Everybody hits rough patches in marriage. But when is the right time to seek counseling help? Chances are, right now.
When couples delay counseling until the situation has become painfully toxic, they do not give a counselor much with which to work. Once bitterly negative perspectives have taken root, they are not easily reversed. Seeking counseling early, however, is more like preventative maintenance on your vehicle. You catch things in time to make small corrections and avoid having lasting damage.
Don't wait to seek help for your marriage. When we think of our spouse or see them and we feel good or have good thoughts, it’s called the Positive Perspective. Positive Perspective is the result of three functions of the relationship:
In the beginning of a romantic relationship these three functions work well. Stressors are typically low and interactions are positive. If the relationship works well enough, we get married, get a home together and often begin having children.
Being parents can be stressful, as much of our time and emotional focus is on the children, and we may sacrifice our marital relationship in the process. We may stop learning about our spouses’ inner world, stop practicing affection and not notice their attempts to connect. The fondness diminishes and the flaws become more apparent. The Positive Perspective shifts.
Marital issues that come up again and again are called Perpetual Issues. These issues may be shelved for the sake of “peace” or just not discussed to avoid fighting around the children. Too much of that type of shelving or sacrifice and we may begin getting more meaning in our lives from the children and the practical concerns of the bills and logistics of family management than we do from the marriage itself. In fact, the two most common times for divorce are around the birth of the first child and the launching of older children getting ready to move out of the house. Most of my client-couples are parents of teens in high school. By this time the children are relatively self-maintaining and the parents are more able to notice that they haven’t felt emotionally connected to each other as husband and wife in years. The Positive Perspective has slowly turned into a Negative Perspective that gets harder to reverse the longer it’s been allowed to become a habit of thought.
Couples waiting to come in for couples therapy until they are almost ready to divorce is as reasonable as waiting to make your first trip to a physician just before a tumor kills you. But many do just that because they don’t think about getting help or believe they are too busy. Coming in after your thoughts of your spouse are already dominated by righteous indignation makes trust and intimacy that much harder to repair. There are real and practical ways to save a troubled marriage. Strengthening and fire-proofing your marriage is far more effective BEFORE the Position Perspective has turned negative.
Seek help for your marriage when you notice dissatisfactions but you STILL LIKE your partner. When couples are still fond of each other, they can more easily learn the practical behaviors that help them be a team and the skills that attune them to each other emotionally. These skills become habits much more easily before there's a mountain of old resentments that have already buried one’s heart. You can grow as a couple AND role model for the children NOW so they can have a road map for their own relationships as well. Don’t wait!