There was a time when couples therapy was spoken of in hushed whispers, when outside help was sought only in absolute worst-case scenarios. But now nearly half of married couples have been to couples counseling, and more and more people come into our offices before things get really bad or so they can get ahead of potential issues.
Remnants of stigma against therapy are still very present, however, in some cultures
and communities more than others. And research shows that couples wait an average of six years after identifying a problem before seeking help. So how can you know when the time is right for you and your partner?
Reasons to try couples therapy
If you’re in a relationship crisis, such as after sexual, emotional, or financial infidelity, it may seem obvious that assistance is needed. But while crises are often what get people through the door, I’d recommend considering help as soon as you notice a sticking point or a pattern of disconnection—before things feel too hopeless.
Here are three other common reasons couples seek therapy:
- To help them through a major transition, like a move or having a baby;
- When there’s a stressor affecting the relationship (financial shifts or health issues);
- When there’s a recurring problem they can’t seem to work through (difficulty managing family dynamics, money, or religion, or different sexual desires).
But the issue may be more nuanced: Are you feeling less connected? Are there topics that are hard to talk about? Do you feel unheard or misunderstood? These are all great reasons to seek support, and the process of healing may go more smoothly when you start talking about the problem before wounds have scarred over.
If you think you can fix things on your own, ask yourself why that hasn’t happened already. Remember, no one taught us in school how to maintain a healthy relationship, and there’s no shame in seeking out expert guidance. The right therapist won’t take sides but will help you make decisions that are in the best interests of both you and your partner. They can help you identify patterns in which you’re stuck, and teach you how to have tough discussions in a more productive way. And since it’s all confidential, you’ll retain privacy to an extent that turning to friends and family doesn’t allow for.
You don’t need to be married or even in a monogamous relationship to be in therapy. Therapists sometimes have particular specialties, so if you’re unsure about whether your issues are a good fit with a therapist, request a consultation.
When couples therapy isn’t the best option
There are a few situations in which couples therapy is not indicated: Research shows that those who are in emotionally or physically abusive relationships or relationships involving untreated addiction or substance abuse have better success with individual therapy for each partner.
Bottom line: Even if you have different ideas about what’s going wrong, deciding to go to therapy is a commitment to taking each other’s concerns seriously and a statement that you’re willing to do the work. Agreeing to walk through the door of a therapy office with an open mind is a way to say “I care.”