Many people look at their partner on their wedding day and think something like, "It will take an avalanche in our house before I ever think about leaving this person." Then one day the ground shakes, rumbles, and the weight of uncertainty hits you like an avalanche. You might find yourself thinking, "Why did I ever marry this person?" It doesn't matter if you've been married for a few months or 20 years, there may come a time when you need help with your relationship. Learning how to tell if you need marriage counseling, may be the best chance you have at staying together.
Many of these clues, may not be all that obvious. For example, buying a home together, moving for better jobs, and even the birth of a baby are all really happy moments in many couple's lives, but they negatively impact couples. My husband and I have been lucky enough to experience all of those things in our eight short years together. But just because we were experiencing happy moments, doesn't mean we were necessarily a happy couple all the time. At times, we were so triggered by the stress that our dynamic shifted intensely.
Shedding antiquated presumptions about relationships and marriages will help couples speak up to each other when something feels amiss, and hopefully alert them to seek the help they need to work through the issues. That's not to say with therapy you'll completely avoid divorce, but getting help is a start to healing no matter which direction the relationship goes. Here are nine clues to look for that you and your partner might need marriage counseling.
1. You Feel More Negative Than Positive About Your Partner
"When people start to struggle, they feel more negative," therapist Michael Salas, owner and founder of Vantage Point Counseling Services in Dallas tells Romper. "They start to associate annoying behaviors with who their partner is." He adds that couples who are happy feel more positive about their partners than negative, and they simply accept and respect their partners, annoying behaviors and all.
2. You Don't Trust Them
"This is most commonly associated with cheating," Salas says. "If a couple is wanting to stay together, they need to learn about how they got to this place. They also need to learn how they can both move forward." He notes that navigating infidelity takes a lot of delicate communication that a therapist or counselor can help with.
3. You're Scared To Be Honest
If you notice that you or your partner is becoming more and more reluctant to share feelings, it may be time to seek out a therapist.
"When partners feel safe with each other, sharing vulnerable feelings like insecurity, fears and hurts is easier," Ginny Mills, counselor and clinical director for Full Life Counseling in Winston-Salem, North Carolina tells Romper. "Similarly, when partners find themselves feeling afraid to share feelings vulnerably, that's an important early warning sign that the marriage is in trouble."
She adds that when partners are honest with each other and let them see into their hearts, it generally bodes well for the marriage.
4. You're Avoiding Each Other
You ever pretend to be asleep so you don't have to engage with your partner?Or give half-assed responses to your spouse's questions so you don't have to talk to them? If so, you might want to get some help.
"Avoidance is a killer for relationships because it creates a vacuum in the relationship that our partners typically fill with anxieties and fears, which we in turn use to justify our desire for distance," Michael Hilgers, a counselor in Austin, Texas tells Romper. "This type of feedback loop in a relationship is really difficult to break without an objective third party because each partner believes that the other is the problem."
5. You Feel Ignored
If you're feeling unimportant to your partner in any way, it may be time to seek help from a therapist.
"Just like children, spouses need attention, affection and appreciation from their partner," Mills says. "Attention, affection and appreciation matter to most adults far more than they are willing to admit."
6. You Don't Have Conflict
"When a couple tells me that they never fight, alarm bells go off in my head," Hilgers says. "Conflict, done in a healthy way, can bring passion, energy and security to a relationship."
He says engaging in healthy conflict shows that each person is holding onto their individual values and desires, while also trusting that their partner can handle the differences. Hilgers also notes that avoiding fights to not cause waves, can really have a huge, snow-ball effect on the relationship.
"If a person perceives their partner or the relationship as being too fragile to handle conflict, they can give up too much of themselves which results in resentment and a loss of overall satisfaction," he says.
7. Your Fights Go On For Days
My husband can get over a fight instantly, while I like to ruminate more and feel the range of emotions. My anger hardly ever lingers past a day though and according, to therapist, Jill Whitney, who authors the blog, Keep The Talk Going, that's a good thing.
"If it often takes you more than 24 hours to calm down and talk things through, your fights are probably triggering powerful emotions that you don't quite have a handle on," Whitney tells Romper
She says working with a therapist can really help couples figure out what's causing their intense feelings. It can also be an opportunity for couples to find emotional tools and tactics that help de-escalate conflicts, and fix the relationship more effectively.
8. You Fight About The Same Thing All The Time
If you're having the same conflict over the same thing, over and over again, it might be time to evaluate what's really going on there.
"Often the core issue is how the topic is being discussed," Jessica Small, therapist with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Denver tells Romper. "Couples therapy will help partners express their experience in new ways allowing them to feel heard and understood." She adds that if couples change the way a topic is being discussed, the solution can often come out of that shift.
9. You Or Your Partner Are Violent
"It's common for partners to get so mad that they're tempted to lash out physically, but it's essential to control that temptation," Small says. "Therapy can help the two of you learn ways to control anger and break the cycle of destructive arguments."
If your disagreements are becoming violent, including: pushing, shoving, grabbing, or hitting you may need to get more urgent help right away. Therapy for you both might come later if you feel your safety is being threatened. You can call 911 or the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800- 799-7233 (SAFE).
Most marital challenges can be worked through, but sometimes they just need some help. Even if the ultimate result of therapy is a separation or divorce, sessions with a trained professional will hopefully give you the tools to communicate and work through it more effectively. It may even help you both heal and move on together or individually.