Marriage counseling can be difficult, but it is often wise to invest time in your relationship to see if it can be improved. About 44% of couples go to marriage counseling prior to tying the knot. Research also suggests that couples therapy positively impacts 70% of couples receiving treatment. A couples counsellor is unbiased by design, so if you want to work through problems with your significant other, they can provide an outside perspective. It is also a plus that the outside perspective comes from someone who is highly trained in relationship issues. But how do you know when it’s right for you?
Signs you and your partner may need couples counseling
Dr. Gavin Shafron, a New York state-licensed psychologist and couples counsellor at Clarity Therapy NYC, says there are many different reasons a couple could start counseling, one of which is constant conflict. “I often see couples come to therapy when they find themselves in the same repetitive arguments again and again, or when they are concerned about the sustainability or healthiness of their current dynamic.”
Dr. Saliha Bava, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of The Relational Book for Parenting expanded on this: “I’ve had couples who come in and find they are…getting into conflict and they feel tension, not necessarily fighting, but even still there’s tension in the body. Something feels off and you might say she’s not listening, she’s not getting me.” This distinction is important because, while it might be obvious if there’s a lot of outward fighting, this general tension is often overlooked.
According to Bava, counseling is all about honoring each other’s differences and finding a middle ground. Sometimes a couple may not have “the language or the way to talk with each other because they are too caught up in their differences.”
Communication skills are the cornerstone to healthy relationships. Remember that the decision to enter therapy is entirely your own, but if you are struggling with issues around communication, counseling is a good place to start.
What to do if you’re still unsure
If you or your partner are still unsure if couples counseling is right for you, it’s time to do some reflection. Shafron recommends considering, “What challenges [you or your partner] about the idea of entering counseling?”
He went on, “For some, there may be fear that something will come out in the course of therapy that derails their relationship further, or at worst, ends the relationship, so the lack of readiness can be very existential. For others, there can be shame around their actions or the issues that exist in their relationship. Sometimes, it can be a combination of a number of factors.”
These assumptions can definitely get in the way of pursuing therapy, but remember that a couples counsellor is trained to be neutral. Two helpful questions to ask yourself before starting therapy are whether you feel the challenges in your relationship are already being addressed or if you feel a change needs to happen. Ultimately, the goal of therapy is always building new communication skills and healing wounds together.
Bava also recommends researching as much as possible beforehand. This doesn’t just mean a quick Google search, but actually might mean calling a few therapists to see if they feel right for you. “Most therapists that I know will do a five- to 10-minute call, and you can ask questions and see if it’s a good fit to start out with.” She also recommends trying at least three sessions before you decide for sure it isn’t for you.
When isn’t couples therapy worth it?
Counseling isn’t necessarily for everyone. As Bava explained, “It comes back to what you are looking for in counseling. If you’re seeing it as a quick fix, like a pill, it might not work. It’s a process. You have to be willing to engage in a process.”
Shafron added, “Some come to counseling with the goal of changing traits or characteristics of who their partner is. This isn’t the best use of couples counseling because therapy isn’t about changing the character or personality of another person in order to make a relationship work.” If you aren’t willing to put in the effort and do the (at times) difficult work that comes along with couples counseling, then maybe it’s time to consider other options.
Ultimately, starting couples therapy is a decision that needs to be made by both partners. It is one that requires some reflection, but if you are ready to put in the effort, it can be incredibly healing for your relationship.