Is your romantic relationship suffering?  Do you feel lonely or misunderstood by your partner?  Couples therapy at San Jose Counseling can help you discern the issues your relationship is facing, and come up with attainable goals to help you navigate through the challenges.

One of the most disconcerting things an individual faces while driving a vehicle is when the engine light comes on, or when driving through unfamiliar streets and the gas light suddenly flashes.  There are two different kinds of drivers: those who take regular care of their car by changing its oil every thousands of miles and filling the gas tank before the dial reaches “empty,” and then, there is the other camp that waits until something breaks down, or the car just stalls before choosing to go to a mechanic.  As a marriage and family therapist (MFT), I see the same concept existing in our interpersonal relationships.  There are couples who seek counseling before they even marry, to explore their unspoken expectations in the safety of a therapeutic environment facilitated by an impartial clinician.  Equally, there are other couples who, deep inside know that something is wrong with the relationship, but choose to ignore the signs until someone does something very hurtful.

It is important to point out that “Only about one fourth of divorcing couples report seeking professional help of any kind to improve their relationship (Albrecht, Bahr, & Goodman, 1983; C. A. Johnson et al., 2001), and those who do, wait an average of 6 years after serious problems develop to seek marital therapy (Notarius & Buongiorno, 1992, as cited in Gottman & Gottman, 1999)” (Doss, Simpson, & Christensen, 2004, p. 608).

While divorce may be essential and the appropriate choice for some couples, others may desire to try to restore their relation.

So, when couples face challenges, when should they seek counseling / therapy?

Below, in no particular order, are ten good reasons:

1) Communication has deteriorated.  Once communication breaks down, it is much more difficult to steer it back in the right direction.  Volatile topics may result in screaming matches with no resolution, leaving both partners feeling hurt.  This form of dynamic progresses until one or both partners begin to feel like they are walking on egg shells or depressed whenever there is a need for a discussion.  In time, they avoid the talks, or worse, each other.  It is essential for couples to be mindful that it is not always the content of a conversation that is significant, but how that information is conveyed.

2) When there is a potential or actual affair.  The devastation of feeling betrayed is one of the most painful experience a partner can face in a relationship.  It leaves the wronged party doubting the integrity of their relationship’s history, wondering what else the guilty party is lying about, and often times feeling stupid for not seeing the signs.  Although it is not impossible to salvage the relationship, it will require a lot of hard work, commitment and ultimately a readiness to forgive.  If both partners are willing to trust the process of therapy and truly be honest with themselves, then perhaps the relationship may flourish.  However, the partners may also resolve to go their separate ways.

3) When couples feel like roommates.  It is important for each partner to have “me” time, however, when couples lose interest in being recreational companions, or if they feel like they are merely “co-existing” rather than having emotional, intellectual and physical intimacy, then this may be a sign that a skilled psychotherapist can assist in exploring what is missing in their relationship.

4) Discord with in-laws.  When either partner chooses to side with his/her parents or does not defend the spouse from criticism, it creates tremendous discord for the couple causing elevated levels of anxiety.  This dynamic worsens around the holidays when expectations are at their peak.  If left untreated, the resentment that builds can be unbearable.  Often times, the anticipation of meeting with the in-laws and the potential arguments that will ensue afterwards, can fill both parties with trepidation.

5) Feeling contempt for your partner.  According to Dr. Gottman (1999), when couples converse in this manner, they are truly malicious, regarding others with disrespect, insulting them with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling, and/or body language such as eye-rolling.  The recipient of contempt is made to feel loathed and worthless.  In his research, Dr. Gottman discovered that couples that are contemptuous of each other had weaker immune systems resulting in infectious illness, such as colds, the flu, etc.  Contempt is driven by long-preserved negative thoughts about the partner, which culminates in the offender berating the accused from a position of relative superiority.  Dr. Gottman (1999) concludes that contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce and it must be eliminated if the relationship is to thrive.

6) You don’t feel attracted to your spouse.  This topic requires sensitivity to navigate the feelings that lie underneath.  As years pass, it is important for partners to choose self-care, as the temptation to “let oneself go” is quite high.  One or both partners may become lethargic and gain weight, they may not prioritize hygiene, or hormones may be fluctuating.  Whatever the cause, it is paramount that couples discuss the matter, as resentment may creep in and possibly open the door for an affair (emotional or physical).

7) Parenting styles are not congruent.  Children come to this world with one agenda: divide and conquer.  They become very keen on each parent’s limits/boundaries, so it is vital that the parents stand together and united as a “team.”  This is not the time for parents to be the child’s best friend (that can come many years later), but rather, their guide…i.e., be the PARENT.  It is also essential for the parents to not undermine each other’s authority in front of the child.

8) Anger.  In psychology, anger is known as a secondary emotion resulting from primary emotions, such as fear, hurt (physical/emotional) or unmet needs.  When one or both partners are exhibiting anger whether it’s through elevated voices or throwing things, it is because underneath, they do not feel heard/understood and/or they learned to communicate in this manner from their childhood.  Regardless, it behooves couples to tackle this issue before matters escalate.

9) Addictions.  This topic is very complex, however, in the context of couples counseling, it is vital that the couple seek some form of couples counseling to first do damage control.  When it comes to this issue, couples therapy is not going to be effective, as there is too much hurt, anger and disappointment to deal with at firsst before the deeper issues are processed.  The primary goal is to stop the behavior and put “safety measures” or boundaries around the behavior to help create safety for the partner who feels betrayed or wronged by the addict.  It will take a while before the couple can actually do therapy work.  In the beginning, the work will consist of damage control, crisis management, creating safety for the purpose of regaining trust.

10) Money.  Money is one of the main issues over which couples argue as well as one of the core motivation behind separation.  As vital as this subject is for couples to converse, it remains one of the issues couples avoid discussing before and during a marriage.  Most couples deem it as unromantic or too personal to talk about, and as a result, the pressures and troubles increase until, like a volcano, a verbal explosion takes place.  People enter a relationship with their preconceived notions about money.  The way each partner deals with money has a lot to do with the way his/her parents dealt with finances.  Some individuals grew up being conservative with their spending and other learned to be impulsive.  In addition, we live in a world where divorce and remarriage is all too common, so numerous couples enter a relationship with alimony payments and debt.  These are all issues which need to be sorted out, discussed and understood preferably before marriage.