Most people treat couples therapy as a measure of last resort: Your relationship is completely on the rocks, one or both of you is considering calling it quits. It’s like dialing 911.
But as I’ve said before, that’s the worst time to start therapy–when you’re feeling hopeless, when one or both of you has little investment in the relationship. Seeking professional help sooner can make all the difference.
So what is the best time?
1) When you keep having the same conversations/arguments and getting nowhere.
You keep restating your position; they keep restating theirs. It’s like a car stuck in the mud; no one’s budging.
These can become a death spiral for your relationship. You might start to feel like there’s no point in talking anymore and turn away from each other for good. You’ll start nursing hurts and resentments. The distance will grow.
2) When you’re too afraid to talk to your partner (maybe because you worry about hurting him/her, maybe because you’re not sure what it’ll mean for your relationship.)
Stuffing your feelings isn’t good for your mental health, and it isn’t good for your ability to connect emotionally with your partner. It’s like erecting a barrier between you.
A professional can create a safe space in which to explore the fears, help articulate the issues, provide a buffer, and process you and your partner’s feelings.
3) When the anger in your relationship is getting out of control.
That can mean verbal or physical aggression. If you feel abuse is occurring, it’s time to start therapy. This is especially true if the person being aggressive is not owning his or her behavior.
Look for a therapist who has experience with domestic violence. You might chafe at that terminology, but if some part of you knows, deep down, that abuse is occurring, then you need a therapist who knows how to confront in an appropriate way.
4) When the communication has effectively shut down.
You retreat to one part of the house; your partner goes to another. Maybe there’s tension, or maybe you’ve just accepted the disconnection and it feels companionable.
But if the emotional connection and the channels of communication have essentially been severed, couples therapy can help.
5) When an attachment injury (such as infidelity) has significantly eroded your trust and faith in your partner’s caring.
Emotionally-focused therapy (EFT) is a particularly good treatment option in cases like this. It’s all about how to create (or, in this case, recreate) a secure emotional bond between partners. The goal for therapy (as in life) is to have the kind of relationship where if you’re asked if you can rely on your partner, you can answer yes without hesitation.
Couple in therapy image available from Shutterstock.