It's not uncommon for prospective clients, as well as friends and family to ask me if a little rough patch in their relationship requires marriage counseling/couples therapy or if they could work out their problems on their own.
I typically respond with, "Do you ignore small fires in your home and only call 911 when your house is about to burn down!?" In which I hear back "No!"
Just as we are quick to call the fire department, it's paramount to call for help early, rather than let hotspots get out of control.
While my response may seem self-serving, since I am a couples coach trust me when I tell you it’s not.
TELLTALE SIGNS YOUR RELATIONSHIP NEEDS COUPLES Therapy
Following are red flags signaling your partnership is heading into or is in trouble.
Constant Criticism. You or your partner, or both of you, are constantly criticizing the other. The criticism is more than a complaint. It is personal and disrespectful.
Contemptuous is the Norm. Eye-rolls, sarcasm, and ingratitude show up whenever you are interacting with each other. You view your partner as an enemy to your happiness and vice versa.
You’re on the Defensive. One of both of you is not apt to accept the partner’s perspective or offer any apologies.
You’re Emotionally or Physically Distant. You or your partner have withdrawn to avoid any kind of deep conversations or conflict. Arguments stop. You don’t spend time together anymore and your relationship is sexless. The closeness between the both of you is fading, and a sense of loneliness has been slowly creeping in. This is called “drift,” and it is a common precursor to divorce.
Fantasizing about Escape. You or your partner begin to think “What if?” and fantasize about greener pastures. What if we lived apart? What if I could be with so-and-so? What if I never married him or her?
Negative Thoughts Override The Positive. The relationship experiences “overriding negative sentiment,” which is when one or both partners consistently sees the negative side of problems or each other. Are you giving greater weight to the negatives more than the positives? If so, then the negativity bias has likely become confirmation bias. The negative exchanges crowded out the positive stuff, thereby “proving” your negative beliefs about your partner.
The 3 A’s. Adultery, addiction, or abuse is present in the relationship. These are couples who need the help the most. They are dealing with serious issues that can cause emotional and physical harm to the partners and the family. Healing and recovery from these traumas will require the help of a skilled couples therapist.
Know the warning signs and proactively keep your family safe. Prevent any damage that may be irreversible. Couples should not wait until they are in a desperate state before they seek professional help.
Research has shown that couples who seek help early have the best chance of lasting and thriving even during difficult times. This is for your own benefit.
Getting help early—even when the relationship is fulfilling and happy—averts disaster.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, you are not alone. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224. You can also visit the website.
What Happens When Issues Are Prolonged?
According to Dr. John Gottman, founder of The Gottman Institute, unhappy couples wait an average of six years before seeking couples counseling. This is six years of chronic conflict, resentment, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, drift, fantasies, and negative bias. Even worse, it may be six years of the 3 A’s.
This is unfortunate because timing is everything.
The effectiveness of couples and marriage counseling is directly related to the motivation of the partners. Motivation can be lacking when problems are too ingrained, and past hurts have been festered for too long. Their quality of the interactions has burned to ashes and rebuilding the house will take time, work, and herculean motivation.
RELATIONSHIPS TAKE WORK
Marriage remains a risky business. According to the statistics by World Population Review, (as of 2019) 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Second marriages have a 60% chance of divorce and third marriages have a 73%.
Those statistics confirm that it’s always a good time to seek professional guidance to help you learn, and re-learn, the behaviors and skills for relationship happiness.
Whatever you do, never wait. Waiting and hoping for things to get better is never the answer.
Don’t ignore warning signs. Don’t allow hotspots to grow and reduce your love to ashes. Protect and strengthen your home by learning and mastering foundational relationship skills.