Jessica Small, M.A., LMFT is a marriage counselor, relationship coach, life coach and therapist with Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She is passionate about helping individuals, families & couples create more fulfilling lives and relationships, and to function at an optimum level of health and happiness.
“Do We Need Marriage Counseling?”
Have you ever thought this to yourself? Maybe in the aftermath of a nasty fight, or another frustrating conversation? It's also easy to talk yourself out of going to see a couples therapist, marriage counselor or relationship coach. It can be hard to tell what is normal relationship turbulence that will blow over on its own, and when more serious relationship problems are brewing under the surface that you may need professional help to resolve.
I think we can all agree that relationships take work. However, too often (particularly for long-term couples) it can be easy to take each other for granted, and pay attention to everything and everyone else besides each other. When relationships are set to autopilot for too long, over time they often go significantly off-course or sometimes even take a 90-degree nose-dive into the ground.
When your relationship is clearly in a significant crisis you know it's time to get help and seek couples therapy or relationship coaching. However, if your relationship is not clearly in trouble, but rather is in the process of going off course, it can be hard to say, “This is it. We need to talk to a marriage counselor.”
The problem is this: Relationships that are still mostly good are much easier to repair and restore than seriously damaged relationships where trust and goodwill have been lost. Marriage counselor and couples and family researcher Dr. John Gottman has found that, on average, divorcing couples waited for an average of six years after the onset of their relationship problems to get help for their marriage. Often, sadly, by the time they do, it's too late. [Check out “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage“]
On the other hand, pro-active, committed couples who care about their relationship are alert to the early warning signs that their relationships are headed in the wrong direction. The happiest, healthiest, and strongest couples are the ones that get into marriage counseling or couples therapy early, because they stop budding relationship problems in their tracks.
I think of relationship coaching or couples therapy as being proactive versus reactive. The one thing that I have found to be consistently true is that it is much easier to elevate an already healthy relationship than to try to save one that is floundering, There are a variety of reasons why relationship coaching would be beneficial but all of them support the goal of enhancing what you already have.
Here are eight early warning signs that your relationship is headed for trouble, and it's time to talk to a marriage counselor:
You Struggle to Communicate With Your Partner
Communication is the number one reason people seek out marriage counseling or relationship coaching. People have different communications styles. Often couples have unintentional miscommunication because they have a fundamentally different way of communicating. While one person may be speaking from a place of logic and reasoning the other person may talk straight from the heart. If this has been true for you, take heart: Marriage counseling or relationship coaching is the perfect way to learn basic communication tools and identify where your specific breakdowns in communication are happening so that you can change your patterns, and start understanding each other again.
You Feel Disconnected From Your Partner
While we all may wish to return to the feeling of total connection and engagement we had with our partner when we first started dating, it can feel challenging to maintain that with the ever competing demands for our time and attention between kids, work, and life in general. If you are noticing a feeling of disconnection between you and your partner, couples counseling or relationship coaching not only provides you with the specific strategies to regain your connection but also puts aside uninterrupted time to focus on the relationship, which is beneficial in and of itself. [Learn More: Empathy: The Key to Connection]
You Have Difficulty Managing Conflict
The ability to “fight fair” is learned. Healthy conflict management is a skill-set. Couples often need a roadmap to navigate their conflict so that they can avoid the roadblocks, understand the unforeseen curves and learn how to get themselves to the desired destination safely (we’re talking emotional safety). Learning how to have healthy, productive conflict is one of the most common goals I see in my couples counseling practice.
One Or Both Of You Is Uncertain About Your Commitment to the Relationship
It is common for me to see a couple where one person, or sometimes both people, are no longer certain about their commitment to the relationship. Through couples therapy or relationship coaching we assess the level of engagement and what it would take to either move towards full commitment to the relationship or begin the process of separation. This is generally a short-term process and at the end of it we either refocus on rebuilding the commitment or giving you the tools to separate in as healthy a way as possible.
You Need to Rebuild Trust
Whether there has been an affair or some other form of infidelity, couples often come to marriage counseling or relationship coaching with the hopes of rebuilding trust. Rebuilding trust is a delicate process, requiring lots of support for both of you. Trust and emotional security are difficult to repair without the support of an expert couples counselor. However, when you work with a competent marriage counselor or relationships coach you can both learn how to manage anxiety, show each other you're trust worthy, and rebuild your sense of emotional safety. [Learn more: How to Repair Your Relationship After Infidelity]
You Need Parenting Coaching
Maybe your relationship is solid but you’re having challenges with parenting. Many, many couples struggle to get on the same page around parenting. Parent coaching is an opportunity for you and your partner to get on the same page in your parenting relationship and to identify strategic, evidence-based practices to manage the difficulties you are having with your child(ren).
You’re Facing a Difficult Decision As a Couple
Many times, couples can get into “gridlock” around major life decisions. To have a baby or not, to move to a different town or not, to take a specific job or not, can all turn into binary black-and-white, either-or conflict between partners. Gridlock can be difficult to get through alone, but working through major life decisions with a great marriage counselor or couples therapist can help you find common ground. If you are coming up against a difficult decision and either you and your partner disagree or are struggling to talk about the decision altogether, relationship coaching will provide a safe space to begin talking through the options and giving you both the space to be heard and understood so that you can move forward, together.
You're Struggling With a Transition
Life transitions are hard. They often upend our world as we knew it and force us to adjust to a brand new set of circumstances. If you are going through some sort of challenging life transition, whether it be the birth of a child, job changes, moving, or empty nesting, relationship coaching is a perfect place to process the transition and learn the necessary skills to adjust and thrive in your new circumstances.
“But Who Has The Time For Marriage Counseling??”
Yes, for many couples, time can be the biggest obstacle to getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching. (The second is the myth that marriage counseling is expensive, which is addressed here.) But it is true that many busy, successful, professional couples — especially those with families — can struggle to get the planets to align to both be in the same place at the same time for couples counseling. What's the answer? Virtual relationship coaching.
Make it Work, With Online Relationship Coaching
If you are living a full life without an excess of time, then virtual coaching is.a perfect way for you to address the challenges in your relationship now before your find yourself in a full-blown crisis. Virtual relationship coaching, aka, meeting for marriage counseling or couples therapy by online video, is not just a fantastic option for busy couples but also sometimes the only way to make it work. This is especially true if:
You Need Relationship Coaching But Are Living Abroad
There are several reasons why relationship coaching is a great option for people that live abroad. It can often be challenging to find access to mental health professionals in other countries. However, having the ability to do virtual relationship coaching internationally brings a highly trained couples coach right to your door. Living abroad can also be isolating. Coaching will provide you with additional support and also help you identify how you can build a support system within your new community, both individually and as a couple.
You Need Couples Counseling in a Long-Distance Relationship
If you and your partner live in different towns, states, countries and aren’t in the same place often, virtual coaching for long-distance relationships may truly be your only option to get help for your relationship. It is common for me to work with a long-distance couple via a three-way video conference. Don’t think that being in a long distance relationship rules you out from getting help. [Listen to “How to Make Long Distance Work” on the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast for some great advice about how to have a fantastic long-distance relationship].
I hope this information helps you decide if you need marriage counseling, and if so, about all your options for getting your relationship the help it deserves.