3 Reasons to Seek Couples Counseling Before There are Problems
Even though it may sound counterintuitive, there is a good argument for going to couples counseling proactively, before you and your partner encounter any problems.
Most people's perception of couples therapy is that it's a last resort. The thing you begrudgingly do right before you file for divorce, just so you can say, "we tried everything." It's a few sessions of arguing in front of another person just to confirm that you can't make things work.
And while this perception is sometimes correct, it's actually more common that couples seek therapy because they want to avoid all the things I just wrote about.
Couples don't want to reach the point of a last resort. They don't want to get divorced and they don't want to keep fighting in the same unproductive way, especially in front of another person.
Instead of viewing couples therapy as the beginning of the end, here are three reasons to do couples therapy before there are big problems in the relationship.
1. Learn the Skills in Advance
There's no rule that says you have to wait until things are really bad before you learn the best ways to communicate, fight, repair, and show love.
You can learn the necessary relationship skills before there are problems, and then you'll be equipped to handle said problems if or when they do arise.
Want to know Gottman's 4 predictors of divorce so you can avoid them? How to repair from an argument? The best ways to show your love and commitment? How to provide support to your partner? How to regulate your own mood?
Great, learn these things!
Load up on the skills now, together, when you're in a great place in your relationship, and you'll be prepared to handle the tougher times ahead.
2. Check In to Prevent Problems
Just like how we go see our doctor for annual physicals every year, or how we regularly change our cars' oil (which reminds me, I'm very behind on changing my car's oil), a preventative session can help stop problems before they start.
Think of it as a relationship check-up.
Take an hour to talk through any budding issues, review how you communicate and manage conflict, and anticipate upcoming challenges you might face as well as how you'll navigate them.
Addressing potential problems and strengthening the relationship in advance makes it so much easier to manage future issues.
This type of preventative work will establish a foundation of mutual investment, alignment, and communication.
3 The Problems Might Already be There
I don't say this to scare you, but problems don't come from nowhere.
There's a chance that one or both of you have some brewing concerns, perhaps not big enough to make an issue out of yet but potential problems that might become actual problems.
Maybe you're both avoiding a major life decision because you're not in agreement about what to do, or you have some lingering resentment or hurt from the past that you're trying to ignore so that the feelings go away.
Looking back, couples usually realize that they should have addressed issues long before they seemed like issues. Unearthing and addressing problems, even small ones, can stop them from getting bigger.
Bonus Reason: It's More Effective
People think couples therapy is the last nail in the coffin because, in general, couples wait way too long to start it. As in, years and years of being unhappy, wanting change, and considering ending the relationship before trying therapy.
Couples therapy can be incredibly effective when it's not too late.
If you spend 10 years being angry at your partner, a few sessions is not going to fix that.
We don't wait for wounds to become infected before treating them; as soon as we realize we're bleeding we wash the cut and care for it. We should do the same for our relationships. When you see a wound, treat it right away. A bandaid is a lot easier than a surgery.
So What Now?
Well, if these reasons have you sold, then great!
Now is a great time to start. You can do it in the traditional way, with a well-trained couples therapist, or you can educate yourself in how to have a healthy partnership in other ways too.
For those of you wanting to do the work more independently, Dr. Bailey Hanek and I created a program, The Relationship Coaches, for people who are invested in having the best relationship possible and proactively putting time and energy into that effort. Our soon-to-be released Trail Map is a comprehensive guide on this very subject.
So go ahead, change your car's oil (seriously, I need to do that soon) and tune up your relationship. There's no better time than now.