Most people tend to associate couples therapy with intractable problems that they and their partner are struggling with. Couples usually wait until their situation has reached the breaking point before seeking couples therapy, often putting themselves through months or years of unnecessary disappointment, distress and destructive behavior.
As an experienced couples psychotherapist, I can say with confidence that much of the distress, heartbreak and breakdown in couples’ relationships could have been avoided with early intervention. Your couple relationship can harbor rich rewards for your mental and physical health, and significantly contribute to achievements and life satisfaction in both your personal and professional life.
We now live in an age where there is awareness and acceptance of the wisdom and payoffs of preventative health; most people accept that paying attention to what they eat, taking some exercise, and finding ways to manage mental stress are key to staying healthy and preventing many avoidable mental and physical health issues. Often a little goes a long way, so making even some small tweaks to your diet, exercise or stress management can result in significant rewards.
Why not apply this logic to your couple relationship?
It is interesting that for one of the most challenging but potentially rewarding life experiences – our relationship – we usually just expect to be able to “get on with it” and will only consider reaching out for expert and professional help if things go badly wrong. Seeking advice and support from healthcare experts is accepted as being proactive and valuing yourself and your health.
Yet seeking couples therapy tends to carry many misinformed and unhelpful stigmas. People rarely recognize that couples therapy as a preventative measure shows how much you and your partner value your relationship while acknowledging you are likely to encounter conflict and challenges in learning how to navigate your individual wishes, expectations and needs. We are not born with an innate map of how to foster a mutually successful and satisfying couple relationship but we can learn those skills.
A couple is better able to support each other in learning the skills they need when there is goodwill and stability in their relationship than when resentments are high and their situation unstable and unravelling. The payoff of in investing some of your time and money in couples therapy early on could be enormous.
In fact, seeking couples therapy even though you are in a stable and generally mutually satisfying relationship is not unheard of. Some couples do make the decision to seek intervention as soon as alarm bells suggest they are getting stuck with a dilemma before lack of communication, misunderstanding or resentment starts piling up.
- Making a key life decision such as having children or relocating due to a career opportunity
- Coming up against some frustrations and disappointments now that the ‘honeymoon’ period of your relationship has ended
- Having been a couple for a while and being unsure whether to get married or co-habit
- A waning or mediocre sex life
- The impact of a new baby and/or young children on your relationship
- Managing the demands and expectations of extended family
- Navigating the impact of a mental or ongoing physical illness on your relationship
- Being able to remain united and function as a team with a challenging child or teenager
- Supporting each other through a significant loss
- Managing a key life transition such as heading towards retirement.
Many couples will find ways of ignoring the fact that, for no fault of their own, they just lack the skills to manage conflict and dilemmas well. Instead they perhaps live with underlying niggling resentments that grow over the years, and they become more estranged from each other while putting on a brave face that “all is well.”
Just as poor daily habits impact overall mental and physical health, developing unhelpful habits in your couple relationship will take its toll. Learning the right skills early on could make all the difference to your relationship and your life.
Couples therapy provides a safe, supported and non-judgmental place for a couple to learn about each other and how to navigate conflict including their needs and wishes to foster a mutually satisfying relationship that supports and nurtures them as a partner and as an individual. It provides a fantastic opportunity to learn about yourself and develop new skills for getting more of what you want out of life including your couple relationship.
So, alongside the investment you are making into your mental and physical health think about the rewards in also investing in couples therapy. For some couples this could be their only way of safeguarding their relationship from ending up in intensive care, but for the vast majority of couples early intervention is just what they need to foster a fully flourishing couple relationship with a robust bill of health.