It is said that couples often come to couple’s therapy too late. They wait too long to seek help which makes it unlikely they will achieve good outcomes.
In part, the problem is that they come in “in crisis.” That means they have used up any reserves of good will and patience to deal with one another. They most likely have been miscommunicating for a long time and both are feeling misunderstood, taken for granted, etc. One person may have started an affair to find some place where they do feel understood and cared for.
Sometimes those late arriving couples can be helped and their relationships made far happier and healthier. It is truly an uphill battle.
I think these couples can be used as cautionary tales to help others couples formulate when they need to come in and get help.
So, seek out a couple’s counselor for yourselves if you notice any of the five things happening in your relationship:
1. Either party is averse to getting help: They may minimize the conflicts and distance that is developing. They say things like: “It would only make things worse to have someone prying into our stuff” or “All couples yell at each other” or “If you would stop being so sensitive we wouldn’t have any problems.” They feel that their relationship is too private to have a third party brought it to evaluate and possible help. This is important because waiting often means that help will be pursued when it is too late to reverse the long-established patterns.
2. Ongoing disagreements on how to parent: Raising children is one of the most difficult tasks that couples undertake and not being on the same page on how to parent is a major source of conflict. If one parent is “a soft touch” and feels a need to be the child’s “best friend” and the other parent wants to set clear boundaries by use appropriate consequences the stage is set for continual conflict.
3. Using anger or intimidation to get their way: In marriages we often end up relating to our partners the way we saw our parents relate to one another. If that was done in an abusive way, using anger, physical violence to control, frighten or intimidate the other it is clearly past time to get help.
4. If affection is absent or misdirected in the relationship: Both parties may feel starved for love and affection. It may be misdirected or given to the children or the family pet or friends. If one or both parties choose to give their time and affection to others rather than their spouse then there is serious damage going on.
5. If either party shows contempt to the other: This is borrowed from John Gottman’s work with couples and one element of what he calls the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.” The other three are: criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling. If one or both party treats the other with contempt and disregard for the others dignity there are serious problems. Pointing out the partner’s shortcomings or faults to others is a sign of disrespect and a form of verbal abuse. This causes many marriages to fail.
So be aware and notice if you see and experience any of these five things going on in your marriage or relationship. If you do see them then take the steps to find a couple’s therapist for the two of you to meet with and begin to explore how you can change these unhealthy patterns. The sooner you get the help you need the more likely that your relationship can be repaired.