While most of us can agree that we are more fearful today than in the past, few things can evoke as much fear as hearing your partner say, “Honey, I think we need couples counseling.” The therapeutic process can be terrifying to both men and women. While there have been some interesting depictions of therapy on television in the last few years, (The Soprano’s, In Treatment, and the dysfunctional Frazer), some stigma still remains.
Often, one person in a couple is more comfortable communicating and expressing their feelings. This is the partner that will often bring up counseling as an option. Their willingness and excitement can often be confusing to their partner who is turned off by the idea of opening up and exploring the relationship. Spending 50 minutes in a room with a stranger, each week talking about personal information, can feel like heaven to one partner, hell to the other.
If you are leading the march to therapy, be kind about it. If you talk about it in terms of fixing what is broken in your partner you’ll understandably hit a brick wall. Instead, talk about counseling in terms of how it will benefit both of you. Mention the ways in which you want to learn to be a better partner. It’s important to realize that no matter what is happening in the relationship, both of you have things to learn and ways to grow.
Bottom line is, couples counseling works when both parties are fully committed and the counselor is well trained. I’ve seen couples counseling transform the most toxic of relationships. What you need to know is that the sooner you go to therapy, the easier it will be to redirect the behavior that isn’t working. Most couples wait a full 7 years after they begin to experience issues before going to therapy. Seven years! That is longer than most of us want to drive the same car yet we often live in untenable marriages because we fear the unknown of the therapist’s office.
There are a lot of reasons why going sooner is better. To begin with, couples have more desire to work on their relationship early in the game. The chemical soup that love creates in our brain is still strong. Even though conflict exists, your desire to work things out is at it’s highest. Another reason is that the behaviors that tend to damage relationships aren’t set in stone so they are easier to change.
Once a couple has been fighting it out for a few years, often about the same issue, they get tired, worn down, less motivated. They understandably prefer distractions to the challenges of communication. Zoning out in front of the television or having a few glasses of wine every night is easier than trying to figure things out. Couples start to think that maybe this is as good as it gets and find ways to accept the pain as normal and expected.