Marriage

Nine Signs That You and Your Partner Should See a Relationship Counselor
Diana Castillo Eddy, LMFT

The majority of couples who have attended relationship counseling say that the process has been instrumental in helping them to improve their dynamics (and their lives more generally). Most people struggle to be fair when they come into conflict, and this can result in vicious insults and over-dramatic posturing. However, when a fair and insightful third party is present to moderate the discussion between you and your partner, you are more likely to be both reasonable and clear in your self-expression, and your discussions are prevented from veering off topic. As a result, contentious issues are more quickly and easily resolved. Read on to learn about nine major signs that you and your partner will substantially benefit from seeing a relationship counselor.

1. You want to move past an affair:
If you have had an affair, and have since sincerely apologized and removed the third party from your life, you may be wondering when your punishment will end and life will be allowed to return to normal. If, on the other hand, your partner is the one who had an affair, you will likely feel that they have no right to make any demands regarding how quickly you move on from the heartbreaking betrayal. When your partner betrays your trust but you still feel genuine love towards them, you may experience tumultuous and confusing feelings if you decide to remain in the relationship. Staying with someone who has cheated on you feels like ‘rewarding’ them for terrible behavior, but leaving feels like sacrificing something you are not prepared to give up. A relationship counselor can help you and your partner to work through understanding and changing these conflicting feelings, and will provide you with a place to thoroughly discuss events surrounding the affair until you have no more unanswered questions and are ready to move on (one way or another).

2. You have disputes about future commitments:
If you are undecided about some major future decision, a relationship counselor can help you to logically work through the pros and cons of each option (as well as encouraging you to fully explore your attraction or aversion to each of the options). You might be struggling to come to a consensus about whether you should get married (or when), or perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the question of whether you should have children. For some couples, disputes also arise concerning the issue of moving in together, or when one partner is not sure that an entirely monogamous relationship is right for them. Whatever the unanswered question that is causing tension and uncertainty about the future of the relationship, it will be easier to work towards a solution in the context of relationship counseling.

3. You don’t communicate properly (or don’t communicate at all):
Although most relationships begin with intense, constant communication and a deep feeling of closeness, sometimes people drift apart as the years go on. If this is a problem for you and you want things to improve, this desire in itself constitutes a good first step (as apathy towards the relationship is a serious warning sign that you are no longer even in love). Relationship counselors are experts on the subject of interpersonal communication, so this is an ideal sort of problem to take to counseling. Together, you will work out why your communication has become minimal or extremely poor, and you will learn techniques that foster more honest and frequent communication.

4. You are troubled by some sexual incompatibilities:
Like your emotional relationship, your sexual relationship will change as the years progress. Perhaps you have incompatible sex drives, different preferences, or you have stopped having sex altogether. Many relationship counselors are specially trained to discuss the complexities of human sexuality and can help you to overcome roadblocks that are causing problems with physical intimacy. If you are no longer sleeping together, counseling will get to the heart of why this has occurred and will help you come up with a plan of action (whether that plan is a positive one or involves admitting that your romantic relationship has essentially come to an end).If boredom or waning interest is the problem, you will be taught how to be creative about sex and will discover ways to make sex fun and exciting once again. Happily, learning how to tackle sexual incompatibilities usually leads to an improved emotional connection as well.

5. You have an unproductive pattern of arguing:
Relationships that involve constant fighting or particularly intense arguments can lead to a great deal of unhappiness and anger. Couples often become locked in circular styles of argument that take up all of their time and energy and yet never resolve any of their deeper issues. If this sounds at all familiar to you, relationship counseling could make a huge difference to the dynamic between you and your partner. A relationship counselor will help you to discover and express the real reasons that you are arguing (rather than simply focusing on why you appear to be arguing), and the counselor will also teach you new ways to deal with conflict. You will be able to learn how to listen to each other more effectively, and how to deal with anger or frustration in more productive ways.

6. You are struggling to cope with a new baby:
When you have a child, everything changes. Your priorities shift, your daily life undergoes massive transitions, and your emotions are constantly evolving. Making the transition from being a couple to being a family can be difficult, and some of the things that new parents feel can be quite surprising. In relationship counseling, you can discuss how to be good parents as well as good lovers, how to tackle a suffering sex life, and how to cope with the short tempers and teary moments that inevitably come with having a new baby.

7. You are dealing with grief that influences the relationship:
Sometimes, difficult things that are technically external to the relationship end up having a devastating influence on the dynamic between you and your partner. For example, losing a child (either due to illness or miscarriage) can leave you feeling intense grief. Sometimes, one partner feels this sort of grief more keenly or for a longer amount of time, and this leads to the grieving partner feeling lonely and betrayed while the other party feels useless and confused. Relationship counseling can help you move on from grief, usually by helping you to fully engage with (and understand) the grief. Counseling also provides an ideal environment for coping with grief associated with infertility, failures to conceive, the stresses of repeated IVF cycles, and the difficulties caused by serious physical illness.

8. There are important inequalities in the relationship:
When a relationship is not equal, feelings of sadness or anger can gradually develop in the person whose interests are less often considered to be important. If you have recognized that you have a tendency to prioritize yourself and your needs above those of your partner, going to relationship counseling can help you understand why you do this (as well as how to work towards developing a more balanced and empathetic attitude). If, on the other hand, you are tired of being the subordinate party in the relationship, counseling can provide you with a safe environment in which you will be free to express your grievances.

9. You struggle to balance work with your personal life:

When one partner prioritizes their career and the other partner prioritizes the relationship, this can foster major resentments on both sides. If you are focused on your work, you may feel that your partner is wrong to feel slighted and should be more independent. If you are more focused on the relationship than you are on your career, you may feel that your workaholic partner obviously does not care as much about the relationship as you do. Tell a relationship counselor about the process by which you decide how to prioritize things in your life, and explain any negativity you feel about your partner’s style of prioritizing. With some effort, there is hope that a happy medium can be reached.

Many couples feel uncomfortable or frightened when they think about taking the first step towards setting up an appointment to see a relationship counselor. This is understandable, as making yourself vulnerable in front of a stranger is an extremely daunting prospect. However, a couple of sessions with a counselor will quickly encourage a rapport to develop, and many couples even end up enjoying some aspects of their sessions. Even those who continue to report anxiety and discomfort about the process nonetheless tend to admit that their relationship with their partner is improving. Finally, never forget that you are not ‘trapped’ with one particular counselor if you find that there is a personality clash. If you do not feel that your sessions are productive, move on to a new counselor instead of immediately giving up on the process of relationship counseling itself.

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