Signs you need couples counseling:
- Your partner suggests couples counseling: If your partner suggests counseling, this is a sign that things haven’t quite been corrected in the relationship. People don’t suggest working with a professional when the relationship has a solid connection. It is very common that one partner cries out for help and the other person completely misses the critical issue until years later once the relationship has become entirely unraveled. Take the suggestion of marriage counseling seriously when your spouse brings it up.
- The relationship is sexless: One of the signs that a relationship is dwindling is a lack of intimacy in the bedroom. In a secure relationships, both emotional closeness and sexual closeness keep things balanced. Intimacy can go in waves through the years, but if there is an ongoing drought that lasts months or years, this is a sign to seek professional help.
- You become burnt-out: Going from completely engaged and seeking closeness to a completely “burnt-out” position is a danger zone. When this happens, you haven’t given up on the relationship, yet you are unwilling to expose any vulnerable needs or to rely on your partner. This is a sign that things have been changing and you could be going down a dangerous road, headed towards complete disconnection. This is a critical time for couples to seek counseling and get both people to engage in the relationship.
- There’s been infidelity: This may be a no brainer for some people, but affairs are signs that marriage counseling is needed. Whether the affair was just revealed, or you are active in the affair, it is critical to understand why this happened in the first place and heal any emotional injuries. Many couples think that they can simply lock up the past, say “I am sorry,” and move on. In reality, affairs are very fragile situations where the repair work is critical and must handled in a healing way. Every second counts when rebuilding trust and regaining the security in a relationship. Moving on doesn’t mean shutting the door to pain, but it also doesn’t mean you relive the pain over and over. Seeking counseling helps couples handle the fears and emotions that arise in the present and take action to create a long term resolution.
- You’re seeking comfort from others: When either you or your spouse quickly go to friends or family before turning to the relationship, you should seek counseling. When we no longer turn to one another to resolve issues and instead turn to others for support, a wedge is created in the relationship. Sometimes it becomes easier and easier to turn to others and this can quickly snow ball into a drawn out relationship that dissolves over time.
- You’re fantasizing or beginning to have feelings for others: Thoughts can be thoughts and simply just that. But other times a fantasy leads us to an exciting place where it would be easy to cross the line if the opportunity arises. It is vital to get at the heart of why you get so excited when your co-worker sends you a text, or a friend calls you. If your relationship was solid and secure you wouldn’t consider being with someone else. Something significant is going on, and things are lacking in your current relationship. Start couples counseling to figure out what you aren’t getting in the relationship and give your spouse an opportunity to get it right with you before it is too late.
- The fighting is bad: When fights continue to go to bad places, either verbally or physically, couples counseling is essential. The more attacks you take at one another, the more you drive each other way and develop a bad habit when it comes to communication. Any time the relationship becomes degrading or hurtful, it is time to seek some expert advice on how to stop the damage and to the relationship.
Couples counseling will help you get back on track when the security in your relationship begins to dwindle. Before your relationship is pushed to the brink of destruction, visit a counselor to learn better communication and get to the bottom of your issues.
And for the couples about to get married:
If you are about to tie the knot, premarital counseling is always a good idea — even if you don’t think you have any problems in the relationship. My view of premarital counseling is that it can always be helpful for any couple planning on saying “I do.” You wouldn’t fly a plane without flying lessons; similarly, it makes sense to learn more about how to keep a healthy relationship before you enter into a huge commitment. Most premarital therapy is used as a preventative tool, or a way to get your relationship solid before walking into the married world. The sessions are about helping couples learn the rules of communication, explore marriage expectations, and discuss strategic plans for the unexpected future.
If you’re in San Diego and need help working through anger in your relationship, contact me today and let’s see if I can help! If not, buy our Ultimate Communication Toolkit!
How Couples Counseling Can Help
Before you say “No,” let me explain 5 ways how couples counseling can help your relationship in the short and long run.
- Identifying Patterns
Sometimes a couple will have a certain back and forth that keeps happening. An emotional trigger sets you off, your partner storms off, and the next day you pretend nothing happened. A pattern like this is dysfunctional, but you may not even see the full picture as a part of the relationship. With help from a therapist, marriage counseling helps both partners identify certain patterns that need to change for the relationship to be healthier.
