How to know when your relationship could use a therapist's touch.
You were once in love — giddy-butterflies-running-amok-in-your-innards type love — but now your toothbrushes spend more intimate time than you do. And you’ve started sharing moments you swore you never would: Fighting over dirty dishes, remote control ownership, and enduring breakfast in stoic silence. But every couple squabbles, and pouts, on occasion, so when is a fight just a fight — and when is it more? According to the experts, there are three telltale signs your bickering may require couples counseling.
1. Running Avoidance Patterns.
You and your lover were once attached at the proverbial hip, stuck together so intensely you experienced separation anxiety when he rolled to the other side of the bed. But lately, you come home as late as possible and barely brush elbows when you do. Uh-oh, patterns such as these could mean it’s time to seek assistance. “Staying away from home on purpose and turning to anyone but your partner for support,” are other samples of insidious habits that require outside help, says Dr. Terry Orbuch (a.k.a. The Love Doctor), psychologist and research professor at The University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. What you’re looking to uncover? The reasons you began avoiding each other in the first place.
2. Experiencing Stress With a Capital “Ess.”
Stressors — from a sudden death to unexpected unemployment — can strike out of nowhere and rock even a solid relationship’s foundation. Why? It’s not about the event itself, but about the way those affected react. Stress may transform a once extroverted wife into a cold, withdrawn automaton, or render a formerly thoughtful boyfriend distracted and agitated. “One reason couples come to counseling is because they are unable to handle stressful situations,” says Orbuch. “Instead of pulling together, they pull apart, withdrawing or turning the stress into anger.”
The good news? Therapy can teach each of you how to handle the stress as individuals, so you emerge from a setback a stronger twosome. But you don’t have to wait until your relationship is rocky to seek out help. “The biggest mistake that people make is to wait until things are headed downhill,” says Dr. Howard Markman, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver and author of Fighting For Your Marriage. “If you invest a little time up front, you will increase your odds of having a successful, happy relationship later.”
3) Bringing In A New Family Member.
Bundle of joy? Sure, for some. But for others, a new baby can be an emotional earthquake—creating diapers, drool and, well … distance. The love a mother feels for her child often trumps the affection she feels for her husband — a natural, but dangerous dynamic, warns Jacobs. “You are now madly in love with your child,” he explains. “If your marriage is typical, [your husband] is probably more bereft over losing his wife than you are about losing your husband.” Which translates to resentment and anger. And while your husband’s busy missing you, there’s a good chance you’re shouldering more household responsibilities, along with an extra mouth to feed. Now doesn’t sitting on someone else’s couch sound good?