The moment when divorce becomes an option is a significant one - for most people, this thought emerges after one more fight, one more disappointment, or the irrevocable thought that, perhaps things are too broken to fix - or, perhaps worse, that you might not want to try anymore. These kinds of situations and feelings usually arise after months or years of frustration and discontentment, and often when we unpack what has happened (with the benefit of hindsight and lots of reflection), we can see a long and winding path of miscommunications, resentment, unmet expectations and a gradual shutting down of emotions and vulnerability.
It takes a lot for two people who love each other to make that decision to go their separate ways - and can be an incredibly painful process to take apart a life built together. With that in mind, it can be useful at any stage of the relationship to take stock of how things are going, and try and resolve issues that are coming up for you now - rather than having them compound over the years until things reach breaking point. This isn’t to say that divorce isn’t always the wrong decision - some relationships are not meant to last - but rather that getting help early on can help both people to make important changes in their behavior and communication. With that in mind, let’s talk about some signs that it is time to get marriage help, and what this might look like.
When is it a good time to get marriage help?
Unsurprisingly, most relationship counselling is taken up with couples who are in the midst of a crisis - whether this is after an infidelity, when divorce is on the table, or when things have deteriorated so much between two individuals that they need a third person to mediate. That said, there is a small subgroup of people who seek out relationship counselling as a preventative measure - to iron out issues in the relationship, or perhaps to stop issues from arising. For most people, however, these are some signs that it is a good time to seek some additional support:
You are having the same argument
We may sometimes feel like it is groundhog day in our relationships, with similar issues (eg. money, parenting, communication, cleanliness) coming up again and again, with no sign of change or resolution. This might be because the communication is off, or because there is insufficient motivation to change. Whatever the reason, having the same argument is like poison to a relationship - instead of growing and changing together, we are instead stuck in a cycle of resentment and frustration - with the creeping realisation that perhaps change isn’t possible. Seeking relationship coaching or counselling support for this issue is highly recommended, since a third person in the room can offer different perspectives on an ‘unsolvable’ issue, and mediate between two sets of needs and desires. Not only that, they can also shed light on patterns of destructive communication that might be emerging (eg. escalating, shutting down, stonewalling), and plan for future incidents and how they might be managed.
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You are emotionally and physically disconnected
Arguably, just as bad as high conflict is emotional disconnection. We all know how awful it can feel to be in a room with someone we love, but not feel comfortable showing love or affection. Sometimes emotional withdrawal is one of the only ways we may feel we can protect ourselves from further hurt - but this can often result in both people stepping further and further away from each other in a self-protective dance. We may feel the need to punish our partner by withdrawing, but this can also create more distance - and over time, if this pattern is repeated, it can start to feel like the norm. Often this kind of dynamic arises from poor communication and unmet needs - and even the misguided attempt to establish some personal space - but it can often result in feeling like a stranger to your partner. Again, counselling and coaching can be imperative in addressing issues like this, since being in a safe setting such as therapist’s office can allow people to express vulnerability and hurt that might not be possible with their partner. Often at the core of disconnection is hurt on both sides, and it is hard to find ways of talking about this if the relationship feels cold and unsupportive - so professional help is strongly recommended for this.
There are others involved
When our relationships aren’t meeting our needs - in any number of ways - we can sometimes look outside of them for people to meet those needs. This is not just emotional - many people have found themselves crossing the line with emotional affairs or intense friendships that act as gap-fillers for relationships that are faltering. Often these outside supports aren’t relationships or partners that would work in real life - but can represent something that we are missing in our partner, and which seems alluring and enticing in the other. If you or your partner are noticing that you’re getting close to the line (which is something that is different in each relationship), it might be a sign that it is time to talk about what might be missing in your dynamic. Depending on how far things have gone, this might simply be a conversation where you discuss these feelings or thoughts, or if things have progressed too far, some professional help might be useful to help work through what has happened. Whatever the situation, it is really useful to remember that we can be drawn to others because they represent something that we are missing - and identifying what that missing thing is can help move your relationship forward and into the future, if both people are willing to listen.
There are other signs that it might be time to seek help - like big disconnects in values, addictions, one or both people struggling with mental health, or issues with money and parenting - and generally you will probably know that it is time to seek help if you’re feeling miserable and unsatisfied in the relationship. In some cases, this can actually be a turning point - acknowledging that things are not good means that we can stop pretending everything is fine, instead use that energy to understand what has been going wrong. It might be some comfort to know that many, many happy couples that we see today have, at some point, sought relationship counselling to improve their relationships - and that it is not an admission of defeat, but rather an acknowledgement that living with someone for the long term is difficult and challenging - and that sometimes we need some help. With that in mind, here are some ideas about how to find help or start to get a different perspective on your relationship - from the easiest, cheapest options, to the more intensive and resource-heavy options.
Recognizing that your relationship needs help is the hard first step in repairing your marriage. Take the next step and get started with Relish - the #1 relationship coaching app. Get started for free.
One comforting thing to consider if you’re having relationship issues is that you are certainly not alone - there are thousands of books that have been written about relationships and love, and most of them have useful (if sometimes conflicting!) advice. Here is a list of books that are among the most popular in the field - there are many more, and you can search for these at your local library or on Amazon. Most of the books in the area have been written by licensed relationship counsellors, and work on the understanding that the more we understand ourselves and our own internal world, the better equipped we are to have a good relationship - since we can recognise our irrational thoughts or overreactions as attempts to protect ourselves, or have our needs met by our partner - and fundamentally, to avoid hurt and pain.
