We believe we're getting the fairy tale when we get married. You know: meet "the one," have a whirlwind courtship, get married and live happily ever after. What the fairy tales don't tell you is that relationships take work.
Often times, we don't go into a relationship with the tools to manage the challenges, which is where the pros come in. And by pros, I mean a counselor or therapist who can help you learn new ways of relating to your partner.
The question is: when do you know it's time to consider marriage counseling? Here are some trigger points and behaviors that are signs you may need help.
1. When you aren't talking. In all honesty, many relationship challenges are simply challenges in communication. A therapist can help facilitate new ways to communicate with each other. Once communication has deteriorated, often it is hard to get it going back in the right direction.
2. When you're talking, but it’s always negative. Negative communication can include anything that leaves one partner feeling judged, shamed, disregarded, insecure or wanting to withdraw from the conversation. Negative communication also includes the tone of conversation because it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. Negative communication can escalate into emotional abuse as well as non-verbal communication.
3. When you're afraid to talk. When it's just too frightening to even bring issues up. This can be anything from sex to money, or even annoying little habits that are being blown out of proportion. A therapist's job is to help a couple become clear about their issues and to help them understand what they are truly talking about.
4. When affection is withheld as punishment. My client Ann's ex-husband would get angry over small things and then withhold affection (including giving her the silent treatment). If one partner starts to act as a "parent" or "punisher," there is a lack of balance in the relationship.
5. When you see your partner as an antagonist. You and your partner are not adversaries; you are on the same team. If it begins to feel as if you are on different sides, then it's time to seek help.
6. When you keep secrets. Each person in a relationship has a right to privacy, but when you keep secrets from each other, something isn't right
7. When you contemplate (or are having) an affair. Fantasizing about an affair is a signal that you desire something different from what you currently have. While it is possible for a relationship to survive after one partner has had an affair, it's prudent to get some help before that happens. If both of you are committed to the therapy process and are being honest, the marriage may be salvaged. At the very least, you may both come to realize that it is healthier for both of you to move on.