One of the most common questions I hear early on in relationship counseling is, understandably, “Can you help us? Is there hope?” The feelings of fear and doubt are clearly present behind these questions, and the answer is never a simple “yes” or “no.” One of the biggest determinants of positive outcomes in couples therapy is how motivated both partners are. Most of the time, couples do not come to therapy until there is a crisis, or when they are right on the precipice of the decision to end their relationship.
According to research completed by the renowned relationship counselor and researcher Dr. John Gottman, couples entering therapy have been unhappy for six years prior to seeking professional help. That means that for many couples therapists work with, feelings of hurt, resentment, and frustration have been brewing for more than half a decade. Therapy is often the last resort. I am here to try and convince you that while it is never too late to come in, it is best not to wait until your relationship is struggling under the weight of years of unresolved pain and conflict.
Simply put, the earlier you start couples therapy when struggling, the higher the likelihood that your relationship will strengthen and become a source of joy again. Instead of spending time trying to change patterns that have come to be deep-seated and automatic over years of growing unhappiness, we can address problems more proactively and more easily, and focus on building positive communication, restoring intimacy, and your other goals and dreams as a couple.
Conflict is bound to arise in all relationships. No two people are the same, and when we become close with someone, we get both what we love about them and what we do not care for so much. Differences will spark conflict, and we are rarely taught what loving conflict resolution looks like. Oh, sure, we are taught how to debate. How to win. But conflict with those we love is not about winning, or about getting everything we want. Conflict is about learning our partner’s story, discovering why a particular issue is important to them, and about compromising with each other to get something that both partners can be satisfied with. Handled in this way, conflict can actually bring couples closer, resulting in greater commitment and love. Therapy is a place to develop the insights and skills that can help you grow together over the years to come.
This being said, even if you have waited to seek out couples therapy, it is rarely “too late.” Couples therapy has been shown to be successful even in cases of extreme anger, hurt, and betrayal. When partners are motivated to improve themselves and their relationship, couples therapy is a place where both partners can learn to do just that. Starting relationship counseling is not only an important step to creating a healthy, fulfilling relationship with your partner but also an investment in your own happiness. In the end, we need to feel emotionally connected to others in order to thrive.