Management & Leadership

How to know if you need marriage counselling

Oct 16, 2017
Marriage Counselling

So you had another fight about the damn dishes. But does it mean something more serious is going on? Do you think you need marriage counselling?

Key takeaways

  • All relationships go through rough patches and it can be difficult to know if it’s just a passing phase or if there’s real trouble in paradise.
  • Telltale signs that couples therapy may be needed include negative communication, the keeping of secrets and avoidance of certain topics, role playing, and the feeling of having fallen out of love.
  • Couples counselling is a psychotherapy that helps identify the problems in a relationship, resolve conflicts, and improve partnerships.

All relationships have ups and downs, and it’s hard to know the difference between a passing rough patch or a more serious situation that isn’t going to change on its own. Even if your relationship feels pretty difficult, it can be easy to talk yourself out of marriage counselling (“Things will get better” or “We’re just under a lot of stress right now” or “This week has been better”).

But, if you find yourself wondering where those days of finishing each other’s sentences and giggling over sappy private jokes have gone, it may be because most of your emotional energy is tied up in tense debates about paying bills or about why your spouse showed up at the swimming gala late and with the wrong kind of sandwiches.

Take heart: all is not lost. It may be, though, that the two of you need to see a couples counsellor. A psychotherapy that helps couples to identify the problems in their relationship, resolve their conflicts, and improve their relationship, couples counselling is generally a short-term therapy involving both partners.

Here are five signs that there may be trouble in paradise, and how marriage counselling can help:

1. Communication has become negative

Once communication has deteriorated, it is often difficult to get it going back in the right direction. Negative communication can include anything that leaves one partner feeling depressed, insecure, disregarded, or wanting to withdraw from the conversation. This can also include the tone of the conversation. It is important to remember that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it. And negative communication can also include any communication that not only leads to hurt feelings, but emotional or physical abuse, as well as nonverbal communication.

How a therapist can help: Criticism makes us defensive and we often deal with defensiveness by finding something we can criticize is return. In other words, criticism begets criticism. A counsellor will help the two of you recognise the cyclical pattern of criticism and defensiveness in your relationship and will provide tools for inoculating your relationship against its boomerang effect.

2. You keep secrets

There needs to be transparency in a healthy marriage. So, when you or your partner begins to keep secrets and avoid sharing your experiences, information, and thoughts with each other, it may be a sign of trouble brewing. And, note, there’s no such thing as a small secret. You may think, “I’ll tell him about the new blouse I bought but I won’t mention the shoes I bought too.” If you’re tempted to keep these sorts of secrets it’s important to examine the motives behind them. This sort of dishonesty can signal deeper problems that will only grow if you aren’t honest about them now.

How a therapist can help: Nothing good comes from keeping secrets. They almost always come out eventually and often cause a lot of hurt and pain when they do. However, there’s a difference between secrecy and privacy and where the former is toxic, the latter is healthy and necessary in a relationship. A counsellor will help you distinguish between the two.

3. You’ve fallen out of love

Every married couple goes through phases in which they regret their decision to get married, but these phases are usually transient. However, if you’ve been feeling this way for a long time or you’re feeling like you’ve fallen out of love with your spouse and want a divorce, marriage counselling is something you should seriously consider.

How a therapist can help: Falling out of love doesn’t happen overnight, and falling back in love is going to take some time, too. To that end, counselling provides a neutral platform for you and your spouse to discuss what’s been missing in your marriage and set the wheels in motion – such as setting a regular “date night” – to recapturing some of the spark that initially drew you two together.

4. You avoid certain topics

Are there “hot button” issues that you or your partner knows not to bring up because it will start a fight? Have these topics begun to accumulate, making it difficult to talk about anything substantive or real? When this happens, your relationship is at risk of an “emotional affair”, when one of you turns to someone outside of the relationship to get your emotional needs met.

How a therapist can help: While so-called emotional affairs may not involve any physical engagement, they are a form of infidelity nonetheless and can be even harder to get over than physical affairs. Working with a couples counsellor may be a way of opening up dialogue about the issues one, or both, of you is avoiding, and assist in ensuring your emotional needs are met from within the relationship, and not outside of it.

5. You’re stuck in roles

Couples sabotage their relationships when they tend to play certain roles that, over time, make them turn away from each other instead of toward each other. These archetypes include: the prosecuting attorney (pointing out the things your partner is doing wrong); the union leader (picketing the unfairness – “I’m the victim! You need to make things better”); the fire chief (“Just listen to me – I know how to fix everything”); and the parent-child pattern (where one partner communicates like the other is his or her teenage son).

How a therapist can help: Many couples struggle with articulating what they really require, so the argument becomes all about the other person. A counsellor will first help you to both recognise the roles that you tend to play, and then assist you to own your behaviours and identify your needs – and, finally, to be able to effectively voice those needs without slipping into self-defeating role playing.

Interested in understanding the intricacies of human communication? A course in counselling will provide you with the skills you need to help people negotiate the complexities of the human experience. Courses include the Higher Certificate in Counselling and Communication Skills and the Bachelor of Psychology Degree. For more information, enquire now.

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