When Is The Right Time To Start Couples Counselling

When Is The Right Time To Start Couples Counselling | Best Self Forward Therapy British Columbia Canada

A common question I’m asked is when should couples consider starting couples counselling?

This is an excellent question, but it made me realize that there is a misunderstanding of the full benefits of couples counselling. Hidden in this question is the idea that there’s a tipping point after which someone should seek couples counselling. Like you should wait for x event before starting.

Ideally, couples would begin couples counselling long before they feel they “need” to do so. Like any routine maintenance, the earlier you start, the fewer problems you have to deal with. For example, think of your car, house, or physical health. Spotting an issue when it’s smaller will almost always result in an easier, quicker, and cheaper solution.

Did you know that the average couple waits two years, and according to Gottman, even six years before seeking professional counselling help for their marital problems? After six years, if you began with a simple miscommunication issue or misunderstanding, that’s a long time for that minor issue to burrow down and grow into something more significant.

By proactively seeking couples counselling early in the relationship, you can focus on laying a positive foundation for better communication and avoid unnecessary future pain points.

Couples counselling is not just for married couples

To many people, couples counselling is synonymous with marriage counselling. They view it as something for married couples who are near the brink of divorce.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In reality, couples counselling is for any committed relationship. It’s great for traditional and non-traditional couples alike. You could be a seasoned couple with years of life experience, a newer relationship looking to lay a long-term foundation or anything in between.

Even if you’re just starting out, you should consider beginning couples counselling as soon as possible. Starting early allows you to lay the foundations for a relationship that can grow and blossom together.

Don’t think of marriage counselling as something you only turn to when you have significant problems to solve. Think of it instead as something positive that’s setting you up to reach even deeper connections and commitment to one another.

Signs it might be time to seek couples counselling:

As we’ve said, you should consider beginning couples counselling as early as possible. However, during the course of a relationship, certain behaviours or indicators reveal a more significant issue that could be lurking underneath the surface.

While these issues will vary based on the situation and relationship, here are some common signs that you might want to consider beginning couples counselling:

You’re struggling to trust one another

This is one of the most common reasons couples seek counselling. Loss of trust can come from major breaches like an affair or from multiple dishonest interactions about finances, drinking, friends etc. Couples counselling can help rebuild trust by providing a safe forum where both parties can express their vulnerabilities and feelings freely.

Your communication is lacking or broken

Communication is the key to any long-term relationship. We wrongly assume that communication is easy because we do it all the time. However, honest communication in a relationship takes committed effort. Relationship guru, John Gottman, describes “the four horsemen” that couples will default to in their communication: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. These negative communication patterns can, over time, cause a serious rupture in connection and weaken our intimacy.  This can lead to couples feeling resentful and distant from one another. If you’ve noticed these unhelpful communication patterns creeping into your conversations, you might consider visiting a couples counsellor.

You’re experiencing intimacy issues

Many relationships will struggle with intimacy, either emotional or physical, as time progresses. Couples will talk about “having lost the spark.” Maybe the loss of intimacy is due to the difficulties you face during your day draining your emotional energy, so you’re not able to give as much to your partner. Or maybe your sexuality has diminished over the years. Maybe some slowing down of frequency has occurred, or other issues have caused a shift in your ability to enjoy intimacy with your partner. If you feel like your intimacy could be improved, that’s a good time to seek out a couples counsellor.

You feel stuck on the same issue

Relationships should be moving forward and growing and not stuck at a single point in the past. If you find that your communication keeps coming back to the same issue or it feels circular and unfulfilling, it might be a sign that there’s something deeper to explore. If left unresolved, these sticking points can cause damaging patterns that are difficult to break through. A relationship counsellor can help you get unstuck and develop healthier communication.

You feel your arguments aren’t constructive

Sure, we’d love to avoid them, but arguments will happen in any relationship. Even the most loving partners will be at odds with each other sometimes, so it’s essential to know how to navigate complex disagreements. If you notice your arguments tend to be more destructive than constructive or your fights end in one of you or both of you feeling misunderstood and hurt, it’s probably time to get help from a couples counsellor.

You’ve recently gone through something difficult

Life can be complicated and messy. We can understand that certain things are unavoidable, but going through them is another thing altogether. Deaths, job loss, and even moving houses can significantly impact a person and threaten to destabilize a relationship. Couples counselling can help a couple cope with the difficulties that come up during life, equipping the team with tools to use to help navigate through the more demanding waters.

You feel like something in your relationship is off

At some point in your relationship, you may experience that the dynamic has changed between you and your partner, but you’re having trouble pinpointing exactly why that is. Perhaps there’s a sense of resentment between the two of you. Or maybe you’re not as comfortable with them as you used to be. This does not necessarily mean that either of you are doing anything wrong, but rather that you should assess what the deeper cause may be. Couples counselling can be a very beneficial place to identify these problems, no matter how big or small they may seem.

Don’t wait to get started with couples counselling

Too many couples wait for something significant to happen before beginning couples counselling.

Maybe they worry that their couples therapy session will be spent sitting around dredging up faults and painful issues from the past. Or they might worry that they would have nothing to talk about.

While some sessions might deal with past traumas, many will serve to focus and remind you instead of your shared love for each other. Couples counselling will help you learn to turn in towards each other instead of away from each other. It can actually be a source of joy and positivity in your relationship. Many couples find themselves looking forward to their sessions over time.

One thing is sure: if you are wondering if you need couples counselling or not, most likely it is time for you to reach out to a professional therapist.  I am also happy to answer any questions you have about this process.

Maha Elias is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC), Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC), Comprehensive Family Mediator (FMC), and sexual health and trauma-informed couples therapist with a private counselling practice in Victoria, British Columbia.

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