How To Tell If You Need Couples Therapy–9 Telltale Signs
You might be hitting a rough patch in your relationship and wondering what to do. You are reading articles and trying to make things work but you and your partner continue to be stuck. You’ve heard of people going to couples therapy but you are not sure if this is something you need.
How does one know if they need therapy? Here are some telltale signs I’ve seen that indicate that couples therapy may be needed:
#1: You Start Fighting Over Smaller and Smaller Things
When your relationship is going well, it is easier to let the small things go. You are more able to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Essentially, you trust that either it’s just a mistake, a one-off, or they were in a bad mood (and will quickly rebound). But in the end, you trust that your partner loves and cares for you.
When things are not going well in your relationship, you start to lose trust. The small things that they do become interpreted as signs that your partner does not love or care for you. Or you may interpret it as a sign that they do not have integrity, are selfish, etc.
#2: Time Apart After an Argument Becomes Longer
Most people after they argue will have some sort of emotional distance as well as physical distance. You may spend more of your time in another room, or the conversation will be short and focused on logistics only.
In a relationship that is doing well, the couple is more likely to “get over it” quicker. They may go for a walk or chat with their friends on the phone and then be ready to make up and go on with their day. They may forgive relatively quicker, and be able to resume loving interaction in a shorter amount of time.
When things are not going well, the time apart becomes longer. Oftentimes, one person may be waiting for the other to apologize, or waiting for the other person to prove they have changed. This often means that there has been a long history of wounds in the relationship. I have seen some couples have stretches of weeks, or even months where they are not talking.
If you find that you are spending more and more time apart, you may need to see a therapist to help figure out what is going on underneath, and then give you both tools reconcile quicker and learn to resolve issues together.
#3: Aggression Is Becoming More Intense
Getting angry is normal when you are in an argument with your partner. However, if you find that you (or your partner) are getting louder and louder and you or your partner are doing more and more extreme things, it may be time to find a therapist.
Sometimes louder voices mean both sides are not able to listen and understand each other. You feel that if you are louder, the other person will listen. Sometimes people get louder to exert power because they may feel disrespected or powerless. (This is not meant to condone aggressive behavior.)
All this to say, if voices are getting louder, or if things are being thrown, or God forbid, there is violence in the relationship, it is probably a signal that individual and couples therapy could be helpful.
#4: You Are Missing Your Partner Less and Start Liking When You Are Apart.
I’ve seen many couples get to a place where one partner wants to separate for a time being. Or take a long trip somewhere.
One of the biggest red flags for a declining relationship is when I hear from one of the partners that they felt “relieved” when they were away. We as humans are motivated by pleasure and pain. So when I hear that a client was relieved when they were with their partner, it signals that there is so much pain in the relationship that being away feels much better.
So if you are one of those people who feel relieved when you are apart, or you start noticing that your partner is wanting to spend more and more time away, it may be a good time to get couples therapy.
#5: You Misinterpret Good Things as Having a Hidden Agenda
I’ve had this happen time and time again: a couple in my office is hostile towards each other. The wife may say “my husband NEVER says sorry.” Then in the session, the husband stretches himself and says sorry for the first time. The wife’s response? “You’re not sincere– just trying to impress the therapist!”
Now could this be true? There could be some element of the client responding to a person of authority (therapist) which influences the husband. However, what I’ve seen is that people are not in therapy to impress the therapist, they are there to make their marriage better.
In a healthy relationship, the wife (in this example) would be able to see that the husband is stretching himself out of his comfort zone and is working hard to make things better. However, because of the damage that has potentially been done already in the relationship, it is hard to trust that anything the other person does has an intention of goodwill.
#6: Ruptures In The Relationship Are Harder To Repair.
You may have an argument and then separate. However, when you both come back to talk about the argument, another argument erupts.
After a while, nothing gets addressed, both of you get more and more easily triggered, and there amasses a stockpile of issues under the rug. Both of you are afraid to bring those things out from underneath. Both of you are filled with hurt from the past and present, with fear of bringing any issue up again.
Most of the time, I’ve found that if the two people are committed to working on the relationship, this can be solved with some coaching on communication. A lot of us have not grown up with good role models of how to resolve issues. Maybe we’ve seen our parents blow up and then sweep things under the rug. Or just avoid issues and do things behind the other person’s back to cope.
Learning how to resolve issues after an argument is something that takes communication skills but also the right mindset. Sometimes a therapist can help a couple see things in a different light so they are able to come together with the right attitude as well as the tools to resolve issues effectively and confidently.
#7: You Start Thinking About Other People or Wondering If Your Partner Is Cheating On You
Caveat: there are people who cheat even in a good relationship, and that is another issue (more on that next time!).
There are many instances where people cheat when the relationship is not doing well. If a person is not feeling loved or respected in their relationship, they may start consciously or subconsciously start opening themselves to those who may show them some attention. (I am not giving an excuse to people who cheat! Regardless of how a relationship is, it is never okay to lie to your partner and cheat on them.)
However, if you feel that you are missing something at home and are craving and are open to attention from others, this may be a reason to look at your own relationship. You may want to ask yourself what you are missing and why you are not able to get this from your partner.
Your therapist can help you figure out what that is and how both people can give each other what they need.
#8: Your kids (Or Other Close People) Notice That Something Is Not Well
Kids are so sensitive and keen to their parents that they notice everything. I always say that kids are like truthtellers in the family. When you want to know what is going on in the family, you can always ask the kids and you will get an honest answer.
So if you are hearing things like, “I wish you and mommy would get along,” or if you are getting comments about arguing, or hearing comments about “dadding making mommy sad,” I would take these comments seriously.
If you have friends that are close enough to you both, sometimes they will notice as well. They may notice things while you are out together or, observe how you both talk to each other. If they have to ask “is everything ok?” I would take a look at the relationship and consider counseling.
#9: You have tried talking to your pastor, parents, or friends and nothing is working.
The people closest to you are great resources for you and your partner. In some cultures (e.g. I work with a lot of South Asian/Indian clients), it is very normal to bring in the parents to help solve marital problems. I have seen this be a wonderful resource, so if you have the relationships with those around you that know both you and your partner and can give good, sound advice, please utilize them. Pastors, siblings, mentors, and trusted friends are also great resources.
However, sometimes things become too sticky for loved ones to help. Maybe one person (or both people) are resistant to change. Maybe there has been a big breach of trust that requires professional help. Maybe you feel that the mediator (family, friends, etc.) has taken sides and you no longer feel comfortable sharing things with them. Maybe you just don’t want your dirty laundry out there and prefer to share with someone unbiased, who you don’t know, who will keep things confidential.
Whatever the case, if you have people you are close to that you feel comfortable sharing with, my recommendation is to go there first. And if you cannot get things resolved, it might be a good idea to call a couples therapist.
There’s no doubt about it, relationships take work. And if you are willing to do the work, there is potential for great reward. Many of us get stuck trying to reach our goals, or just getting out of a rough patch. Sometimes we are able to figure it out ourselves, and sometimes we could use help. Couples therapy can be a great resource to help you uncover the things that are preventing you from moving forward. Couples therapy can also give you tools to use to prevent damage and to build a strong foundation in your relationship.
About the author: Lia Huynh, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice serving San Jose, Milpitas, the surrounding areas, and all over California. She specializes in couples therapy and has helped hundreds of couples repair and rebuild their relationships. If you are interested in her services, click here.