Marriage counseling – these two little words grouped together have the power to instantly make us feel like failures. After all, we have it in our head that if our marriage is meant to be, we won’t have any reason to go to marriage counseling. Our love for one another should be enough to get us through the tough times, right?
We imagine the only couples who need help from an outside source are probably on the road to divorce already, so going to therapy is a last-ditch effort before inevitably throwing in the towel.
But the truth is that marriage counseling isn’t just the last stop before divorce or only for “failing” marriages. Every marriage, including those that last, is bound to go through its own challenges, and sometimes, the problems we’re facing are far too layered and difficult to hash out on our own. Sometimes, we really do need a professional to weigh in.
So what are the signs that it’s time for marriage counseling?
1. There’s Constant Criticism
Nothing kills trust and intimacy like criticism. Marriage is a unique relationship in that we’ve already pledged to stick with each other, for better or worse. This means that we need to feel free to be authentic and emotionally safe with our spouse, warts and all.
And while this isn’t an excuse to disregard our own shortcomings, we should always feel as though our spouse is ultimately in our corner, supportive through our lows. A spouse is supposed to be our safest place, and if constant criticism has become the norm, it’s time to seek out counseling.
2. Contempt Has Become Normal
We’ve all had that fight with our spouse that leaves us fiery and angry, in need of time away from them and space to calm ourselves. Our feelings toward them at this moment won’t be warm and fuzzy, but as we make up and our heightened emotions subdue, our affection for them (which never disappeared) will take over and regulate us.
Contempt is the number one predictor of divorce.
But what if that isn’t the case right now? What if, instead of feeling a love for them that doesn’t vanish in the midst of a fight, we just feel contempt for them? This is a clear sign that we won’t be approaching conflict with a desire to make up, but instead, to fuel our disdain, making a therapist’s interference necessary.
3. One of You Is Always Defensive
While marriage is a relationship in which we choose to love the other person, despite our imperfections, we’re also not supposed to sit back in our failings and do nothing about them. This requires us to be able to lovingly confront each other’s failings – after all, shouldn’t we want to become better for our spouse?
But sometimes, we aren’t able to take constructive criticism, and instead, become defensive and unwilling to hear our spouse’s concerns. This leads us into a cycle of one spouse burying their head in the sand, and the other left holding all the problems to deal with themselves. Counseling, however, doesn’t allow us to ignore the issues that need fixing.
4. There’s Distance Between You, Emotional or Physical
Sure, a lot of marriage is talking about finances and planning dinners for the week and wrangling kids and wishing the bed was just a little bigger, but this doesn’t discount one of the most important ingredients for a healthy marriage – the single thing that makes it a marriage and not a friendship: intimacy. And we’re talking both emotional and physical.
The slow fade of emotional or physical closeness in a marriage might not be immediately noticeable – it’s definitely not as attention-grabbing as an explosive fight. But its absence has the power to demolish what was once a deep connection, leaving us both feeling alone and unloved. Even the “quieter” problems, such as this one, deserve time in therapy.
The slow fade of emotional or physical closeness has the power to demolish your once deep connection.
5. You Dream About Ending the Relationship
Any marriage will have its challenging moments – maybe after one of us loses a job, or loses a loved one, or is overwhelmed with responsibilities. But even with the chaos of life, we should be glad to face it all together, to have this person by our side.
When we’re in a headspace where we find ourselves fantasizing about our marriage coming to an end and romanticizing our newly single life – all the “freedom” we’d suddenly feel – this is a sure sign that all is not right and we’re in need of a professional’s guidance. Having moments of wishing our spouse would behave differently is different from wishing we weren’t with them at all.
6. You Can’t See or Find the Good in Them
There comes a point in every relationship when we’ve just gotten used to the other person; what was new and incredible or admirable about them is now part of our every day. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as we can still remember the good we always saw in them: their generosity, humor, thoughtfulness, shared values, or zest for life. To see the good in the other person and believe the best about them is key in continuing to deepen our love for them.
It’s when we aren’t even able to look at them with fondness, familiarity, or a charitable posture that we know our marriage isn’t what it should be. When we can’t see the good in our spouse, it’s undoubtedly time to get a trusted third party involved.
7. There’s Addiction Present
Our spouse’s moods and lifestyle have a greater effect on us than we might realize. When our spouse or we are displaying ill health, it’s bound to have some kind of consequences on the other.
Addiction will always hurt more people than just the person who’s addicted.
Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, food, or anything else, will always hurt more people than just the person who’s addicted. And even if it seems like our spouse or we will be able to overcome the addiction without any kind of intervention, the fact that there was any addiction to begin with is a clear indication that help from a marriage counselor is desperately needed.
8. It Has Become Abusive
There’s fighting and bickering and battling, and then there’s abuse. The tricky thing about abuse is that it’s not always black and white – being physically abused and verbally abused will feel wildly different, even though they both still count as forms of abuse.
It can also be incredibly difficult to recognize abuse when it’s coming from someone we love – or when we ourselves are the ones being abusive. We might make excuses for them or ourselves, claiming the passion and heat of the moment got us carried away, that no one meant for it to get that far.
But if there’s even a shadow of a doubt, if we even have a moment of questioning if our or his actions have become abusive, we can’t put off getting help any longer. At that point, it’s a matter of safety rather than ironing out our differences.
9. One of You Was Unfaithful
Of course, the most basic principle agreed upon when we enter a marriage is that we’re committing to this person, and only this person. We’re giving up our right to break things off (at least in any swift manner) and agreeing to forsake all others.
The moment this promise is broken, years of trust and confidence have also been broken, and a wound that won’t heal quickly or effortlessly has been inflicted. The dynamic in our marriage has totally shifted from that point on. If our marriage has any hope of recovering from such a transgression, marriage counseling is essential.
Marriage counseling is incredibly beneficial and healing, even for marriages that haven’t suffered the worst wrongs. It’s best to pay attention to the smaller signs and rumblings of trouble and invest in our marriage by going to counseling before things reach a boiling point.
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