Taking Care of the WE

Starting couples therapy may be the best New Year's resolution you ever make.

Posted Dec 15, 2016

‘Tis the season to make New Year’s resolutions. Our resolutions tend to revolve around health-promoting behaviors like quitting smoking, losing weight, or joining a gym. But what about the health of your romantic relationship? Here are 6 reasons why starting couples therapy as your New Year’s Resolution may make 2017 your best year ever!

1. It works!

Couples therapy works and it works well! About 70% of couples report that couples therapy helped them, an effectiveness rate that is comparable to other forms of therapy. If/when you and your partner decide it’s time to start, you should be aware that couples therapy is a specialty. Someone could be a great individual therapist but a lousy couples therapist, so be sure to ask your potential couples therapist about their training.

2. It’s too easy to wait too long.

Research by Dr. John Gottman indicates that most couples have been experiencing problems for six years before they make the call! Six years! The kinds of problems that bring couples to therapy tend NOT to go away on their own, and they tend not to improve by sweeping them under the rug or by having the same fight over and over. Couples therapists are trained to help you and your partner think differently, feel differently, and behave differently. That’s how change happens!

3. Prevention is the best medicine.

Maybe stuff isn’t SO bad right now. You’ve just noticed a somewhat small uptick in conflict or a slight decrease in sexy time. But, why wait until stuff gets bad? Intimate relationships are fragile, and there are always wolves at the door (work, kids, aging parents, Facebook, 24/7 access to internet porn). It is really important for couples to be proactive about taking care of the sacred space between them, and couples therapy is an effective way to do that.

4. Someone is paying attention to your spouse if you are not.

It’s no surprise that many couples come to see me in the wake of an affair being discovered, and when it comes to couples therapy for a crisis like this, there are a lot of aspects of our work. One aspect is exploring the marital fault lines that made the couple vulnerable to this type of crisis.  One thing is for sure—emotional disengagement is usually the first step toward a whole host of problems including infidelity. Affairs tend not to happen overnight. If you noticing that you are starting to turn away from rather than toward your intimate partner, it is time to call a couples therapist so that you can find each other again.

5. You’re done with fairy tales.

I am guessing that even though you were raised on an unhealthy dose of “happily ever afters” where everything is sparkly and romantic, you sometimes wonder whether a jury of your peers might just forgive you for what you (just a little bit) want to do when your partner leaves the yogurt lid face down on the kitchen counter for the millionth time. The truth is that sharing space with someone is hard work. Maintaining a happy and inspired sexual connection with someone over years and years is hard work. Dealing with messy yogurt lids is hard work. Intimate relationships are hard work! Yet we resist letting go of the fairy tale and embracing that reality, feeling easily ashamed that we need some help. Nothing on earth puts us face to face with our wounds, our triggers, and our history like a romantic relationship, so, of course, people need and benefit from time and space to sort through all of what gets stirred within and between people when they fall in love and build a life together.

6. Shift happens because shit happens.

Sometimes couples begin therapy in the wake of a crisis:

  • A child who receives a diagnosis
  • An affair that comes to light
  • A fight that is worse than any other fight
  • The death of a loved one
  • The loss of a job

In a crisis, the demands of the situation (emotional, physical, financial, spiritual) outpace the resources that you and your partner have for managing the situation. In other words, you’re in over your heads and need to enlist support. Couples therapy gives you and your partner a shame-free and blame-free space to figure out how you want to think, feel, and act in the wake of this “dark night of the soul.” In my experience, couples who enlist my help during a crisis tend to stumble upon hidden gems within the mess, like a newfound admiration for each other or a sense of pride in their resilience.

I feel frustrated and saddened by the cloud of stigma that continues to hang over couples therapy. We are willing to enlist experts for so many aspects of our lives—nutritionists, academic tutors, financial advisors, fitness trainers, career coaches, even parenting coaches. Why do our romantic relationships deserve anything less than our utmost care and concern? I know how hard it is to get over the hump and actually pick up the phone to make that call. If/when you do, make sure you do not underestimate the symbolic value that comes when you commit to couples therapy. Going to couples therapy is a way of saying to yourself and your partner, “We matter. This matters. We deserve to fight for us!”

Let’s make 2017 the Year of US!