It’s common to wait until there is a relationship emergency to seek help. But maybe give a therapist a go if you encounter any of these smaller red flags.
You have kids together because you love each other. But little else tests the limits of your time, patience, and ability to stay positive like parenting. Plus, it goes on and on. For decades. If the two of you are going to stay strong as couple, you may want to dip into couples counseling.
Taking care of your relationship wellness is no drastic step. If you’re a metaphorical race car, going around and around at top speed, you can’t sustain the pace without a pit stop. Wait too long and the wheels come off, and then you’ve got a bigger problem.
There are a few barriers that keep people from seeking help. First, there is the pit-of-the-stomach moment when someone has to say out loud, “maybe we should see someone.” (Note: It doesn’t make you weirdos. Trust me, by the time your kids are in high school, most of your couple friends will have been to a therapist.) Then there is finding the expert, though that’s easier in the current world of Zoom-powered counseling. Finally there’s the cost to work out, but paying for help is cheaper than breaking up.
Assuming there’s been no obvious tipping point—no one has threatened to leave, no affair has been exposed—what are the signs that your bond could use some maintenance?
Your sex life is dwindling.
You can blame it on the kids, but Raquele Williams, a licensed clinical psychotherapist in Brooklyn, says this happens to childless couples, too. “Intimacy is a form of communication,” Williams explains, and communication can break down in any relationship over time.
Your therapist would likely work to address what’s being held back. Are their built-up resentments that aren’t making you feel lovey-dovey? Is one partner afraid of saying something, and that’s making sex feel forced? Which brings us to...
You’re not really talking anymore.
You don’t have to be fighting with your partner to need a referee. Sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, couples just stop having conversations beyond the endless script of who is doing pickup/what’s for dinner/what are we watching tonight. A trained therapist knows how to get you out of autopilot and open lines of communication.
Often, one of you is just really scared to mention something: a frustration, a wish, or a complaint that you want to be constructive, but fear will be a bomb in the relationship. That’s where a therapist can be so key.
“A good therapist creates a safe space for a couple to communicate with each other,” Williams says. Opening up at home might feel risky, like you’ll be misunderstood or you’ll hurt your partner’s feelings. “In the therapeutic space, talking is open in a healing, helpful way. The therapist uses themselves as a mediator to facilitate sharing and discussion,” Willams says.
The same arguments are playing out over and over.
If a past hurt keeps coming up, it usually means there are larger issues of shame, guilt, judgment, insecurity, or anger that are not resolving. “A therapist helps you clarify that every angry word and every harsh tone comes from disappointment,” Williams says. “You can get into a spiral of ‘you didn't do this,’ or ‘you could have done that.’ A therapist can help you close the loop and find resolution.”
You’re fantasizing about cheating, or getting emotionally close to someone else.
If something good happens in your day, and the first person you want to tell is not your partner (and not your sister or your mother or a best friend either, but someone whose texts thrill you because it feels like you’re gently starting something), step back and consider what all this is saying about the state of your partnership. Then consider couples counseling and finding a way back to your significant other.
Bottom line: Everyone told you that staying together takes hard work, and that sounded like an empty cliche when you were wildly lusting after each other. Now, deep into parenthood, you might reach the part where — surprise! — some work is needed. It’s cool. Cheers to adulting.