- Improving Communication
Communication is one of the first things to break down when a problem crops up in your relationship. Or, even when things are good, you and your partner might just communicate very differently. Couples counseling helps you develop a system that works for both people so you are clear with each other about what you need moving forward.
- Creating a Safe Space
When a relationship is not healthy, it can feel scary to open up to your partner. Being vulnerable no longer feels safe and you don’t want to be judged or cause more conflict. Therapy is a safe space where both people get to be honest, and as a therapist I am not here to judge you. There will not be a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” The relationship will need a corrective experience on responding to one another, similar to building “muscle memory.” Together you will set boundaries and create a space where it feels OK to open up. Once the new way to communicate is established in the therapy office, you two will work on how to create the same environment in your home.
- Addressing Emotions
When communication is failing or you can’t be vulnerable with your partner, your emotions are getting stuffed down – even if you don’t realize it. Counseling helps you get to the root of what is going on emotionally. I practice a form of therapy called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), which helps us identify the root emotions and rewire how you and your partner react to each other.
- Making a Roadmap
Relationships are complicated and couples need a roadmap on how to stop the negative cycle. Sometimes just having an impartial counselor to help you figure out where the relationship needs to go is a huge first step.
This article of How Couples Counseling Can Help is here to give you a better understanding of saving your marriage. So if your partner suggests couples counseling, don’t shut the door on the idea of seeking help. Meet the Estes Therapy team and see if one of the therapists will be a fit for you.
Benefits of Couples Counseling: 10 Reasons Couples Seek Therapy
The benefits of couples counseling can be found in all relationships – not just those in conflict. While couples counseling (and therapy in general) is for everyone, there are some issues that particularly lead to seeking counseling. Whether you are looking to “fine-tune” your relationship, finding yourself more often in conflict than not, or feeling distant from your partner, a marriage counselor can help. Here are the 10 most common reasons people seek couples counseling:
Communication is key in relationships. All relationships! But we’re focusing on the romantic partnership here. So often in therapy, I hear the members of a couple both reaching out for their partner. BUT the way they do it is not clear and ends up sending unintended messages. Have you ever gotten into a fight about the dishes that weren’t really about the dishes? While words are important (no insults or name calling!), they are only a fraction of what is being said. In fact, the words are only 7% of the communication, your tone and body language make up the majority of the message. By relearning how to communicate with your partner, you can say what you really mean. Through couples counseling, you can learn how to clearly communicate your needs and your fears. You will also learn about how your past injuries affect your current relationship, and how to communicate with each other about these. Relearning communication helps get you out of the cycle you and your partner are stuck in, and helps you learn how to show up for one another.
Infidelity is one of the most damaging things for a relationship. Infidelity doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship, but it does signal there needs to be change. A trained marriage therapist helps you process this event, make meaning of where your relationship is and how you got there, and relearn to meet each other’s needs. It is a healing journey, you will not leave your first (or second or third) session feeling reconnected and like the relationship is repaired. Over time, and through working with a therapist, many couples report feeling closer than ever, something they never would have thought possible when they began therapy. Through couples counseling, you will find hope, connection, and other successes along the way.
3. Intimacy Issues
Intimacy is more than just sex – though that is usually a part of it. Intimacy is those shared moments, actions, and words that bring you closer and make you feel connected. Through couples counseling, you can improve your intimacy and relearn how to connect with each other. Love languages play a role in intimacy. With couples therapy you can learn about your own love language, your partner’s, and how to incorporate these into your interactions together. With a trained marriage therapist, you will learn, or relearn, how to connect on an emotional, physical, experiential, and spiritual level with your partner. Being vulnerable can be scary. Couples counseling provides a safe space where you will not only have a marriage therapist there to support and guide you, your partner will also learn how to best support you when sharing these vulnerable moments.
