I recommend marriage counseling for anyone in a serious committed relationship, whether they seem to be having problems or not. I particularly recommend all couples go to marriage counseling before actually getting married just to get a practical grip on their relationship before taking the plunge. Unfortunately, the statistics on marriage counseling are pretty grim. The reality is by the time most couples seek professional help, their relationship is essentially already over. This is sad. However, breakups and meltdowns can be avoided if the warning signs are detected early and taken seriously.
So how can you tell if you and your significant other are just in the midst of a passing squabble or really need to consider making a marriage counseling appointment?
Are these fights, arguments or bickering matches periodic or constant? If they seem to arise frequently, or even every day, there is a dynamic of conflict in your relationship that is being perpetuated instead of resolved. You are playing on the same team, not opposite sides of the field. If it is easy to forget that, counseling may need to remind you.
Does the spat stay on topic, namely as to what caused it, or does it slip and slide easily into rehashing old unresolved conflicts? If the focus of the fight remains relevant to what happened in the immediate, then you are likely fighting about what you are fighting about. But as the relationship chugs along, and as history piles up, it is likely that you are fighting about something different (deeper) than the current issue. And the latest quarrel was simply a trigger for an old sore spot. If an argument derails into "What the heck are we fighting about?" and "What does this have to do with that?" territory, you may need to bring in a third party to help sort things out.
By the end of the fight, or even just the round, is the problem fixed? Or does it continue despite any number of confrontations? When a disagreement continues on and on without resolution, no matter how many times you've thought or hoped this time would be the last time, something is stuck and may need a professional push.
- Are your confrontations in or out of control? Are there any personal attacks? Such as emotional, verbal, physical or otherwise? Do you or your partner feel degraded, dehumanized or like you're sleeping with the enemy after the ceasefire? How well you two handle yourselves in the midst of emotional battle can determine if you need to seek treatment.
- Battle fatigue can similarly wear you down to the point that you just don't fight, or worse, just don't care anymore. This is also a time when finding someone who can reconnect and rekindle the spark that brought you together in the first place would come in handy.
What is being accomplished during the conflict? Are you airing grievances, being honest with yourself and your spouse, focusing on building and strengthening the relationship or just throwing digs back and forth? Never use arguments as entertainment or foreplay. It will erode the integrity and shear enjoyability of your love and relationship. Find healthy ways to interact with each other and show affection. Marriage counseling is great for this.
The calm before the storm can be the eeriest stage of an impending war. The battle is really already lost when one or both partners concede and simply refuse to engage the other in any meaningful way. Arguments, just like conversations, are two-way. When one partner tunes out or is chronically absent, it's time to call in the cavalry.
Relationship and marriage counseling is beneficial on many levels. If you are in a happy, healthy and loving relationship with your partner, counseling will teach you why, and give you tools to get it back on track if things go off course. If your home is a warzone, it can help you put down your weapons, guard and defenses. It will also open you and your spouse up to loving each other again in a healthy way. Counseling teaches you about yourself, as well as the other person. And how best to respect and share life with one another. The skills and tools learned will be invaluable in moving forward as you and your relationship evolve.