When should couples come for therapy?
Sometimes people ask when is it the best time to come for therapy?
The very best time - is probably in the first year of your relationship, when the honeymoon stage is starting to end, maybe when you experience your first disillusionment.
Come before resentments build up, before misunderstandings and disappointments begin piling up, before the negative dread cloud sets in and you start considering maybe you are not right for each other.
Come to learn skills and gain tools to navigate your differences and the challenges you will experience as a couple, to learn about each other (and yourself), to heal together and to make sure your foundation is really solid, so you can continue building together.
The second best time - is now.
If you think you could use some help - don't wait. The average couple waits 2-3 years before coming to therapy. Many couples shared that they've been struggling for 5-6 years (and sometimes we are talking about 10-20 years) before they finally admitted they needed to do something different if they wanted to stay together.
I see new couples who are dating for the very first time and sex is either painful or unfulfilling and these courageous people take a risk to come and ask “I thought this was going to be beautiful, pleasurable and fun. It isn’t - what’s wrong and what can we do about it?”. Too many people wait for years and suffer through many painful relationships before asking for help.
I see couples who are dating and after a year or two recognize that they are getting stuck in the same fight over and over again. They are starting to escalate faster, stay upset longer and know they need to break the cycle or it’s only going to get worse.
I see couples who want to get married and want to make sure they are creating a really solid foundation for their life together.
I see couples with a small baby (and sometimes two), feeling overwhelmed, disconnected and exhausted, who come for help because they can’t keep going like that anymore. It is reality - it is a tough time in any couple's life, especially if they don’t have support, and in our society, sadly, most couples have no or very little support. The expectations are to be great parents, productive workers, have social life, go on dates...... The hope was that the baby is going to be a blessing for the family, and don’t get me wrong, of course the baby IS a blessing, we are just not prepared at all for how hard it can be and the toll it can take on our relationships. If a couple didn’t have a strong way to work through challenges, to stay connected, they will need to learn it now, and quick.
I see couples going through big transitions or making big decisions - going back to school, moving, deciding on having another baby, adoption, fertility treatments, changing careers, starting businesses - it also takes a toll on the relationship.
I see couples who are doing great in every area of their relationship except sex. It never clicked. Or maybe it work great during their honeymoon stage, but after a few years (and maybe a couple of kids) it's inexistent, or just not exactly fulfilling and definitely not exciting. They feel like good friends, roommates and parents but not lovers.
I see couples who come because one partner had an affair and it became a wake up call. Maybe they are unsure yet if they can stay together or not - that's ok, this is not the time to decide. Not yet. The decision (the inner knowing) will come from doing the work. Maybe they already decided to stay together, but didn't have the tools to truly heal, and the trust is broken and the pain keeps coming up over and over again. We can work with this. Your marriage can become stronger than ever. I truly believe it. It does take a lot of work and willingness on both partners' parts, but it's possible.
I see couples becoming empty-nesters and recognizing they were so focused on being a mom/dad - they don’t know who they are anymore, or how to be a couple again.
I see couples preparing or transitioning through retirement - and looking at the next stage of their life together.
I see older couples when intimacy and their relationship is affected by aging and/or health challenges. There's so little information about it out there, people often assume that that's the end of intimacy for them, when it's not the end, it's just changing. It sure is different, but definitely not the end.
Any of these are the best times to come for therapy - because it’s when you need help, and help and support are available. There’s so much we can do. Therapy can be an exciting and a very fulfilling journey of self-discovery, discovery about your partner, journey of healing and reconnection and of creating a relationship that supports you both in a way that you need to be supported. And loved.
I am not saying it's easy. We are complicated beings, and when we add another being into the mix, with our feelings, fears, hopes and dreams, past hurts and triggers; what we get is a perfect human storm. Relationships are not easy. But I believe the work is worth is.
"There isn’t anything in this world but mad love. Not in this world. No tame love, calm love, mild love, no so-so love. And, of course, no reasonable love. Also there are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But, who wants easier?" March, by Mary Oliver