If all relationships struggle at times and there’s no perfect marriage or relationship, then how do you know if what you’re going through is typical or if it’s time to start couples counseling? The short answer is that couples therapy can be incredibly useful for couples just needing a “tune-up” or for couples who have had chronic issues for months or years and maybe wondering if they should stay together. If you are experiencing any one of these ten signs, couples therapy might be a resource that you and your partner could benefit from to prevent things from getting worse, or to begin the process of repairing hurt, resentment, or a loss of closeness.
1. I don’t feel as connected to my partner anymore – we feel more like roommates, or even enemies, at times.
This is usually a tell-tale sign that a relationship needs some maintenance. It can be devastating to feel like you’re losing the bond with your significant other, and can certainly incite fear or resentment. Couples therapy can help couples trace their steps and discover where intimacy started to fade and why. This might include processing past hurts, sharing more openly about desires or insecurities, and learning new ways of communicating about inflammatory issues. This process can help each partner rediscover passion, companionship and commitment.
2. I don’t feel safe and/or comfortable telling my partner what I really think, feel, or want.a
If you notice yourself self-silencing a lot, this could be a sign that your relationship might benefit from a tune-up. The more partners tend to censor themselves when discussing personal and vulnerable desires or feelings, the less satisfied they tend to be in their romantic relationshipsb. Often, partners don’t feel comfortable asking for emotional support from their significant other because they don’t think their partner cares, or they don’t think their partner is capable of giving them what they want. Learning how to communicate what you think and feel, and listening to your partner’s thoughts and desires, are core elements of effective couples therapy.
3. Everyday conversations escalate quickly into hurtful arguments, and we keep fighting about the same thing over and over again and getting nowhere.
Do you and your partner struggle to stay calm when discussing important issues? Unproductive conflict is a breeding ground for resentment and lost connection, and usually includes the following:
(fault-finding, blaming, expressing disapproval or disappointment in a hurtful way, all-or-nothing statements about the other person like “you always” or “you never”, harsh appraisals of the other person)
(cross-complaining, justifying actions without trying to understand what the other person is saying or feeling)
(personal attacks, hostility, sarcasm, disrespectful words, name-calling)
(stonewalling, giving partner the silent treatment or cold shoulder, shutting down, leaving the room without setting a time to finish the conversation)
- Projecting and unhelpful mind-readingd
(assuming you know what your partner is thinking, feeling, or wanting without actually asking)
The list of issues couples struggle to resolve ranges anywhere from sex to finances, in-laws, parenting, loyalty, future goals, careers, or religion, just to name a few. There is no shortage of polarizing topics in the world – if you and your partner do not have an effective process to discuss tough issues, these topics may feel like they are tearing you apart. Couples therapy is about installing a process of how to resolve long-standing conflicts so that it doesn’t feel like groundhog day every time you and your partner talk.
The early sessions of couples therapy will almost always include a thorough assessment of how conflict looks in a couple’s relationship, with the therapist highlighting patterns that keep you spinning your wheels. Once a couple understands what their negative conflict cycle consists of, the therapist can guide each partner in understanding their personal role in the cycle and work to replace negative behaviors with more effective ways of communicating that will de-escalate conflict and promote intimacy.
4. I find myself avoiding certain topics because discussing them has only made things worse in the past.
Avoidance isn’t all bad – it can help keep the peace, and sometimes it requires a bit of avoidance to find the right place and right time to discuss hot issues. However, avoidance can be taken to an extreme where couples are avoiding negative topics at the expense of deepening intimacy. When important topics perpetually go unaddressed or remain unresolved, it can leave partners feeling misunderstood, lonely, or resentful. A couples therapist will thoroughly assess for sensitive issues and facilitate discussions about them in a new and more effective way by teaching skills to help couples tolerate distress (which is usually what we’re avoiding), engage in a calm and deliberate way, and be more proactively curious about ourselves and our partner.
5. We aren’t able to repair after conflict.
Conflict is inevitable in romantic relationships. Even if the conflict is productive and respectful, couples usually require some reparation to get back to feeling comfortable and connected again. Do you find that your attempts to repair don’t land? Or are one or both of you failing to try to repair after conflict? Learning how to repair with your partner after the conflict is an essential element of effective partnerships and a skill that might take coaching in couples counseling.
6. I find myself making a lot of negative assumptions about my partner, and I feel like I don’t like them.
Negative assumptions about our partner usually feel like extreme or all-or-nothing thinking, and can sound like:
- “They don’t care about my feelings at all”
- “He is completely selfish”
- “She is going to over-react, so I might as well not bring it up at all”
- “He’s probably cheating on me, that’s why he’s late”
- “They aren’t even trying at all to support me”
When we take a step back or a break from the situation, it’s often true that our negative assumptions are incorrect (or at least don’t tell the whole story). Sometimes they might be based on past experiences (with our partners or other people) but if we anticipate our partner will let us down, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative assumptions can create pre-emptive defensiveness that can escalate conflict at the drop of a hat. Our assumptions might be self-protective, and individual therapy, as well as couples therapy, can help heal trauma and disrupt the unhelpful patterns that result from past pain that has led to current negative assumptions.
