Couples therapy gets a bad rap, with many believing it’s a last-ditch effort. But it’s not. Just as your car needs a tune-up after so many miles, so too does your relationship. The licensed professionals work with couples to help resolve conflict and increase satisfaction by gaining an understanding of their dynamic. There’s no wrong time to seek an outside perspective on your relationship. But, just like putting too many miles on your station wagon before bringing it to the shop, by the time most couples get there, it’s too late.
“The sad fact is that most couples wait seven years too long to seek couples therapy,” says Bina Bird, a marriage and family therapist in Haslet, Texas. We asked a variety of relationship therapists to offer some signs you might need to attend a therapy session, ranging from making plans without considering your partner to favoring the kids over your spouse. Keep them in mind, and act accordingly. And remember: There’s nothing wrong with having a third party give your marriage a tune-up.
If You Make Plans Without Thinking of Each Other
Whether you’re considering taking a job in Ulaanbaatar or just getting In-n-Out for dinner, you ought to think of your better half. “If you’re intentionally — or even subconsciously — not wanting your partner to participate in your plans, it may be time for you to see a counselor,” says Kimberly Hershenson, a relationship therapist in New York.
If One Partner Believes the Other Is More Responsible For Relationship Problems
This is actually a subtle version of contempt, the same thing responsible for more overt animosity known by John M. Gottman as “sulfuric acid for love,” points out Kerry Lusignan, a licensed mental health counselor in Massachusetts. “Covert contempt is the most damaging to a relationship. It comes across in both verbal and nonverbal ways and can be very destructive.”
If You Argue About the Same Topics and Don’t See Any Progress
The third time is not always the charm. Nor are times four through 37, necessarily. “This is the best part about having a second set of eyes looking in at your relationship,” says Julia Colangelo, a family therapist in New York City. “Research shows that unless there is some level of professional or spiritual intervention that leads to significant change, those arguments, clashes, and mannerisms that negatively impact your marriage will only further deteriorate your marriage.”
If You Think About Going to Couples Therapy
The fact that you’re even considering it could be a sign. Maybe you’re not ready to admit yet that it’s time. Remember, we aren’t programmed to know how to function in relationships. “We all learn, just as we learned how to sit during class and raise our hands,” Colangelo says. “Think of a couples therapist as a teacher, helping to teach you both skills to communicate, compromise, disagree kindly and effectively, and build a better relationship.”
If Either of You Has Mentioned Divorce
If the word leaves either of your mouths, “You know things are serious,” says David Woodsfellow, a clinical psychologist who runs The Woodsfellow Institute for Couples. “Couples therapy can help you understand what each of you needs to change if you hope to stay together.”
If One of You Favors the Kids Over the Other
Important as the kids are, neglecting one’s spouse in favor of the kids is counterproductive, says Dr. David Simonsen, a marriage and family therapist in Washington. “It creates disunity in the home. Your partner has to make up for the favoritism which in turn ends up hurting the other kids in the home.”
If You’re Holding on to a Past Relationship
Significant others tend to look upon this as keeping pots on the stove, Simonsen says. “If you are holding on emotionally to a past relationship, it means you’re leaving emotional space for someone other than your current partner.”
If You Feel “Blah” About Your Relationship
Nothing cataclysmic needs to happen for a relationship to hit the skids. “You just have a feeling that your relationship is not what you want it to be or hoped it would be,” offers Bird. “Therapy can help any time things start to not feel right, whether due to increased conflict, decreased friendship, or outside stressors such as adjusting to a new baby or becoming a blended family.”
If There’s a Not-So-Great Feeling in Your Stomach When You Come Home
Your gut can be a useful measurement for more than the caloric content of your diet. As in, it can tell you something about how you feel when feelings aren’t exactly clear-cut. “Does your heart sink when you see her car in the driveway?” says Amy McManus, a therapist in Los Angeles. “Are you anxious or frustrated when you hear the door open, signifying that your partner is home? If your first reaction upon reuniting with your partner is disappointment, you would definitely benefit from couples therapy.”