How might you know if your relationship could benefit from couples counseling? Before answering that, it is important to define what it even means to be a couple. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a couple as “two persons married, engaged, or otherwise romantically paired.” To understand what it means to be a romantic pair, you must understand how we become paired. Two individuals become paired through the mutual desire to be in the presence of one another, connect through intimate moments, and dream of a future together.
If that is true, then how might you know when you should consider couples counseling? When you notice that your romantically paired relationship is turning toward a change in the desire to connect, it might be time to explore couples therapy. For many, the unraveling of being romantically paired goes unnoticed and undervalued for some time. Statistics show that when a couple decides to seek help for their relationship, patterns of conflict have been present for 7 years.
Below are three patterns that can emerge in any relationship that often signifies that a couple should consider couples counseling before the 7 year milestone:
1. When arguments in your relationship escalate to antagonism or silence out of a desire to not debate, the relationship could be moving toward disconnection.
Based on E. Mavis Hetherington’s 30 years of research on couples, when a couple finds themselves in antagonistic or silent patterns, they may have found themselves in a pursuer-distancer relationship. Pursuer-distancer relationships become established when one partner becomes critical or aggressive, and the other responds with defensiveness in the form of distance or silence. This cycle makes it difficult for a relationship to find longevity, and most end in uncoupling. Healthy conflict and compromise in a relationship suggest there is a collaborative passion for solving problems and a desire to stay connected despite disagreement. When a relationship pattern turns toward criticism, contempt, and defensiveness in the form of withdrawal, research shows, with over 97% certainty, that the relationship is heading toward uncoupling.
2. When situations or behaviors create a feeling of betrayal or the belief that ‘I would be happier with someone else,’ the relationship could be heading toward a physical or emotional entanglement outside the relationship.
Words like ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ carrying such essential meaning for relationships yet can remain difficult to define. Therefore what should trust and loyalty look like in a relationship? Trust and loyalty within relationships provide couples a significant level of certainty that, in any situation, you and your partner will turn toward each other and not away from one another during a conflict. That together, you can find ways to compromise and be non-defensive when dealing with perspectives that are different than your own. And more importantly, when you give your partner confidential or vulnerable information, they will hold your secrets in confidence and refuse to share them or use them against you.
3. When life circumstances leave you feeling more or less dependent on the relationship than your partner feels, the relationship could be losing the resiliency of mutual support.
Life is full of change, but when a significant life change occurs, such as grief, loss based on new seasons of life, or employment changes for one or both in the relationship. These changes can make one of the partners feel more dependent on the relationship while the other partner may feel more independent. This dynamic can make one partner feel smothered while the other feels like they are not a priority. In either role, this relational test leaves both parties in the relationship wishing that the other could be more supportive. This dynamic can lead to a decrease in the desire to connect and result in a change in the willingness of a couple to cooperate, ultimately creating stress and strain on the relationship.
Individually, each of these three patterns above is enough of an incentive for a romantic pair to consider couples counseling. However, when two or three of these matters become complicated by other life stage factors or problems with work-life balance, it can become challenging to identify where a couple’s issue begins and where a life factor ends.
So how can couples counseling help? Couples therapy helps by slowing down conflict cycles and helping you and your partner return to where your story began. Going back to where your story began can re-focus your relationship on the feelings that brought you together and notice what has changed. Couples counseling creates a safe space for you and your partner to process with curiosity and honesty as you investigate the expectations that you have for your relationship and how you may or may not be living up to them. An added bonus to couples is that by participating in couples counseling, an improvement in the relationship can also improve the relationship’s whole lifestyle.
Couples counseling services are beneficial for any relationship, including:
- Straight or LGBTQ relationships,
- Interracial relationships,
- Young teen or college relationships,
- Relationships with a large age gap, and
- Marriage or dating relationships.
I welcome the opportunity to explore the relational story you and your partner have built. In sessions, we will rediscover the reasons you fell in love, which communication patterns can be improved, and how boundaries can assist you to individually and collectively thrive in your commitment to one another as you support the hopes and dreams of your future together.