Why People Don't Get Couples Counseling

Do You Need Couples Counseling?


“It’s embarrassing!” So is going to the doctor sometimes. Not seeking professional help with one of the most important relationships in your life is like having a broken arm and not going to have it set and cast by a professional health care provider. Imagine what would happen if you did not get the arm repaired in a timely and appropriate way. And taking your relationship guidance from television programs, a neighbor, a family member, or your hair stylist is as unwise as having one of those people set your broken arm.

“It’s my partner, not me!” It surely seems like the discomfort you are feeling with your partner is all due to their behaviors, but ultimately, it is you who has to do something to begin to be happy and satisfied again. The first step is taking responsibility for your own behaviors in the relationship. You need to look at those things that you have done and said, and those things you are not doing that contribute to your own pain. Blaming the entire situation on your partner and refusing to go to counseling with them is like not going to the emergency room to get your broken arm fixed because your partner was the person you were angry with when you slipped and fell.

“It means we have failed!” Getting professional help for your relationship is not a failure. Thinking this way is like stating you are a failure because your car needs mechanical work. Most people never get any formal training in how to carry out long term relationships or repair the real mechanics of relationship. We learn to be in relationship from our own parents, and let’s face it, sometimes that training is not the best. Many people promise themselves that they will be ‘different’ in their long term relationships, only to either swing too far in the other direction, or just repeat the same errors that their parents did. Worse yet, some people get their models of relationship from television and movies.

“If it is that bad, we should just break up!” Your car needs to be maintained; it needs oil changes, new brake pads, and maybe new tires. Most people do not get rid of the car when these things need taken care of. Even when more extensive work is needed, the smart person sees the wisdom of holding on to the car, especially if it is paid for. Long term relationships are just like that; they need maintenance and occasional realignment. The difference is that car will eventually depreciate and do need to be junked, while long term relationships, if cared for properly, just keep getting better with age.

“The situation is not that bad! When you smell smoke in your home, you go and investigate. If there is fire in a trash can, you don’t sit and wait for it to get ‘bad’, you get the extinguisher and put it out. Just like a fire, sometimes couple issues do cool down and just burn out with no harm done, but more often, they continue to get worse. On the other hand, it’s a good thing to view couple problems as ‘not that bad’, because in most circumstances, the problems you are experiencing are quite normal and expected in long term relationships.

“I don’t want someone else hearing about our private stuff!” Just like your doctor, counselors have seen just about everything and not much surprises them. Just like every human being has the same basic body parts, couples have pretty much the same issues. This is because the ‘mechanics’ of long term relationships are the same for everyone; just the details are different from couple to couple. And just like your doctor, it is sometimes necessary to examine private parts of your life that may be a bit uncomfortable for you. Most couples counselors are good at helping you feel at ease speaking about your private and sensitive issues.

Arguments: Every couple has arguments, it’s not the actual argument that is the problem that indicates a need for counseling. Plenty of couples have positive methods of arguing and working through issues and contentions. The kind of arguing that indicates a need for couples counseling is when the arguing becomes attacking, vicious, and wounding to one or both of the partners. This may include the use of things in the past as weapons during the argument, use of foul, abusive, and degrading language, public humiliation of one partner from the other, and escalation into physical violence. Physical violence does not need to be one person harming another, it is often the case that holes get put in walls, doors slammed off their hinges, or items in the home are damaged. Some couples do not argue in this way, but become cold and uncommunicative, withholding affection and civility.

Flashpoints: When couples find that they can readily predict the flashpoints that will cause argument, this means that there is an unresolved, long term issue that needs worked through. Often, couples may feel like they are sitting in a trailer park watching a tornado approach, knowing that it will hit them because they are in a trailer park, and they are stuck and cannot move away from the oncoming funnel cloud; they are sure that they are going to get sucked in and get roughed up by the debris inside the argument.

Reactivity: The most toxic substance to a long term relationship is reactivity. Just like an out of control nuclear reactor, the couple finds that when one of them has a strong negative emotion, the other immediately has a strong and equal reaction. Then, the ‘reactor’ is off and running, matching reaction for reaction, heating up towards explosion. And when the explosions happen, they spread toxic waste everywhere, and both partners feel sick. After the explosion, things are quiet for a while, until one partner reacts and starts the whole process over again.

Sexual Problems: Reactivity over flashpoints that result in arguments lead couples to not want to even touch each other with any affection. No touch quite naturally negatively effects couple sexuality. Who wants to have sex with someone you are so angry or bitter at? Sexual desire for both partners may tank; either not wanting sex at all, or not wanting sex with your partner. And that can lead to affairs. Other sexual problems may be things like not being able to stay aroused during sex, being bored silly with the sex you are having, or not feeling fulfilled even after sex.

Estrangement: All of the above leave individuals feeling lonely inside their marriage. It may be that the couple recognizes that they are spending less time together, and when they are together, they are still not really ‘together’. Each may feel like their interest in the other is gone, and there is no more intimacy left between them.

The Kids: A couple’s children can be a genuine barometer of the health of the couple relationship. It is a therapeutic classic that a child will begin to have behavior problems when a couple is having couple problems. This is because the child unconsciously discovers that if they have problem behaviors, it makes the parents pay attention to them instead of the couple issues. In effect, it helps to keep the parents together.

Boredom: Not all couples have the issues that are stated above, but still need some counseling to work through a time of boredom and stagnancy in their relationship. Long term relationship is about growth; each partner stimulates the growth of themselves and the other. Sometimes couples really do not understand this, and their relationship stays basically the same in every way for decades. Long term relationship can, if you let it, help you and your partner to continue to develop and grow for the entire time you are together. But sometimes we all get ‘stuck’ and need some coaching to get moving again.

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bettybarnesb 5 years ago from Bartlett, TN

Marriage is a covenant made between two people. Counseling would be more effective if it is done prior to marriage. It would open up understanding and maybe cause the couple to really think, "do we really want to do this?" "Are we really ready." Big step. Too many take so lightly.


Gary 5 years ago

Thank you so much for the post. I think this really knocked some sense into me. I swear I said those exact words, "It's my partner, not me!" My wife wants us to go to some couples counseling, and I think I will finally go. I've heard http://drmarthaliebmann.com is a great practice out here in New York. What do you think?

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