Over the years couples have come to see me for a variety of reasons. Some wanted information about intimate relationships to help assess how they were doing, others had a specific question or issue they wanted addressed. And many entered couples counseling because one or both spouses/partners were troubled about what was happening to their relationship.
Our marriage/relationship is an emotional anchor that grounds us.
And when our relationship falters, it can be extremely painful. Emotional pain is another reason people seek out marriage counseling. Distressed couples are more likely to struggle with symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Here are a few of the issues that have brought couples into my office:
7 Reasons You May Be Thinking of Marriage Counseling (or Couples Counseling)
1) Navigating Emerging Differences
You’re not alone if you’ve experienced the whirlwind of new love. The desire to always be together, the euphoric highs, the excitement and increased motivation to be emotionally available and attentive. Our best self emerges when in the throes of new love. There’s even a term for this experience: “limerence.” (Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term in her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love .)
The experience of limerence can obscure our psychological vision, biasing us away from the real differences that exist between us and our partner. While differences in intimate relationships are commonplace, some differences can be difficult to navigate, especially when they first emerge on the heels of relationship bliss.
2) Breakdowns in Communication
The words you choose have considerable power. And the way you deliver your message can make all the difference between a positive or negative outcome. Becoming an effective communicator starts with understanding your emotional needs so that you can share them with your spouse. If you don’t know what you are needing (or if you are conflicted about your own needs), how will your spouse/partner know?
Self-understanding is the starting point of good communication.
Another essential ingredient is learning how to become an emotionally attuned listener. Being emotionally open and present to one another is a powerful way to deepen the emotional connection that is so vital to a fulfilling relationship. When we don’t feel heard or understood by our spouse/partner, frustration and distress result.
3) Sinking into a Marital/Relationship Rut
Our lives are filled with routines and patterns. And the rhythms of our lives and marriage/relationship bring a comforting sense of familiarity. The familiar acts like an emotional anchor that grounds us.
Over time, however, certain routines can start to feel lifeless, creating a ho-hum energy that surrounds your relationship. Relational boredom can set in, making you and your partner feel stuck and causing you to wonder, “Is this all there is?” In these instances, you and your partner may have fallen into a relationship rut that can lead you to feel dissatisfied with how things are turning out between you.
4) Specific Sticking Points
Sometimes couples do really well together except for one area of their relationship. Conflicts over sex or money are common complaints.
Other areas of conflict might include:
- Differences around parenting styles (for instance, you and your partner have different views about disciplining your children);
- Religious or political differences;
- How much time to spend with extended family;
- How to spend your leisure time.
If left unchecked, a specific problem area can morph into bigger marital/relationship issues. One example is a couple who has to learn to compromise around sexual incompatibility. The spouse/partner who wants more frequent sex may end up feeling rejected and, in the long run, undesired. These feelings can extend beyond the bedroom.
5) Drowning in Negative Patterns/Cycles
We all get frustrated, angry and defensive at times. Intimate relationships and domesticity can be a challenge, even for couples who get along most of the time. Since we are most vulnerable with our spouse/partner (because we’ve given them access to the deepest parts of us), by the same token, we can also be deeply hurt by them.
Negative patterns of interaction (attack/counter-attack; pursuing/withdrawing) can consume your relationship with wildfire speed. When these negative patterns are heightened, one word or glance can quickly lead to a defensive retort. Even genuine attempts to reach out in kindness can be met with unresponsiveness. Psychologist/researcher John Gottman, PhD has shown the toxic effects that unchecked criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling can have on intimate relationships.
Couples who cannot pull themselves out of these patterns feel beleaguered and hopeless. Couples counseling can help you find your way out of these negative spirals by helping you both access the desire for connection that underlies these defensive patterns. Emotional Focused Couples Counseling developed by Dr. Sue Johnson has been particularly successful in this regard.
6) Stumbling through Transitions
Life’s journey is rarely smooth and linear. Despite our best intentions (and our desire to control outcomes), we are often faced with unanticipated—and, at times, unwanted—realities. For better or worse, change is inevitable. We can try to resist or deny certain circumstances, but our resistance only compounds the struggle to navigate these waters.
You and your partner will be faced with innumerable transitions throughout the life of your marriage/relationship. Some examples:
- Adjusting to living together;
- Managing the ongoing responsibilities of domesticity;
- Home ownership;
- Adjusting to an illness;
- Becoming empty-nesters;
Another important transition occurs when there is a change in the predominant roles one or both of you inhabit in the relationship. For instance, the primary breadwinner loses her/his job or is demoted and the other partner must pick up the financial slack.
Such changes can upset the equilibrium of your marriage/relationship, causing reverberations that lead to more conflict or disconnection.
7) Fallout from a Betrayal
The emotional upheaval caused by an affair is considerable. Trust is shattered and the very foundation that supported the relationship may feel unstable or nonexistent. Anger, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite are a few of the reactions you might struggle with after discovering your spouse/partner has cheated.
Infidelity can be emotional and/or sexual. And while it’s easy to downplay the early signals of emotional infidelity (“I’m just being friendly”; “We’re just friends”), there are clear warning signs that you may be entering into an emotional affair danger zone. To read about the warning signs, click emotional affair warning signs.
Trying to regroup and rebuild can be a challenge, and couples counseling can offer the needed guidance and structure to begin the healing process.
Betrayals do not only involve cheating. You may have discovered that your spouse/partner has been keeping secrets from you around money (spending), alcohol or drug use, a hidden gambling problem, viewing pornography, to name a few. In these instances, the betrayal involves your partner living a hidden life from you.
The above list is by no means exhaustive. What we do know is that love isn’t enough to keep a marriage or relationship healthy. It takes work. It takes information. It takes commitment. Too many couples feel disillusioned when they discover this fact and as a result, assume they ended up with the wrong person.
If you have any questions or if you would like to start marriage/couples counseling, please feel free to contact me to set up an initial consultation session. I can also be reached at (512) 931-9128.
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D.