4. Sex Issues
Differing libidos, interests, and drives can cause ripples in the relationship. With work, family, friends, social obligations, navigating COVID, paying bills, home projects… the list goes on – it can be easy for your sex drive to be depleted and your sex life to end up pushed to the side. Intimacy and sex go hand in hand. As you learn to increase your intimacy, couples often find that their sex life improves as well. Couples counseling will help you find how you two can give new life to your sex life. As well as communicate with each other outside and inside the bedroom. Your therapist will also help you explore with your partner new ways to connect physically and have more satisfying sex.
A trained marriage therapist is especially helpful in navigating sex issues when there has been trauma. Whether it is a personal trauma experienced by one or more members of the relationship or a past relationship trauma like infidelity. While you should have your own individual trauma treatment if that applies to you, your marriage and family therapist will help you both navigate how this trauma influences and interacts with your relationship. You can meet our EMDR therapists here
5. Trust Issues
Trust issues might be present because of infidelity in the relationship or a past experience. Trust issues can stem from childhood – for example, if you didn’t have a secure and consistent bond with your caregivers. Whatever the reason and couples counseling will help you find it, trust issues act like a wall between you and your partner. When there are trust issues, it is so so hard to be open and vulnerable. With the help of a marriage counselor, you can break through this wall and learn to turn towards each other. Overcoming trust issues means learning to show up for your partner, for yourself, and honor boundaries.
6. Outside Factors
Sometimes people have an “affair” that’s not with another person romantically. These kinds of affairs are when something takes the place of the time and mental space that you or your partner would typically devote to each other. This can be a job, a friend, a hobby, or your children. While it is important to devote time, care, and attention to those, too much can lead to a strained relationship. Additionally, when you are facing stress with one of these outside factors, like work or from the news, that stress seeps its way into your relationship. Through counseling, you will learn tools to not only better cope with these stressors, but also learn how to turn to each other and use these as a point of connection.
7. Blending Families & Co-parenting
When there is a change in family dynamics, therapy can help you adjust to this new normal. Whether that is fine-tuning your co-parenting after a separation or bringing together two families with a new marriage, a marriage and family therapist supports and guides you through this change. When bringing two families together, there are so many different personalities, thoughts, feelings, and changes that, some days, it can feel like you’re struggling to get your head above water. A marriage and family therapist acts as a neutral third party to help you and your families make this transition as smooth as possible, and not feel like you are drowning.
8. Help Navigating Big Life Decisions
Therapy is a great place to go when you are navigating big life decisions. It is a safe space where you can explore all the possibilities and realities of your options. This could be a job offer, a potential move, a change in relationship status, expanding your family, or going back to school. These decisions affect both of you. The needs and concerns of all parties are important. Couples counseling can help if you are facing a decision that is adding stress to your relationship or want a neutral third party to help you figure out what makes the most sense for your relationship. Couples counseling also encourages you to make time in your days for your relationship – and helps you work out the logistics of making that a reality. It can be so easy to be caught up in thinking about the big life decisions that you forget to also make time for connection and fun.
Premarital counseling is an incredibly advantageous way to begin this next chapter of your journey together. There are many topics couples don’t think to discuss before getting married. Premarital counseling gives you a safe space to explore these topics. This includes discussing finances, future family planning, family dynamics, roles of each partner, household tasks, and life goals. Premarital counseling also helps you find new ways to connect and strengthen communication with your partner. Through premarital counseling, you will gain the tools and skills you need to face obstacles together and face arguments in your relationship.
There is still a stigma that comes with divorce. Many people report feeling like they failed. In reality, understanding and leaving a relationship that isn’t working can be a success. Seeing a couple’s counselor while you face divorce can help you keep amicable in the relationship. This is especially important if you have children. With the help of your marriage counselor, you can set yourselves up for successful co-parenting. Your therapist can also help prepare you for how to have a discussion with your children (+family and friends) about your divorce. No matter what, a divorce is a stressful event. Therapy can give you the tools to keep from feeling overwhelmed.
Making the decision to start therapy can be difficult for some couples. But even just that step, setting up your first appointment, shows that you value your relationship and yourself. Therapy helps everyone, you don’t need to feel like you are in the thick of things for marriage counseling to feel beneficial. Whenever you start, you will inevitably gain more tools and skills to use in your relationship and in your life.
