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When is the right time to seek marriage counseling?

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

The short answer is the one you'd expect me to give, considering it's my business: the answer is, now is almost always the right time. Let me explain that though.

If you think your problems are minor, you may be right. But the questions I would ask are: Do you have a functional discussion style? And, Are you getting everything you want out of the marriage or partnership?

Regarding the first question: Can you discuss your disagreements calmly and work out solutions? (No?) Are there things you feel that you can’t say to your partner? (Yes?) Is it driven by fear of even broaching the topic, or fear of how your partner might react? (Yes?) Regarding the second question, Do you think there are some goals for your life that you'll just have to forgo in order to compromise so you just don't talk about it?

Often the real problem is not in the content of what you're discussing (i.e. the topic), but in the dynamic that allows effective discussions to take place or not.

It doesn’t really matter if you’ve just been in the relationship for 6 months, or whether you’ve been married for 30 years. The diagnostic symptoms are the same. Often, people who have a young relationship or have just been married think that as they live with the person, they will get to know them better, and then things will start clicking. When you live with someone, you will figure out what they’re thinking, and they will be familiar with what you’re thinking. This is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about relationships. The facts are, there will always be things around which we can’t always tell what our partner is thinking, and likewise them for us. The bottom line is that while we do get more familiar with our partner after a while, the basic dynamics of interaction don’t change all that much without an intervention of some type (like marriage counseling). This is why, if you think there’s things that could be better about the way you discuss things (or don’t), it’s better to address it now. If you think things could be better about how much your marriage and family ambitions are getting met or even individual goals that are related in some way to you being in a committed relationship, it rarely will improve things by waiting things out.

Some people think: oh, we haven’t had time to focus on our relationship lately because… we have a new baby…. or he’s/she’s been extra busy at work lately… or, take your pick. They think, this will all get better when those phases pass, and we will be back on sure footing. Maybe. But it is also very likely that if you can’t talk about what’s going on right now that’s unpleasant or what’s missing, it signals a broader pattern in the relationship. What you’re likely to find is that things don’t get better when the phase passes, because what was actually the problem was not just the busyness of life, but also the communication dynamics between you and your partner the whole time.

The health of your relationship is like your physical health in many ways. The longer you let things go before you seek help, the harder it will be to try and fix the damage. That might come across as dire, but I'll say this: The damage might not be catastrophic, and it might not lead to the end of the relationship, but it might lead to some resentment and distance, and you’ll find you wish your relationship was a little more fulfilling and made you happier. That’s what a couples therapist can help you with.

Our relationships can be the source of a feeling of belonging and of connection that make us truly happy. They can help us achieve our dreams of raising a happy family, or of having a companion in an exciting lifestyle that we’ve always wanted. Taking the time to work on your relationship now is the best way to ensure this will happen.

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