomes pattern, and it becomes hard to break through and do something different," explains Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT.
Therapist Rachel Elder refers to these reoccurring issues that keep coming up as gridlock issues. Elder feels "it is helpful to have a therapist navigate you through gridlock issues to help shift the conflict resolution patterns you are engaging in."
Everything your partner does annoys you.
It can be challenging to be stuck inside with someone for weeks on end, even if you love them. A few annoyances here or there is reasonable, but if you find that your partner is constantly rubbing you the wrong way no matter what they're doing, you should reach out to a therapist.
"A very subversive sign that marriage counseling may be a good idea is if a person starts feeling resentful towards their partner," says Leeth. But resentment can be tricky to identify. "Resentment creeps in very slowly. A sign that it may be seeping in is if you start getting annoyed easily (and consistently) with your partner," he says. So if they ask you if you'd like to watch TV, make dinner together, or do something else as a pair, and your gut reaction is to sigh and wish you were doing something else, you're probably in need of some outside assistance.
One of you doesn't like how the other uses social media.
"For some couples, social media isn't a problem at all," explains Leeth. "This is usually because both individuals agree on the role, nature, and use of social media." It seems reaching out to exes has become a phenomenon during quarantine, which could make social media a stickier subject.
When one person isn't on board with how the other uses their social channels, it can become a major source of strife in a relationship. "One person may be OK with having exes on Facebook, while the other is not," Leeth notes. "One person may think that social media is for close friends and family only, while the other is much more inclusive."
The best fix here is to discuss boundaries in marriage counseling, where therapists see this conflict all the time and can help speed up the process of resolution.
Your relationship stunts your individual and collective growth.
A relationship should function as a support system for growth, but when the relationship becomes limiting, it can grow toxic quickly. "Stunted growth is a clear indicator that couples need therapy to help them remove the old tangled roots and branches which aren't life-sustaining, the ones that sometimes appear to be healthy, but are actually draining the life out of the healthy parts over time," says life coach Hilary Porta. If your partner is not encouraging you to reach your full potential, they are limiting you. And for more expert tips, discover 17 Daily Habits That Keep a Marriage Healthy, According to Therapists.
You can't stop fighting.
While constantly coming back to the same problem is a sign of trouble, not being able to agree on anything is another issue entirely. You might be fighting for sport while stuck inside, or perhaps you didn't realize how much tension had grown between the two of you until there was nowhere to run from it—either way, endless arguing is concerning.
"If the couple keeps fighting but not about a singular issue—in other words, they are finding more things to argue about—then marriage counseling might be able to help figure out why there is so much turmoil, or if one or both people want to even continue with the relationship," says Leeth. Allowing an unbiased party diffuse arguments can help you figure out the real cause of the strife.
You never fight.
"Believe it or not, it's a better sign when you are fighting with your spouse than when you're cutting them off or shutting down. When you fight, it's still a sign of engagement," says therapist Lauren Cook. If you never fight with your significant other, it could be cause for concern because it symbolizes your lack of care about the relationship.
"When people become indifferent about a relationship, there are reasons that underlie that, and those issues need to be addressed if the relationship is going to survive and thrive," says Robert Weiss, LCSW. Apathy can definitely be the enemy of passion.
You're not having sex.
"Sex is the glue that holds the relationship together through difficult times," says Melanie Greenberg, PhD, author of The Stress-Proof Brain. "While all couples go through occasional dry spells, a chronic lack of intimacy may be a signal that something is wrong in the relationship," she notes. If you're finding yourself averse to sex even in quarantine when there is little else to do, that is cause for concern. A therapist could have some helpful suggestions on how to reignite the spark and bring intimacy back into your life. And to learn more about married sex, here are 15 Ways Your Sex Life Changes After Marriage.
You think you might need it.
Sometimes, you just know. Spending more time at home together may have shed some light on issues you hadn't realized existed. It's best to acknowledge those problems and seek help right away, even if they don't feel like a big deal.
"I find that most couples arrive at counseling later than they should," says Thompson. "Oftentimes couples think that coming to therapy is a huge sign that they are having major problems and that their relationship is a total failure. Perhaps they haven't been together very long or feel they should be able to get through their challenges on their own." The sooner you get to therapy, however, the less repair work there is to do. So if you think you may need counseling, just go for it.
You're thinking about getting married.
Yes, therapy before marriage is a thing—a very good one. Turns out, there's a reason many religions require counseling sessions before tying the knot. If you're planning to get engaged soon or your marriage got postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, it would be wise to use this time to embark on some couples therapy sessions together to give your relationship a solid foundation.
"Pre-marital therapy can be especially helpful," says Thompson. "It helps each partner acclimate to the idea of getting married, as well as define what their intentions are and what they envision their life being like." Plus, this process can curtail potential issues down the line. And for advice on keeping a marriage solid, check out these 21 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Marriage
You are growing apart.
There is nothing like endless quality time with your partner to make you realize you don't have much in common anymore. Paulette Sherman, PsyD, host of The Love Psychologist podcast and author of Marriage and the Law of Attraction, says couples should seek therapy if they feel they "have grown apart and do not know if they can create a shared vision they are excited about in the future." This feeling often precedes a couple looking into divorce, but if they seek help, they have the opportunity to rebuild their connection.
The "honeymoon phase" has ended.
When couples first start dating—and directly following their marriage—they are enamored with each other, and it feels like nothing could go wrong. However, this sweet, simple time comes to an end, perhaps more quickly in quarantine. If that transition is abrupt or challenging for you as a couple, you could certainly benefit from some outside assistance. Sherman says that once couples finish the "in love" or courtship phase of their relationship, they may need to learn some new skills as they begin living together and more significant issues start cropping up. She notes that if the couple begins feeling helpless or disillusioned, that is a significant sign they should be in couples therapy.
You don't know how to communicate with your partner.
Communication is the key to a healthy relationship, so if you find yourself unsure of how to talk to your partner, you may be in troubled waters. Joy Lere, PsyD, urges couples to seek help if "you find yourself holding onto thoughts, feelings, and reactions that you don't know how to verbalize or are afraid to share."
You have an ideological difference.
You may have started on the same page and slowly shifted over time, or maybe you didn't discuss an essential topic until you were already married for a few years. Either way, if you find yourselves on opposite ends of a spectrum, you may need an outside perspective to help you meet in the middle. "When there has become an ideological difference in a relationship that is preventing it from moving forward (i.e. finances, marriage, kids, retirement, etc.)," couples could benefit from therapy, according to Cassandra Lenza, LCSW.
You find yourself focusing more on the negative than on the positive.
There are a lot of negative things in the world these days—your relationship shouldn't be one of them. It is likely that at the beginning of the relationship, everything you loved about your partner greatly outweighed their more questionable qualities, for better or worse, but this feeling may have flipped over the years. Elder suggests couples sign up for therapy "when they find themselves reflecting more on negative qualities and experiences than positive qualities and experiences."
John Gottman emphasizes the importance of having five positive experiences to one negative experience in a relationship. Elder points out that "when you have more negative experiences, you will start to see your partner in a negative light and potentially respond negatively towards them."