We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: signs you need couples counseling.
Q: “You wrote an article a while back about signs that your relationship could use sex therapy. I was wondering if you could address signs you need couples counseling more generally, beyond just about sex. I’m very pro-therapy, but my partner of two years isn’t. To be honest, I think she’s terrified by the idea of what it means to 'need' couples counseling — like we might as well break up now because it means our relationship is doomed. Things aren’t terrible between us, but I would love to get an outsider’s perspective on how we could make our relationship stronger.”
A: Thanks for the question! I think a lot of people feel the way your partner does. There are a lot of misconceptions and fears out there about therapy. But obviously, as a therapist, I’m pretty pro-therapy myself! Let’s bust up some of those misconceptions and talk about 12 signs that your relationship could use couples counseling.
1. You Fight All The Time
Let’s start with the obvious. If you and your partner can’t seem to have a conversation without fighting, it’s time to learn how to communicate more effectively. Couples are always going to have fights, but there are healthy and not-so-healthy ways to disagree (for example, name-calling or yelling). Therapy can help you learn how to diffuse arguments, speak to each other more calmly, and ensure you treat each other with respect.
2. You Bicker Constantly
We've all joked about the “old married couples” who bicker all the time, but little tiffs can be just as harmful to a relationship as larger fights. Bickering has a way of wearing down the goodwill that exists between a couple, and makes every little interaction feel irritating. It’s exhausting! Sometimes we bicker because there are larger issues we’re trying to ignore. Sometimes it's because we don't know effective ways of communicating. Sometimes we don't even realize how badly or frequently we're doing it. Whatever your particular reasons, a therapist can help you cut down on your bickering significantly.
3. You Feel Like You’re Speaking Different Languages
Fighting isn’t the only sign that something’s off in your communication habits. Sometimes it can seem like there’s no possible way you and your partner are both speaking the same language — what you think you’re saying is so far from what your partner thinks they heard, and vice versa. Therapy can help you understand the differences in your natural communication styles, and can teach each of you to adapt your style to work better together.
4. You Pretend Everything Is Fine
Some couples outwardly bicker or fight, but other couples try to brush things under the rug. If you find yourself ignoring important issues or trying to pretend everything is OK, you might want to think about therapy instead. Keeping it all inside works for a while, but it's never an effective long-term strategy. A therapist can help you learn how to tackle issues head-on in ways that feel safe and manageable to both of you.
5. The Same Issues Keep Coming Up
You’re probably always going to have to bug your partner about taking out the trash or being on time for dates, but I’m talking about the important issues, like whether or not you’re going to have kids or get married. If it feels like you and your partner can never resolve issues, or you keep going around and around in circles, therapy can help get to the root of the issue and figure out whether you're actually compatible.
6. You’re About To Make A Big Life Change
Things don’t always have to be bad for you to go to therapy! It can be helpful to get some guidance when when you’re about to hit a big milestone, like moving in together, getting engaged or married, or deciding to have children. A therapist can help you anticipate what's to come, prepare for the changes ahead, and work together as a team towards your shared goals.
7. You’re Not On The Same Page About Sex
I had to throw at least one sex-related item on the list! Sex is one of the main reasons couples fight (along with kids, and money, which we’ll get to in a moment). You might argue because you have mismatched sex drives, because one of you wants to explore something the other doesn’t, or because it feels like the chemistry is gone in your relationship. I typically recommend seeing a sex therapist for sexual issues, but some general psychotherapists will also work with sex.
8. You Have Different Views About Money
This is one of the other biggest issues in relationships. Almost every couple will have some sort of fight about money. One person usually likes to spend more money, or only likes spending money on specific things. You might fight about how to split up your share of expenses. Or you might have anxieties about not having enough money. Couples therapy can help you understand your relationships with money and find ways to compromise about your finances.
9. You Want Different Things Out Of Your Relationship
Relationships can be so damn hard sometimes — it's tricky enough finding a person you want to go out on a second date with, much less be in a relationship with. Then you have to figure out if you both want the same things out of your relationship! One person might want to be monogamous while the other wants to be monogamish. Or one person might want marriage and children, while the other doesn’t. A therapist can help you understand if your goals are compatible.
10. You’re Thinking About — Or Have Had — An Affair
People have affairs for an infinite number of reasons — wanting to get back at their partner, seeking sexual release, going through a quarter-life crisis — but it's almost always a sign that something is broken in the relationship. If you're feeling tempted to break the boundaries of your relationship, it's better to ask your partner to go to counseling with you now rather than go through with the affair and deal with the consequences later. If you or your partner have had an affair, you really don't want to try to get through it without counseling. Infidelity is one of the most challenging things a relationship can go through, and you need that extra support.
11. Your Partner Wants It
Partners aren't always on the same page about what they want. That can be true when it comes to therapy too. It's a sign of care and respect to go to therapy if your partner asks you to. It doesn't matter if you don't think you need therapy, or if you don't quite understand therapy. If your partner wants to give it a try, and asks for your participation in a respectful way, you should honor that request.
12. You Want To Have A Healthy Relationship
Therapy is truly not a bad thing! We see personal trainers to help us get in shape. We work with executive coaches when we want to figure out our next career move. There's always something new for us to learn in every aspect of our lives, and working with experienced experts can help us learn so much faster and more effectively. Going to therapy is a sign that you value your relationship, your partner, and yourself. It certainly isn't a sign that things are doomed.
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