Great question. In my experience, couples counseling is always a good idea in committed relationships, when you hit a milestone that changes the dynamics of your partnership or you’re in crisis. Most couples in my practice believe couples counseling is a good idea when they sincerely believe they cannot achieve the partnership they want without some support.
Below you’ll find the best times to seek couples counseling based on various life events, from the best to the most challenging circumstances in seeking counseling. However, any time is better than not seeking counseling at all.
Best – Seek Couples Counseling Before Getting Married
Weddings are so exciting and full of the hustle and bustle to create the beginning of a couple’s dream. But it is also a time of tremendous pressure that comes with all the details and things to be done.
In premarital counseling, the couple will learn how to plan future life events, whether to have kids, where to live and other topics. But the main skill they need to master is how to talk through decisions and preferences with each other. This will always be a necessary skill to use often in making decisions, talking about disappointments in the relationship, and any other topics that arise.
When a couple feels disconnected or disappointed in their mate how they navigate these waters will depend upon their knowledge and skill level in healthy communication.
When an Affair is Discovered
This is a crossroad in the marriage that will determine whether they have the desire and ability to navigate the waters that will rebuild their relationship in a healthier way. But being in tremendous pain, it is very difficult for the couple to manage this without guidance and communication skills. This is what a psychotherapist specializes in and is trained to provide.
Often, the anger and hurt take over one’s ability to navigate without emotional baggage getting in the way. Trust is broken, and the hurt partner has been betrayed. How do you rebuild the necessary trust in order to continue the relationship?
A psychotherapist helps the couple learn new communication skills, but also will explore what was not working in the marriage that may have led to an affair. This is not done in a blaming way and will help each partner understand the challenges they felt.
When a Couple Realizes They are Unable to Resolve Conflicts
Every couple has disagreements. How well conflicts get resolved determines the closeness, trust, valuing of each other and future arguments. Everyone knows how painful it can be to argue and then not forgive, resolve and reconnect after an argument with someone you deeply love.
It is never too late to seek assistance. A couples therapist can teach the needed skills to help partners navigate the difficult waters in disagreements.
Remember, you are teaching your children how relationships work. Don’t you also owe it to them for you both to learn the needed skills in relationships? Couples counseling is a good idea!
When Your Relationship Has Little Or No Intimacy
Have you ever felt alone and invisible being in the same room with someone you deeply care about because he doesn’t talk to you? It feels awful! As a couple’s psychotherapist, I find this occurs because people don’t feel comfortable reaching out for their partner. Often they fear rejection or worse yet, feeling ignored. Or sometimes they don’t know how to reach out and feel like they will fail in some way.
One of the best ways for both partners to feel loved is to read the book by Gary Chapman called The 5 Love Languages. It is a “no brainer” way for both partners to feel loved. It’s about speaking the love language of your partner.
Almost always, the heart is in place. What’s missing is the “how-to” of demonstrating the love you feel for your partner in a way they best feel it. In my experience as a couples therapist, I find most couples feel unloved because they are not expressing their love in the language of their mate. People most often will express their love in how they would want to receive it. But this doesn’t work very well. Speak the language of your Mate and they will do likewise.
A solid marriage is about connection and valuing one another. But most people do not know how to do this. Couples counseling is a great idea if even one partner is not familiar with connection, how it feels and how to get there.
And Intimacy Includes Sex
Sex in a romantic relationship is also about connection. It’s another way to feel like you belong to one another and to feel valued by your mate. Connection makes life easier. Often, men feel connected through sex. However, most women feel emotionally connected in other ways prior to sex, like being held. When women feel loved and valued they will more likely initiate sex as an expression of the love they feel from their mate’s actions. Men, however, tend to feel loved through sex.
Parenting can easily compete with a couple’s connection and sexual intimacy. Couples have to consciously carve out time for being together. Babysitting is expensive. Try to co-op with other parents for date nights.
When Children are Already Involved
Ideally, it’s a good idea to get the skill set of building a thriving marriage prior to having kids. However, this often doesn’t happen because of life happening.
If kids are already on the scene you still need to know the necessary skills for a healthy marriage. Any time is better than no time at all!
When kids come along it is no longer just about each mate. It easily becomes about the children and all of the responsibility involved in their care. This can be absolutely overwhelming to manage. And this doesn’t even include the other skills mentioned above in terms of nourishing and maintaining the marriage. Exhausted parents always try to keep their responsibilities in check.
Do yourself and your mate a favor and learn the necessary couples skillset for your own health and well-being, but also for the sake of your kids’ future relationships. Be good role models!
Divorce or Continue the Marriage?
Sometimes both partners recognize they are unhappy and are growing apart. This is a very telling time in a marriage. It involves vulnerability to risk that the other partner may have emotionally moved on. It is also very vulnerable to admit what your heart really wants when you don’t know how your partner really feels.
But it doesn’t mean that it is too late to save the marriage! It takes courage, hope, and risk to reach out to your other half. But if you don’t try, you will never know what “might” have been possible. It is reassuring to know you did your very best before giving up on the marriage. This is especially true when both partners are willing to invest in couples counseling.
Couples counseling can not only provide the necessary skills to see what can improve in the marriage, but it can also provide closure for the couple. Not in terms of blame, but in understanding what went wrong and learning from that.
Either way it turns out, both parties will know they did what they could do or were willing to do. This in itself is closure and allows each to move forward.
When Both Partners are Seeing a Couples Counselor There are Distinct Advantages That Emerge:
It allows each partner to voice his or her concerns and wants. Couples counseling may provide hope that all avenues have not been explored. The marriage may still be able to flourish, especially if there is skill-building involved.
If the marriage cannot be saved for any reason, couples counseling is a good idea because it allows the couple to have closure about the marriage. It also gives the couple a way to learn to communicate with each other and to work together as co-parents.
Closing Thoughts: Couples Counseling is almost always a good idea, even when one of the partners is not getting what they hoped as a result. It offers vital skills not taught in school and offers hope to partners who didn’t think their marriage could get better. It teaches guidelines for a healthy marriage. Couples counseling provides closure, even when the marriage fails to thrive and continue. And equally important, it can teach your kids how to have a successful marriage, as well as how to work together to co-parent with grace.