How to Get Your Husband to Start Counseling
Here’s a Hint: You can’t nag someone into wanting change
Marriage counseling only works if both parties are really committed to change, but sometimes one partner might be more accepting of the idea of therapy than the other. If you find yourself in a position where you really want to get some outside help but your husband is resistant, being really aggressive about seeking a counselor might backfire. He may shut down altogether, which is no good because you need to enter counseling as a team.
Get your husband to start counseling…with strategy
Even if your partner remains skeptical at the first session, it’s important that you’re both at least open to working on the relationship. Here are some tips for how to get your husband to successfully start couples counseling.
Reassure Him It Won’t Be a Bashing Session
Make sure he knows that counseling isn’t going to be a bashing session of what he had done wrong or failed at. Talk about why you feel that you’re becoming disconnected and how much it would mean to you to get the spark back. Don’t say “Well, you’re making this marriage miserable and we need to go to counseling so you can straighten out.” Reassure him that it takes two to tango and that you also need to learn how to communicate more effectively in the relationship. You’ll get much farther by talking about why you see a benefit in counseling for BOTH of you than by attacking him with insults or ultimatums.
Give Him a Time Frame
Your husband will need some sort of time frame that gives him a “light at the end of the tunnel.” Ask him to commit to 3 sessions and if he still doesn’t want to do therapy, you two can stop. This gives him an emotional container for that period of time to get through the counseling.
When you approach your husband about going to a counselor, let your guard down. Your husband needs to know what your core feelings are. By that, I mean what is beyond the anger and frustration. Yelling and being vocal about your discontent won’t necessarily want to make him sit down in a room with you and work things out. Address the hurt, fear, or anxiety that you are feeling underneath. Talk about how you are fearful that the marriage is on the wrong track and be vulnerable about the underlying emotions, not just the surface ones.
Own Your Part
Any marriage is a two-way street. Make sure your husband understands that you know you have a part to play in the problems you’re experiencing. Counseling isn’t about “fixing” one person, just making your bond better and stronger. When you’re explaining why you want to go to counseling, make sure that you are open and honest about the areas where you need to grow, not the areas where you think he could improve. By showing that you don’t consider yourself perfect, your husband can see that you’re not suggesting counseling just to punish him in some way.
Calm His Fears
Let your husband talk about what’s holding him back from counseling. By talking through why he’s hesitant, you can hopefully quell some of his fears. For instance, many people feel uncomfortable about bringing their personal relationship problems before a total stranger — your counselor. Talk through all of your husband’s fears or negative perceptions about counseling. Just by giving him a forum to talk through why he’s objected, he can get out some of his anxiety. This also gives you a chance to continue to emphasize the benefits of counseling and assure him that everything is confidential.
You want to learn how to get your husband to start counseling, but what happens if he still doesn’t budge? If he won’t go to therapy, then you may need to seek out professional help to figure out where to go from here. He may not be necessarily done with the relationship, so you will need to learn how to be with him differently.
If you have ideas on how to get your husband to start counseling, share them below.
What to Expect from your Counselor
It’s normal to feel a bit anxious before you go to counseling, in part because you’re unsure about what is about to happen! In reality, coming to therapy at my office doesn’t need to be a scary prospect. From your first session to all subsequent visits, I am only here to help you become a stronger couple and improve the state of your relationship – I won’t judge or take a side.
The first session in my office will consist of both partners telling me about what they hope to get out of counseling, and the things that are stirring up issues. You can expect a conversation between the three of us, where I will explain in more detail the process of counseling, and I might give you a few steps to take right away to improve your relationship. In future visits, I will help guide communication between the two of you as a couple – you will do most of the talking while I am only there to facilitate the conversation, giving you tools and insights to help communicate in a healthy way.
