Chances are you didn’t see your grandparents attend couples counseling, and it’s only slightly more likely that your parents attended couples counseling. Only 19% of couples ever do, although this percentage is predicted to rise as the benefits of mental health and wellness become more widely acknowledged.
Combine that with the inauthentic narratives of “normal” relationships in social media and entertainment, and you may find yourself questioning whether or not it’s normal to attend couples counseling.
The truth is that “normal” looks different as your relationship evolves and matures, and the dynamics of your relationship will change as different life events occur. As much as we like to think we have control over life, unpredictable events happen and throw us off course and change what a normal relationship looks like.
Similarly, difficulties and disagreements in a relationship are to be expected at some point. Some very normal points of tension in a relationship include:
Aging or Ill Parents
In fact, fighting with your partner is a completely healthy way to work out your differences - it would be abnormal if you never disagreed. Couples counseling is useful in helping you and your partner maintain closeness and practice healthy communication habits through disagreements and unpredictable times, increasing the chances that you and your spouse will remain in a stable and supportive relationship.
Whether you are on your third marriage or you’ve been married for decades, there are many forms of couples counseling that can help your relationship feel more satisfying and supportive.
Here are the most common reasons couples might seek counseling:
Premarital counseling helps couples transition from a dating commitment to a marriage commitment. Marriage requires couples to work together and problem solve in new and challenging ways. When couples aren’t prepared with a strong foundation of healthy coping skills, they become dissatisfied and communication begins to break down.
Premarital counseling helps keep your relationship on track by addressing how to respond to challenges before things get tough. With over 30% of newlyweds completing couples counseling before marriage, it seems that couples counseling is gaining popularity. Check out our full article on what premarital is, what to expect, and the benefits of attending.
In my experience, trouble with communication is the number one reason couples report feeling dissatisfied in their marriages. We’ve all experienced periods of life where challenges and obligations seem to come at us non-stop.
One partner might take the initiative to tackle a parenting challenge or manage a financial situation without first discussing the issue with their spouse. Many times, the person taking initiative believes they are doing their partner a favor by dealing with the issue independently, and is surprised to find their partner is angry with them for doing so.
When these little communication breakdowns occur over time, it can lead to what we in the marriage counseling industry refer to as “The Four Horsemen” because they can bring about the end of a relationship if they go unaddressed:
Criticism - One or both partners nitpick at the other constantly, making their spouse feel that there is always something wrong with them no matter how hard they try.
Contempt - One or both partners treat the other with anger or disgust, or worse, makes fun of their spouse and constantly puts them down.
Defensiveness - One or both partners respond to complaints made by their spouse with counter complaints rather than owning up to what they did wrong and making things right again.
Stonewalling - One or both partners avoid conflict altogether by shutting down and avoiding conflict altogether, preventing any issues from getting resolved.
Marriage counseling can help couples repair and reconnect despite these challenges, ultimately rebuilding a strong foundation of communication skills that help keep your marriage healthy and satisfying.
It’s best to seek counseling early in the relationship when these issues emerge, as they become more difficult to heal if left to fester over time. Licensed counselors will use research based approaches to help couples improve their communication, including:
It’s important to find a counselor that is right for you and your partner. Check out our article with detailed tips to help you in your search.
For the partner who has just discovered they are being cheated on, it can feel like things will never be the same and all trust is lost. For the partner that has been unfaithful, feelings of guilt, shame, and confusion can be all consuming. In a 2018 study by the Institute for Family Studies, researchers found that 20% of male partners reported having sex with someone outside of their marraige, while only 13% of women reported doing the same.
Millions of couples experience infidelity in their relationships. Oftentimes, infidelity occurs because of a breakdown in communication. Perhaps one partner didn’t know how to ask for what they needed, or perhaps the other partner didn’t know how to listen and respond to what was being asked.
Though there are situations where one partner actively seeks out an affair, many affairs occur simply by happenstance with people the offending partner sees everyday, like neighbors, coworkers, or friends.
Though some partners choose to go their separate ways once the cat is out of the bag, it doesn’t always mean that the relationship ends. In fact, I’ve counseled some couples who report that their marriages actually feel stronger and more satisfying once they make the decision to recommit to one another.
The key to surviving infidelity lies in how each partner approaches the healing process and their willingness to allow the other partner to experience the feelings that come with it. For example, a partner that has confessed to having an affair and is ready to recommit to the marriage will have to patiently allow their partner to experience jealousy, anger, and suspicion for some time before they can expect things to go back to normal.
The partner that has been cheated on must accept that the cheater in the relationship is experiencing emotional turmoil too, and thus the spurned partner must find healthy ways to express their pain and anger that don’t further isolate the spouse that is willing to recommit.
Affair recovery counseling can help couples navigate this turbulent process so that the healing process is safe, and efficient, and results in a stronger connection.
Sex therapy is helpful for partners that are experiencing differences in their libidos, sexual interests or are looking to reconnect after having a baby. Therapists can provide a safe, open space for couples to discuss their needs and desires so that they can rediscover intimacy and begin to physically reconnect with one another.
With over 40 million couples reporting that they are in sexless marriages (sex occurs less than 10 times per year), sex therapy is more normal than you might think.
A common issue reported is my experience is due to desire discrepancies in which one partner has a higher libido than the other, or is interested in erotic activities that the other partner has no interest in trying. Failure to resolve these issues quickly can lead to anger, resentment, and stonewalling.
Another common complaint I’ve heard is that life has gotten in the way of intimacy - work, children, illness, hormonal changes, and fluctuating weight can all lead to decreased desire over time. Seeing a therapist early when this challenge emerges is the best way to resolve the issue and keep your marriage healthy and satisfying for both partners.