When do you put gas in your car? For some, it’s when the gas light comes on…for others it is proactively when you’re at half of a tank because you believe going lower hurts your vehicle. If you don’t ever add fuel, your car simply stops working.

Similarly, when do you change your oil? Some cars call for every 3,000 miles…others 5-7,000. It all depends on the requirements of the vehicle, but regardless, if you never change your oil, your car will break (just ask my brother. RIP Mom’s old car).

You’re seeing a theme here: Your car takes routine maintenance to work. When your car doesn’t work, you take it to a mechanic. This is because, with the exception of your home, for many people your car is your most expensive possession. The same reasoning could be said for your romantic relationship in that it is likely one of your most important intangible possessions. So, when your relationship is strained, have you ever considered going to therapy?

In my experiences, for some individuals “couples therapy” is a stigmatized term accompanied with shame and perceived failure. I would like to challenge this thought pattern by reminding people that attending couples therapy demonstrates a commitment to working on, and even enhancing, one’s relationship.

Perhaps most alarming though when it comes to couples therapy is how under-utilized it is. Consider the following: “Only about one fourth of divorcing couples report seeking professional help of any kind to improve their relationship (Albrecht, Bahr, & Goodman, 1983; C. A. Johnson et al., 2001), and those who do wait an average of 6 years after serious problems develop to seek marital therapy (Notarius & Buongiorno, 1992, as cited in Gottman & Gottman, 1999)” (Doss, Simpson, & Christensen, 2004, p. 608).

A study of married couples identified the top reasons couples sought therapy. Tied for number one were both communication-based reasons: “emotional affection” and general “communication”. Under “emotional affection” issues like “lack of love” and “affection/intimacy” emerged. Likewise, under “communication” a “lack of understanding” as well as not “discussing problems” emerged. 

Tied for second place were “divorce/separation concerns” and also “to improve the relationship.” Other notable reasons included “argument/anger” as well as issues specific to the marriage.

With the above reasons in mind, I will remind you of an earlier statistic: many couples waited an “average of 6 years after serious problems develop[ed] to seek marital therapy.” This is quite alarming as, for some couples, critical damage may be done during those 6 years. Thus, for those readers out there considering couples therapy, I would encourage you to further explore that option. It is much like going to the medical doctor or the gym – it won’t hurt you, only help you (but it may be uncomfortable at times). 

A common societal mantra is “love is all you need.” I will not disagree that love is essential, but relationships need love coupled with a commitment to the work to maintain the relationship—and therapy is one way in which couples can work to preserve their relationships.

Follow me on Twitter @therealdrsean for relationship commentary/links, complaints about mass transit, and support for WVU Athletics. Continue to follow this blog for future entries about deception, online dating, using affection to lie, workplace romance, and other issues that make obtaining and retaining a mate oh so interesting.

Writing based on:

Doss, B. D., Simpson, L. E., & Christensen, A. (2004). Why do couples seek marital therapy? Professional Psychology, 35, 608–614.   

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