When people find out I am a marriage therapist, I inevitably get asked two questions. 1) What is the number one reason people come in for marriage therapy? and 2) When do you know it’s time to see a marriage therapist? I could go on for several pages about the different reasons that couples come into therapy. However, my answer to the second question is pretty cut and dry. There is no such thing as starting marriage therapy too early. However, there can be a point where it is too late. Often times people only contact professional help after a catastrophic event has happened in their relationship. Too often one or both people involved are coming to therapy so they can have peace of mind that “they did everything to save the marriage.” The very sad truth is that the marriage could have been saved if the couple had come in at the first sign of difficulty. For those of you asking whether now is a good time to start therapy, let me ask: Are you H.A.P.P.Y. in your relationship?
- Are your feelings, opinions, thoughts, and ideas heard? In a relationship, you should feel that your feelings are being listened to and validated by your partner. This is a skill that takes time and effort on both you and your spouses part.
- Have you accepted your spouses strengths and weaknesses? This does not mean you love all of your spouses weakness. It does not mean that you will never get annoyed by your spouse. It does not mean you will never fight because you have “accepted” them. What it does mean is that you accept that there are parts of your spouse that you may not like but you are willing to work through, and love them despite of the problems that may arise as a result.
- Do you have Purposeful communication? How are your communication skills? Are you able to communicate about difficult topics without it turning into a fight? Are you able to share intimate details without fear that it may be disclosed or used against you at a later time? Purposeful communication is when both parties are comfortable to share their vulnerable feelings, and have dialogue back and forth no matter how difficult the topic or feelings may be.
- Do you have Purposeful arguments? Every couple fights. They may not fight in the same way…but everyone fights. Arguments can be a strengthening component to a marriage when it is done right. When a couple knows their patterns of arguing they are able to fight in a productive way. A purposeful argument can sometimes look ugly when you’re in the thick of it. However, it becomes purposeful when calm communication starts, vulnerable and accurate feelings are shared, and the repair attempts help resolve the problem.
- Are you yourself with the other person? Too often I hear husbands and wives express that they feel unable to be themselves because they are worried about being judged, or they don’t want to start a fight. If you feel your spouse does not love and accept who you are then problems may arise.
If you are wondering if now is the time to start therapy remember there is no such thing as starting too early. Come in as soon as you feel something is off in your marriage. Prevention is the key. Just as we see the doctor to prevent major health problems, sometimes checking in with a therapist can give your relationship the tune up it needs and deserves.
For those who have had something catastrophic occur, remember that counseling can save your marriage! It is better late than never. Marriage is worth fighting for and marriages can be saved if both parties are willing to put in the time and effort. A famous marriage therapist, John Gottman, has said “I believe the death of love is a tragedy. I am a creature of hope and root for all couples to prevail.” I could not agree more. If you feel your relationship is in danger talk to your spouse, and take the appropriate steps to prevent problems in the future.
RACHEL DAVIS, LMFT