When Is It Time to Seek Marriage Counseling?
Medically reviewed by Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST — By Madelyn Brown
Marriage and conflict often go hand-in-hand. Here are some signs that it’s time to seek marriage counseling.
There are many reasons why people might experience strife in a marriage: stretched finances, differences in parenting choices, or infidelity can wreak havoc on any relationship. When periods of tension last a long time, it can feel like the person once closest to you is on the other side of the world.
Whatever challenges you are encountering, couples therapy or marriage counseling can help you make sense of your relationship. In counseling, you can learn how to resolve conflict respectfully and reestablish a deep, loving connection with your partner.
Some people think of pursuing couples counseling as “failing” at your relationship — but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It shows a commitment to rebuilding a healthy, long lasting marriage.
Do I need marriage counseling?
Marriage has its challenges, but research shows a healthy long-term marriage positively impacts overall mental well-being.
Every marriage, even the happiest couples you see on social media, is guaranteed to have its set of challenges and tensions. That’s not a bad thing. Conflict can be healthy if positively expressed and worked through together.
Knowing when to seek marriage counseling can be especially difficult when you aren’t sure if you’re going through a tough season with your partner or if your marriage is moving toward separation. Marriage counseling can help in either situation.
Lori Brewster, LMFT, recommends a consultation before your first therapy session to explore your hopes and hesitancies for the sessions. “This often helps bridge the gap of uncertainty that one might experience,” she says.
While it’s typical to have reservations and insecurities about sharing your intimate relationship problems with your spouse with a third party, one study has shown that couples therapy drove a positive shift in couples’ perceptions of their counseling experience.
Every marriage is uniquely challenging, and there’s no one answer to this question.
But there are warning signs that can nudge you toward a professional counselor. If you’re already turning to Google to give you relationship guidance, chances are it’s time to consider getting to a marriage counselor.
Dr. John Gottman, renowned in the family research field, used four factors — the “four horsemen” — that could predict whether newlyweds would live in matrimonial bliss or dissolve into divorce. They are:
Outside of these relationship characteristics, marriage counseling is a wise decision if you find yourself or your partner:
- frequently fighting or criticizing each other
- consistently feeling unheard
- walking on eggshells
- having trouble trusting your partner
- having difficulty expressing your emotional needs
- feeling emotionally disconnected from each other
- considering separation
If you think your marriage may involve any form of violence and abuse, it’s important to talk with a professional who can help.
Deciding when to get marriage counseling can be tricky, especially since, ideally, both people in the relationship jointly decide to go.
Keep in mind that all marriages and relationships could benefit from counseling. And, following the advice of Brewster, there’s no time like the present — even if your marriage feels healthy overall.
“It’s socially acceptable and even promoted to increase your education to advance in your career, to learn new parenting techniques, or even fine-tune a golf swing,” Brewster says.
“So, why not learn and develop new skills in one of the most important, influential, and valuable roles in your life? A healthy marriage has a dynamic reach including positive impacts on emotional, physical, social, and financial health.”
Marriage counseling is an excellent opportunity to flex and strengthen those relationship muscles that may have slackened — even in the best relationship. The new skills you develop can also help fortify your relationship and protect it from future turmoil.
So, any time is the right time to consult with a professional. It’s just as effective to pursue marriage counseling when you have a few minor things you’d like to work on in a mostly happy marriage versus when conflicts abound.
What if my partner refuses to go?
Just when you’re ready to start improving your marriage through therapy , your plans come to a screeching halt: your partner won’t go to couples therapy.
Your loved one may not be ready, and you can’t force someone to go through the therapy process with you. In this case, you could listen to their concerns and consider alternatives, like reading the same self-help book.
While you can’t heal your marriage alone, there’s still hope. Attending individual or couples therapy by yourself can positively impact your marriage by helping you understand yourself and gain relationship skills.
“Think about it like a thermostat,” advises Brewster. “If you adjust the thermostat one degree, that can be felt all over. If one spouse is willing to learn and apply techniques in emotional attunement, communication, conflict pattern awareness, and other relationship tools, this can impact the overall experience of the relationship.”