7. Things don’t feel fair (or even) between my partner and I, and I hold a lot of resentment toward them.
The healthiest relationships tend to be those where both partners accept influence from each other and share the power equally in the relationshipe. If one partner has more influence than the other, it can create a dynamic where the relationship benefits one partner at the expense of the otherf. Unfair dynamics often show up in how the household labor and childcare are divided between partners, and if one partner does the majority of the work (including mental and emotional labor), it tends to create resentment that builds over time. Learning how to communicate effectively about issues around fairness and power is difficult and scary, and couples therapy can be a safe place to start the conversation in a new way.
8. I struggle to take ownership of my part in our relationship issues, or my partner doesn’t take ownership of their part in our relationship issues.
Both partners share some part in every conflict cycle (not necessarily a 50-50 split), and it’s difficult for true repair to happen if both partners aren’t able to acknowledge misdoings. If you find that blame is a common tactic used to cope in your partnership, you’re not alone. Couples therapy will help unpack the hurt fueling blaming statements and help each partner set personal change goals to replace blame with self-reflection and growth.
9. The relationship tends to revolve around one partner’s mood.
Does it feel like your partner is only a fair-weathered friend? It’s important for there to be space in a couple’s relationship for both partners to feel difficult emotions (anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.); however, relationships can devolve to a place where one partner’s sour mood tends to organize the entire relationship and the dynamics between partners. Negative emotions are not problematic in and of themselves, but if they are routinely expressed in a way that makes others feel like they are walking on eggshells, this likely doesn’t make for a relationship that feels safe to be open or honest in. Couples therapy can help couples regulate and express their emotions in a way that isn’t dominant or overbearing.
10. I don’t feel like I am my best self in this relationship.
Romantic relationships can bring out the best or worst in us, and it can be easy to lose sight of yourself in a relationship, especially one where there is a lot of anxiety, withdrawal, or conflict. If you take a step back and ask yourself, “Looking back on this 10 years from now, would I be proud of who I am and how I show up in this relationship?” If you answered “no” to this question, it likely means that you are reacting to your partner in ways that do not align with your personal values. Couple’s relationships tend to trigger aspects of each partner that could benefit from growth, and sometimes the relationship dynamics are not conducive to being our best selves and need to be adjusted. Couples therapy helps each partner identify their growth areas and assess what needs to change to reach personal goals. Couples therapy also exposes patterns of interaction that make it more difficult for each partner to be their best selves and examine whether the relationship can support each partner’s personal growth or not.
Grow & Strengthen Your Relationship with Couples Counseling
Each of these 10 signs likely go hand-in-hand with feeling hurt and sometimes hopeless about the future of a relationship. If you feel like you and your partner are growing apart, couples counseling could be a tool to help you address issues and behaviors that are driving a wedge between you. Not only is couples therapy designed to help you grow closer together as a couple, but also to help you become the best version of yourself so that you are thriving as an individual and as a couple. Couples therapy can also be a place to help you accurately evaluate whether salvaging connection and fulfillment with your partner is realistic in particularly difficult relationships. For more information about the process of couples counseling, visit our couples counseling page or schedule a consultation with one of our professionals.You do not have to be in a “bad” spot to try couples therapy. Couples therapy is designed to give you and your partner a place to communicate openly and continue to grow yourselves and your relationship. It is a tool to help strengthen your partnership, not just rebuild.
aTthe Developmental Model, Ellyn Bader & Peter Pearson
bCramer, K. M., Gallant, M. D., & Langlois, M. W. (2005). Self-silencing and depression in women and men: Comparative structural equation models. Personality and Individual Differences, 39, 581 – 592.
cGottman, J. M. & Gottman, J. S. (2008). Gottman method couple therapy. In A. S. Gurman (Eds) Clinical handbook of couple therapy (pp. 138 – 153). The Guilford Press.
dSchnarch, D. M. (2009). Passionate marriage: Love, sex and intimacy in emotionally committed relationships. W.W. Norton & Co.
eSimpson, J. A., Farrell, A. K., Oriña, M. M., & Rothman, A. J. (2015). Power and social influence in relationships. In J. A. Simpson & J. F. Dovidio (Eds.), APA handbook of personality and social psychology: Interpersonal relations (pp. 393–420). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
fKnudson-Martin, C., & Mahoney, A. R. (2009). Couples, gender, and power: Creating change in intimate relationships. New York: Springer.