When is the Right Time for Therapy?
When is the right time for couples counseling? Is it possible to seek therapy at the wrong time? As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I believe people find their way into couples counseling when they are ready. Whether you have been arguing with your spouse or partner for years, your relationship has been abruptly derailed by an affair, or you are just looking for communication tips on how to be more connected, couples counseling can help.
Before I became a therapist, I read that the best therapy often takes place when one or both partners have said ‘I'm Done’, prior to entering the therapy room. This didn’t make any sense to me at the time! How can that be the best time for therapy? If one person is ‘done’, what is the point of therapy? I later realized that this is the time when people think ‘What have I got to lose?’, therefore they are less ‘guarded’ and most honest about their feelings and their experience in the relationship. So they share it all. Being open and honest about your needs, fears and frustrations is critical to get the most from couples counseling. Finding the right therapist to help you share these difficult feelings with each other will result in knowing your partner more fully, and in turn, being known by your partner more completely. Being known and understood are only possible if you can really hear each other. Couples counseling will help you really hear each other.
Though I agree with the ‘what have I got to lose’ theory, I also know couples can benefit from counseling as soon as they notice negative patterns of interaction, even if their overall relationship experience is great! Any interactional patterns that leave you feeling distant or disconnected from your partner are considered to be negative and not in service of your relationship. We can help you understand what is causing them, and change them into positive patterns that promote closeness and connection. Building a stronger bond will help you avoid reaching the ‘what have I got to lose’ place!
I’ve overheard people voicing their (uninformed) opinions about pre-marital counseling. I’ve heard them say ‘if you need counseling BEFORE you’re married, you’re in trouble!’. I couldn’t disagree more!! Statistics show that couples who participate in pre-marital counseling and/or couples counseling early in their marriage are more likely to experience sustained relationship satisfaction. It makes perfect sense to me. Pre-marital counseling is an excellent way to learn how to have difficult, vulnerable conversations with your partner in a way that creates comfort and connection. Life can be hard, so prepare to lean on your partner when it is. Why wait until you have problems to start therapy? Start early and learn how to prevent them!