You can expect neutrality and emotional safety during your therapy sessions. Here’s some more details about what counseling will be like:
- Neutrality: Some clients say I’m the referee for their relationship; the only non-biased person. I like to think of myself as the co-pilot, while you two are in the driver’s seat. In counseling, I will guide the conversation, point out the problem routes and suggest taking alternate routes. I will not be taking sides or teaming up with one partner against the other. I think my clients have plenty of friends and family that do that already, and it isn’t changing anything. Gaining teams against each other keeps you in the same routine and dynamic that has not been working. I will tell you when you may be taking the wrong turn and share what a healthier response will be, but never take aside. I will also help you organize the multiple emotions and thoughts separately and then as a couple.
- Complete Emotional Safety: The goal is to have your counseling sessions emotionally safe (and obviously physically safe). I will strive to establish a place where you can open up about how you feel, stop the critical responses, and create a place where both sides of an issue or disagreement can be understood. I will be active in the counseling sessions to make it feel comfortable, help you or your partner phrase things in a way that is clear, and make it possible for you to understand the relationship on a deeper level while feeling safe to express your fears and other emotions.
- Listening: There are two sides to every coin, and the same is true in your
relationship. Sometimes it can be very hard to listen to your partner’s side when you may have a completely different experience. This requires you to trust that the therapist will hear your side, and you will often have to bite your tongue while hearing your partner’s side. As the therapist, I will try to help your partner express him/herself in a non-attacking and critical way. In order to get there, you will have to allow me to spend time with your partner. Don’t worry — I will get to you as well!
- EFT: I focus specifically on couples counseling using emotionally focused therapy (EFT). This therapeutic technique is an experiential style, allowing you to change how you two communicate and rewiring the brain to shift the way you react emotionally to certain triggers or issues. This is a short-term therapy approach where I will be more active in the therapy sessions. I will often have you turn to your partner to create new experiences, practice what you are learning, and have change begin in the office.
Couples counseling is a great way to reconnect with your partner, open up the lines of communication, and move forward in a positive direction. Don’t be afraid to pay me a visit – I am only here to help! Give me a call today, or book online, and let’s see if I can help you strengthen your relationship.
When couples counseling might now work:
Couples counseling can be a real life line for your marriage. But only if you are willing to do the work and come to counseling ready to be emotional, honest, and take real action. If you have any of the three A’s: abuse, addition, or an affair — your results won’t be the best they could be. In fact, you might make very little progress at all. When you go to couples counseling with one or more of the three A’s, you are wasting your money and time. Here’s what I mean:
Physical, emotional, financial, or sexual abuse never creates space for emotional vulnerabilities in the counseling office. If the relationship is violent at home, it will be nearly impossible to get a couple to be completely vulnerable in a therapy session. Fear will be around, and one or both partners will be worried about saying the wrong thing in counseling for fear of “getting it” later on when they get home. The cycle of abuse must stop before any real healing can take place in couples counseling. Otherwise, you may waste your money on couples counseling that is not able to be effective.
Substance use can act as a numbing agent, never allowing you to have full access to emotions. The substance can act as “the other woman,” always being a priority, pulling you or your partner away from the relationship, creating secrets, and causing a block to be fully vulnerable with one another. The depth of the addiction can affect the severity of how bad the relationship is impacted. Addiction can be an on going, never ending injury in the relationship where one partner will never feel full security and reassurance. The addiction is like lime juice on an open wound.
Going to counseling while you have a hidden relationship will only keep you from being fully open and accessible to your partner. Your heart will be split and often we shut our emotions off to the marriage when there is a relationship with an outside person. To really give the couples counseling a true fight, you must cut off all contact and access to the other person. If not, your heart will be caught in a bind. Secrets, hidden behaviors, guilt, and shame will cause you to emotionally detach, and your partner will pick up on the inaccessibility and unresponsiveness. They may not be able to put their finger on whats wrong, but they will pick up on it, and continue to act out and throw bombs on the door to get in to your heart.
If you are still in an affair but wish to seek couples counseling, you may need to figure out which direction you want to take first before stepping into to couples therapy – individual counseling can help with this.
If you want to start couples counseling but have one of these three A’s in your life, you may want to set up an individual therapy appointment to figure out how to handle the situation. Please pick up the phone and give me a call. I’d be more than happy to discuss the best steps for you and your situation. (619) 558-0001.