1. You needed help last year. Get help sooner rather than later. As a marriage and family therapist, I work with couples every week. With few exceptions, I can say most couples wait way too long to seek support. The sooner you get in to the office, the less entrenched you are in your habits of behavior. The less resentment, despair, and baggage we have to unpack. Our work becomes a little easier and shorter term. Besides, the sooner you get in, the less time you have spent unhappy, discouraged, angry, and frightened.
2. Do it for the kids. When couples have children, it’s even more important they are attending to the State of the Union. And it’s not just about avoiding divorce. It’s about the emotional soup your children are growing up in. Your children are little emotional sponges and they are soaking up all the spoken and unspoken conflicts in the home. They’re marinating in your angst and in the process they are developing stressed out little nervous systems and all kinds of conscious and unconscious beliefs about how love and relationship feel. When they come of age, they will start pairing up with people who treat them the way you treat each other. The choices you make about your relationship now will be playing out for generations. Growing yourself and your relationship skills is the biggest legacy you can leave your lineage.
Even if you decide on divorce down the line, you’re going to need to be able to co-parent together over the long-term. It’s not like parenting from two different households is easier or less complicated than what you’re doing now. It’s not.
3. You’ve become mere roommates. It’s stale. It’s uninspiring. And it is deadening. It leaves your marriage at risk for midlife crisis, affairs, and falling asleep at the wheel, only to wake up to a stranger. If you ever had anything going on between the two of you that excited you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, or sexually, we have a lot of leverage to work with in your relationship. Passion can save you, but you need to reconnect to it. When you’ve become disconnected everything else is harder to manage. The daily grind of life, paying bills, working, and raising children can squeeze out the foundation of it all--your relationship. Sometimes it’s just a matter of remembering who you were together and heading back that direction. Our work together can form the way home.
4. You’re fighting all the time and it’s getting ugly. It surprises most couples to hear arguments aren’t the problem. It’s not the fighting that’s hurting you, it’s the way you fight. If you’re fighting in an ugly, abusive, or rageful manner, you’ve got an issue in your marriage. If arguments don’t lead to resolutions, it’s a problem. There are healthy ways to fight and you need to learn them.
5. You never argue, disagree, or have much of anything else going on either. Believe it or not, conflict-avoidant marriages are some of the most difficult to work through. One or both partners are avoiding conflict or disagreement at any cost. Nothing ever gets worked out. One of you, at least, is not stating their needs, holding their ground, or taking care of themselves. There can be a lack of relating in any real way. Often, although there is no fighting, no one is happy either. Therapy can help you identify and express your feelings, strengthen your personal boundaries, help you move into a more authentic relationship, and build more intimacy in your life.
6. Financial stressors. One of the big conflicts and stressors in marriage is money. It’s huge. Not only the disagreements about how to handle and manage money, but the huge stressors that are at play when finances are tight and there doesn’t seem to be a way out of the bind. Financial issues are one of the things that will put couples in enough pain they will finally seek help. The truth of the matter is, money is such a potent and emotionally laden issue that it will show up in many aspects of your relationship, not just your financial balance sheet. We have all kinds of conscious and unconscious feelings and beliefs about money and those beliefs act out in our relationships. Clearing the way by exploring the meaning of money and power in the relationship is a huge step in the right direction.
7. Loss of desire. Every couple has their own pattern around sexuality and lovemaking. Sex holds a unique place in each couple relationship. A loss of desire for one another can lead to much confusion, feelings of rejection, loss of self-esteem, and emotional pain. The thing is, your desire for one another will naturally fluctuate over the course of your marriage, ebbing and flowing. Don’t panic. Even when it seems it is lost, it can be revived. Sex is a very unique form of communication and is a conversation style all its own. If it isn’t taking place in your marriage, then your access to an important conversation in your relationship has been cut off, as well. We’ll want to attend to this important aspect of your life.
8. Parenting issues. Of course you love them. Still, there’s no getting around the fact kids can be one of the big conflict areas in your marriage. You may not agree on how to raise the kids, discipline them, or make decisions regarding their well-being. Children are lots of fun and they are also lots of work. There may be times when your children challenge you almost beyond your capacity to deal with it. When you’ve gotten to the point where you are fighting about the children and constantly disagreeing over how to proceed, counseling can be a huge help. That neutral third voice, someone who isn’t triggered by the same things you are triggered by in your spouse, can be a priceless assist in figuring things out.
9. When you find yourself consistently disrespecting your spouse, belittling them, dismissing them, and disregarding them, or they you. You’re well down the road to damaging your relationship at this point and it is high time to get help. With enough compassion, self-responsibility, and determination, you can bring this relationship back from the brink. It’s going to require a lot of work, inside and outside your counseling sessions, yet I have seen these couples succeed as well. It really depends on what you yourself are willing to change. And really, that’s always going to be the case, no matter what sent you to couple counseling. The buck stops with you, not your spouse. Every time.
10. You’re wondering if you should get a divorce. When half of first marriages are failing and even higher numbers of second marriages are falling apart, it makes sense that when couples find themselves unhappy and unhappy for awhile, they start to wonder if they should throw in the towel, too. I don’t believe every marriage can or should be saved. I’m not in this business to “save” every marriage that comes my way. Frankly, that’s not my job anyway. It’s yours, if you want it. I’m here to mentor, coach and midwife you through your process, not determine its outcome. That said, just because you are tired, bruised, scared, and unhappy, just because you are wondering if divorce is your only solution, does not mean that that’s the only good option you have.
Thinking about divorce certainly is a great indication you should be working with an experienced therapist to sort it all out. It may come as a surprise to you, but painful, sad and unhappy times, even for extended periods of time, are common in all long, happy, and successful marriages. In all marriages, in fact. The presence of unhappiness is not a problem in itself. What it is is an opportunity to grow yourselves and your relationship and to move forward. Any happily married old lady or gent can tell you that.
One of the biggest benefits of marriage counseling is you are no longer alone with the problems. Now there are three of us working to heal and maintain your relationship. Having that trained third set of eyes and ears can be an invaluable asset. Your marriage deserves no less than a fighting chance.