We have all heard that relationships take work.
But how do you know when to seek professional help?
If you didn't have healthy relationship role models growing up, knowing what is a normal part of the ups and downs of partnership verses what is not normal or healthy can difficult. Good mental health and wellness must include healthy, safe relationships.
Unresolved childhood trauma and stress, such as divorce, parental estrangement, abandonment, abuse, addiction, neglect, and/or feeling unloved will often feed into our present day, adult relationships. The past can have an uncanny way of repeating itself in ways that we may not realize.
With this in mind, a large part of improving your intimate relationship (and all relationships in general) is to make the time and space to heal your own individual stress, trauma, and pain. This does not mean that your relationship problems are "all on you." What it does mean is that relationship counseling is more about working on changing something fundamental about yourself, rather than trying to change the other person. In good relationship counseling, two people are actively "working on themselves" in efforts to work better together as a unit. This is what creates healthy relationships.
We communicate and connect better when we can own our part in the problems and have insight and compassion for how these pattern developed in the first place.
Maybe you feel like you are working harder to improve the relationship than your partner. Or, that you are too stressed or busy to make room for connecting with them. You may feel unheard or unappreciated which, if left unchecked, adds up over time. Maybe you feel like the original spark that brought you together is no longer there. You feel stuck but you are not sure what the next best move is.
Perhaps you have enlisted the support and feedback of friends or family about your relationship struggles. While having social support is extremely helpful for mental health, how do you know when it is time to seek the professional help of a licensed therapist for you and your partner before it is too late?
Here are 4 Signs that Now Is the Right Time to See A Relationship Therapist
1) You Have Become Roommates:
We get it. You have bills to pay, a home to run, work deadlines to meet, and schedules to manage. On top of all of that, you are trying to prioritize your own self-care and "me time" (often doubly so if you are a parent). The "business" of being an adult can often feel like working all three shifts, leaving little to no time or energy for your partner. Even if the dishes are done, bills are paid, and most of your to-do list is checked off, ask yourself when the last time you felt flirty, sexy, fun, or romantic in your relationship. It is normal for long-term relationships to go through sexual intimacy ebbs and flows.
Lack of communication about these ebbs and flows can result in waking up and realizing that you are married or in a relationship with someone who feels more like a business partner than a lover. One of the key components that differentiates a "good friendship" between a lover is intimacy and sex. Differing sex drives and sexual interests, unbalanced workloads related to the home and parenting, medical or mental health issues, and other factors contribute to low sex (less than once per month) or no sex relationships. Some couples are able to feel OK and even thrive in low-sex or no sex relationships if both people feel the same way. More often than not, this is not the case. If you feel like your partner is more of a roommate then a lover, this is a clear sign to see a relationship therapist.
2) You Feel Resentment and Critical Towards Your Partner:
The Gottman Institute researched the common issues that end relationships and called it "The Four Horsemen". Within these four issues is contempt and criticism. The psychological theory of confirmation bias teaches us that we will find what we seek. If you believe that your partner is lazy or irresponsible, your mind will seek (and find!) ways to provide evidence of this. This can lead to a lot of "I told you so" moments and language that uses the dangerous words of "always and never". For instance, "You never put away the dishes!" or "You always forget." This is the breeding ground for resentment and nagging, which creates a huge wedge in communication and connection.
Expecting your partner to read your mind on what you need also triggers these problems. You may say to yourself, "He/She/They should know what I want!" but the reality is that if we are not clearly and respectfully verbalizing our relationship needs, then how can we expect someone else to meet them? Sometimes patterns of resentment and criticism stem from expecting your partner to meet all of your needs, which is impossible and unhealthy.
Professional relationship counseling can help you and your partner get to the root causes of resentment, criticism, identifying your personal relationship needs, and healthy ways to meet them for one another.
I want to especially note that any instances of abuse in any form are different than the type of resentment or criticism that I am describing here. When resentment turns into verbal, sexual, emotional, financial, or physical attempts to control or harm another person, the issues are much deeper and separate individual counseling is the recommended best practice.
3) You Don't Have Any Conflict:
"My partner and I never argue" is not a sign of a healthy relationship. When two people get together who have varying needs, desires, personalities, and styles of attachment, disagreements and frustration are a bound to happen. In the psychology and therapy world, we call these "ruptures". Relationship ruptures can be viewed anything that happens that causes feelings of disconnect, dissatisfaction, or deflation.
Healthy and sustainable relationships are not void of ruptures and compassionately work towards repair after a recognizing a rupture has occurred.
Early childhood experiences with our primary caregivers sets the foundation for how we attach (a.k.a. connect and communicate) in relationships. Some people have a more avoidant, secure, anxious, insecure, or wishy-washy style of attachment based upon who, when, how, and why people in their lives showed up for them or not. The good news is that your attachment style, like your clothing, can change. The more secure our attachment style becomes, the easier it is to work towards healthy repair and solutions to relationship problems.
The absence of any conflict in a relationship is a sign that one or both of you may have an avoidant or anxious attachment style. This can show up as dismissing your own needs so you don't "rock the boat" of conflict, running away from hard conversations to resolve conflict, ignoring issues, or filling all of your time and energy with work or something else so you don't really have to take an honest look at the problems in your relationship.
Professional relationship counseling can help you gain a better understanding of you and your partner's attachment style, how this impacts conflict resolution, and develop new ways of addressing and repairing problems, big and small.
4) You Don't Trust Your Partner:
It goes without saying that major issues like infidelity and cheating leads to mistrust and trauma from betrayal. This level of broken trust, in some instances, can be carefully repaired over time. For others, it cannot or should not. Even if you choose to end a relationship due to infidelity, your next relationship may bear the burden of trust issues as a result. This can show up as insecurity, control issues, and difficulty trusting your partner even when there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. In the therapy world, this can be called a "trauma response" or "projection." Meaning, if your trust was betrayed in the past there is a higher likelihood that you be extra- sensitive (and for good reason) and even seek out ways to protect yourself from feeling that way again (note my reference to confirmation bias in reason #2).
This is not to say that there are not legitimate reasons to not trust your current partner. Having a history of betrayal trauma does not mean that any sense of mistrust in another relationship is because of how you are viewing things. Sometimes this allows you to actually be more skilled as sensing when something is "off."
Aside from the significant mistrust caused by betrayal, there are other subtle but powerful ways in which your trust within your relationship can be compromised and would warrant seeing a professional. Examples include examining if you trust your partner to follow through with what they say, to be emotionally available and supportive of you, to be financially responsible, and/or to respect your boundaries.
Relationship counseling does not have to be a last resort, either. Is it absolutely OK to meet with a therapist to get a pulse on how you are your partner are doing overall or to work through day to day bumps in the road even if there are not glaring, major issues going on. Think of it like filling up your gas tank when it gets to half way instead of rolling into the station on empty. Relationships, like people, are complex and complicated at times. Wilcox Wellness, LLC is here to help you untangle the knots and breath some new air into stale relationships by working with a licensed therapist. Contact us at (860) 266-6098 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get linked with a relationship therapist anywhere in Connecticut.