When I decided to write this Top 10 list, I sat down and thought about all the reasons why couples come to see me. As you can probably imagine, I very quickly realized there are way more than 10 reasons; however, there are some common themes I have observed over the years. No couple is the same, so whether one of these resonates with you or several of them resonate with you, maybe it’s time to get some help.
Also, I should mention that this doesn’t only relate to couples who are married in the eyes of the law. So many couples today are not getting married at all or getting married much later. If you’re in a long-term relationship, you can attend couple’s counseling too. Many of the same issues apply.
1. Premarital Counseling
In the last twenty years, there has been a major shift in how couples approach marriage. Given that 49 percent of marriages end in divorce, it makes sense to give yourself the best possible chance to enjoy a successful marriage. Many couples understand this and seek out pre-marital counseling to help build a strong foundation before they tie the knot.
There are many things to think about before and after your wedding that don’t include flower arrangements or color schemes. The more important items to consider: learning how to effectively communicate so that both of you feel heard; how to identify each of your needs; learning how to determine who’s needs are the higher priority when you disagree; family planning, financial planning, life goals, lifestyle, hopes, and incorporating your new extended family (I never much liked the connotations associated with the term “in-laws”), just to name a few.
Even if you think you’ve covered it, it’s good to seek the guidance of a professional. If you’ve never been married before, you might be forgetting to address a topic or maybe you assume that you are on the same page. But, are you really? If you have been married before, let’s talk about what this new marriage will mean for you and how you can make this one better.
2. Before Making Major Life Changes
Let’s take a minute to define ‘major life changes.’ I’m not talking about buying a new couch or upgrading the TV. I’m talking about major renovations to your home, a big move (perhaps that means away from family for your partner’s job), trying to start your family (Are you both ready right now? What if you have trouble getting pregnant? Or the other end of the spectrum, what if you have twins? triplets?), changing jobs or starting your own business… together! (new hours, new location/commute, new pay structure). These are just a few examples of changes that can cause stress in a relationship.
3. Differing Parenting Styles
One parent wants to let the baby cry it out, while the other wants to run into the room, swoop the baby up out of the crib and rock him/her back to happiness. This theme can intensify as your children get older, so my recommendation is to get ahead of this as quickly as possible, even if just one of you recognize there may be problems. The sooner parents seek coaching, the better it can be for both you and your child. As a parent of three, I can vouch for this personally and professionally.
Whether you are contemplating it or it’s already happened, the emotions and thoughts going through you and your partner right now are something you both need to face. Processing the likely intense feelings that almost always occur, without a mediator, can get real ugly very fast. You might be surprised when I tell you that marriages in crisis are not the only ones prone to infidelity. Even happy couples cheat. And there are different kinds of cheating, not just physical extramarital affairs. Let’s get to the ‘why’ the affair(s) happened to see if there is a real opportunity to work through all of this.
5. Intimacy Issues in the Bedroom
Now when I say this, most of you thought to yourself “not enough sex.” Maybe you don’t have the same insatiable attraction to your partner as you did when you first met or got married. That can be true, but also consider this: too much sex. Yes, it’s a thing. Your or your partner may be using sex to fill a void of something else that’s lacking in the relationship. Sometimes sex can also be used as a weapon of sorts: either demanding sex or withholding sex are common themes.
6. Roommates vs. Lovers
You’re starting to feel like you and your partner are just roommates who occasionally have sex. You come and go and treat each other with common courtesy but the flame that once separates this person from the rest of your friends is dwindling. You’re a high five away from friend zoning your partner. Contrary to popular opinion, this isn’t necessarily the proverbial “beginning of the end”. It turns out that relationships are not fixed. Who you and your partner were when you met is probably not exactly the same as who you are now. We change as individuals and so we also change as couples. Don’t assume the worst. Talk to someone if you’re not sure what all of this means.
7. Contemplating Separation/Divorce
If the thought has crossed your mind, even if only in passing, it’s in your best interest to seek counseling. Now, this isn’t to say you’re going to ‘save your marriage.’ Yes, there are issues that can be solved where the couple stays together. On the other hand, maybe you’re only staying together for the kids. Is that really a healthy situation? Therapy is not successful or unsuccessful based on whether or not a couple stays together. I’m not in the business of forcing relationships or molding you. I’m in the business of helping you get to the root of the problem and helping you find a solution that works for both parties. Most couples I work with discover healthier ways to deal with these challenging situations that so many couples encounter.
8. You’ve Decided on Divorce
So the decision has been made— one or both of you decide that you want a divorce. Are you sure? Does it have to go straight to divorce? Have you considered a trial separation? Or do one or both of you believe that divorce is the only option? Now what? How do you tell the kids? What and how much will you tell them? How will you continue to co-parent? What will the living arrangements be? If you don’t have kids, how will you tell your friends? What will you tell him? How much? How can you keep this as friendly as possible and not drag it out? What will your new relationship with your ex look like? What is appropriate and inappropriate for you both? You may be thinking, “Well, that’s what the lawyers are for.” Trust me when I say, if you go into the divorce with a well thought out plan, it will be easier on you, your partner and your family. The help of a marriage counselor can be very helpful when navigating these choppy waters.
9. Grieving a Loss
There are all types of losses that we can encounter throughout our lives: loss of a job, a financial reversal, a medical condition that changes the course of a life, friends move away, death of a loved one, or any other loss that impacts our ability to function. Whether you’re newly married and haven’t experience loss together or you’ve been married years and you’ve suffered several losses, it’s never a bad idea to seek professional help when grieving. Every loss is different and knowing how you can be supportive to your partner and go through your own grieving process is so important. Counseling can also help speed up the recovery process.
Almost every couple I see has some issue with communication— not enough or too much. Maybe your partner reacted to something you said because they heard something different. Maybe you keep having the same fights over and over, because you’re not communicating in a way that your partner understands. Communication can really make or break a relationship. You can never stop improving communication skills.
I’d like to leave you with one final thought…
Relationship and marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, tells us that on average couples wait about six years to seek help in their marriage. That’s six whole years of being unhappy, building resentment, continuing negative patterns of communication and trust; six years of dwindling intimacy to a point that it’s practically non-existent the day you walk into my office. It’s going to take a good deal of effort to help you both to repair and reconnect while rebuilding back trust and communication. It may take a bit of time to learn how to fall back in love with your partner. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait six years; don’t even wait six months. You and your partner deserve better.