Marriage can be wonderful. A healthy marriage or partnership increases the overall happiness index and bolsters the earning potential of both parties. According to Harvard Medical School (2019), married men are healthier and live longer. Marriage is also hard work. When your marriage or relationship encounters difficulties, it makes sense to pause and ask, is it me or is it us?
When two people join their lives, it is necessary to learn about the other person, their intentions, communication style, habits, and quirks. You may start assuming that you will learn about your partner, but you will learn as much about yourself. Marriage often acts as a mirror of sorts, giving you a clearer picture of your own positive and negative traits. If there are traits that you feel need work, feel free to reach out. In therapy, we will seek to help you deal with feelings of low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, anger, or trauma that can interfere with your relationship.
Are you and your partner able to navigate conflict?
Together, you must be willing to embrace conflict and accept compromises in many situations. Conflict within any relationship is normal (and it may be concerning if you don’t experience any disagreements at all). However, if you should find yourself in a situation where the struggle within your relationship feels unhealthy and overwhelming, it may be time to seek out help. Your marriage should be meeting your needs and the needs of your partner.
Step 1 – Determine where you need help
If your marriage is suffering, common questions that you may ask yourself include:
Am I the problem? Do I need therapy?
Is my partner the problem? Does my partner need therapy?
Is our relationship the problem? Does our relationship need therapy?
Did I marry the wrong person?
These questions are normal, and if you're considering these questions, kudos to you. This means you have identified and accepted that there is a problem, and you’re responsibly approaching it. This is the first step towards a successful resolution.
The answers to the above questions can vary greatly depending on your unique situation. However, relationships are interdependent. This means, if one of you has a problem, you both have a problem. Marital counseling can be a wise avenue to pursue; an impartial third party will help identify individual and joint issues and guide you towards healing.
Step 2 – Determine if you should seek marriage counseling
How many of the following descriptions apply to your relationships?
There is a communication breakdown.
Frequent arguments, yelling, and name-calling, leaving one or both of you feeling ashamed and angry. Name-calling can stem from insecurities in one or both partners, but it will damage the relationship.
Silence and secret-keeping. If left unchecked, the lack of trust that powers this lack of communication tends to escalate. The betrayal and bitterness that results can be challenging to overcome.
You no longer share the intimacy that you once did.
You are emotionally distant from one another. If one or both of you no longer feels psychologically safe, the trust needed to have deep and emotional conversations simply melts away.
Sex is infrequent, unfulfilling, or completely absent. Withholding physical affection can be used as a form of punishment when one spouse is angry. Alternatively, you may avoid sex because it is difficult for you to be physically close to someone you do not feel emotionally close to. Regardless of whether withholding sex is being weaponized or being used as a defense mechanism, you’re no longer enjoying your partner in a way that promotes mutual affection and a sense of closeness.
There is an unhealthy power dynamic.
Jealously and mistrust can often lead to a partner feeling the need to take control of specific situations. Whether this situation is domestic, emotional, or financial in nature, having one of the partners in complete control is dangerous. A healthy marriage reflects mutual respect for both partners’ input and opinions.
If one or more of these descriptions apply to your relationship, it is time to seek help.
Things to consider before you start couples therapy
Discuss with your partner the best way to move ahead. Consider if you need to see a couple’s therapist, or should you just read a self-help book?
While books on this topic are wonderful supplemental aids, they are often not enough. Counseling offers a safe, therapeutic environment where both parties can get active feedback on their needs and progress. The Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (2011) states that couples therapy is 70% effective in improving marriages.
You will need to consider that uncovering and discussing the issues causing friction within your relationship will not be easy. Rather than suppressing your feelings, you need to be willing to let them flow outward. This might cause arguments, but surfacing the issues will help you make sustainable, long-lasting improvements in your marriage.
Be open-minded and empathetic towards your partner; they’re being open along with you to embrace a brighter future.
What to expect in Couples Therapy
Once you have decided to pursue couples therapy, being prepared for the path ahead will provide a sense of comfort. In most cases, couples have three sessions of counseling with their therapist together, followed by individual sessions based on your unique situation, and then more sessions as a couple.
In therapy, we will identify the long term goals of your relationship, but also focus on the immediate problems that can potentially be solved to provide immediate relief. In therapy, I may suggest that you focus on the Gottman Love Map questions and talk a few times a week on benign topics, just to get you and your partner into the habit of healthy communication.
Additionally, expect homework to work on between sessions. Homework will help you implement practical improvements that start making your relationship better between sessions.
Topics that you work on together may include:
A variety of Gottman exercises
5 Love Language Assessment
Introspective review on your expectations
and a host of other exercises
References Lebow, J. L., Chambers, A. L., Christensen, A., & Johnson, S. M. (2011). Research on the Treatment of Couple Distress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 145–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2011.00249.x
Marriage and men's health. Harvard Health. (2019, June 5). https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/marriage-and-mens-health.