Come As You Are - by Emily Nagowski
This is a great resource if there are issues in the bedroom - it is a great overview of why couples might get out of sync sexually, as well as the differences in libido that can occur in a relationship.
What Makes Love Last? By John Gottman, MD
This is another wonderful resource for anyone in a relationship who is wanting to keep things positive and loving - the Gottmans are world leaders in relationship therapy and have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Attached - By Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
This is a great resource for people wanting to know more about attachment theory, which is something that drives many of us in a relationship. For most people, understanding their own attachment, and that of their partner, allows them to recognise patterns and dynamics that are causing conflict - and change their behavior. This book is very readable and relatable!
The All or Nothing Marriage - Eli Finkel
This is a great book that gives an overview of how our expectations for marriage have changed in modern times, and how we might set expectations within the relationship to make things work.
*note - most of these books are available for free download or loan on audiobook or ebook if you have a library subscription - reach out to your local library.
Where Should We Begin? With Esther Perel
This is a great resource from one of the greatest relationship counsellors out there, Esther Perel - she takes us through a relationship counselling session in each episodes with a variety of clients and different presentations. Each episode is different, and allows us a glimpse into how other people manage their relationships.
Small Things Often - The Gottman Institute
The Gottman Institute is a great resource for tips about improving connection and communication in relationships - as well as addressing existing issues.
Unlocking Us - With Brene Brown
Brene Brown is a leading researcher on human behavior and areas such as vulnerability, shame and connection. Her podcast ‘Unlocking Us’ is a great resource for anyone wanting to understand more about how we interact with each other.
Relationship Coaching Apps
The next step after books and podcast might be to look at relationship apps - these are often reasonably low cost and offer relationship training tips - often, content that is centred around common issues like communication, sex, intimacy and trust.
Relish is a Relationship Training app, offering Coaching and a large library of lessons about communication, intimacy, conflict, attachment and boundary setting. It is part of a new type of relationship therapy which provides information and guidance about how to manage major issues, and offers Coach support and guidance if needed. One of the major benefits of relationship training apps such as Relish is that they are relatively low cost compared to regular therapy - and can be a great place to start for people who are interested in addressing issues in their relationship, but are not quite sure about starting therapy. You can sign up for a free trial of Relish for one week before subscribing, which gives you a chance to try out Coaching and the content and see if it is for you.
Maybe you are feeling like things have progressed to a level where you would like to see someone for regular therapy - and are hoping that having someone else in the room will help mediate and navigate some of those more challenging conversations.
Seeking therapy online has never been easier, and several websites offer access to licensed, trained, experienced, and accredited psychologists (PhD / PsyD), marriage and family therapists (LMFT), clinical social workers (LCSW / LMSW), and board licensed professional counselors (LPC). You are able to select couples and relationship therapists with most online counselling services, and can read the therapist’s background and experience before your first session.
Face to Face Therapy
As useful as online therapy is, sometimes we can miss that face to face support and the experience of being in the same room as your therapist. The website Psychology Today has a ‘Find at Therapist’ function on its website where you can browse the profile of therapists near to you, based on location and zip code. You can also search Good Therapy to find a therapist near to you - for telehealth or face to face.
An interesting take on couples therapy can be found in specialised couples retreats, which are generally held in country locations and involve small groups of people with licensed therapists. This can be a very effective (though often expensive) way to make changes and see improvements in relationships - just like with group therapy, it can be very powerful to observe other couples and witness how they work through their issues. There are likely to be couples retreats in your area if you research, but the Gottman Institute holds these regularly:
So what do I do first?
Depending on what stage your relationship is in, it might be useful to do one or several of these things. It is also useful to consider what kind of help your partner is going to be willing to engage in - for some people, the idea of getting relationship counselling is frightening or confronting - whereas they might be much more open to downloading a relationship coaching app that has more self-directed activities and less confrontational conversations.
It is also useful to consider - what kinds of changes are possible for you? And, is it possible to repair things? For some couples, there may have been too much hurt that has happened and too many arguments and hurtful things said - which has covered up what brought them together in the first place. For those couples, the challenge might be in separating gracefully and with a minimum of hurt. For many couples, however, change is certainly possible, and is often sparked by a crisis (eg. a big argument, a fork in the road), followed by an acknowledgement of the issue, followed by the question ‘what do we do about this?’ When you’re going through this process, it is also useful to remember that change can be gradual - we might not feel like we are making progress, but it is only when we look back at how things were that we can see that, in fact, a lot of progress has been made. This might look like better self-awareness, arguing in a different way, being more understanding of each other, or finding ways of managing old issues and conflicts.
For many people, the process of getting marriage help (whether this is reading a book, or seeing a therapist or coach) allows them to view their relationship differently - as a living, breathing thing - open to change, needing ongoing attention and care, sometimes great, and always imperfect. Often adjusting our expectations of what we need from our partners, and vice versa, can help us to get along better with them, and be less sensitive to annoyances and disappointments.
So - what are you waiting for? Whatever stage you’re in, start by downloading a podcast, or writing out a list of your hopes for your relationship - it is never too late to start, and it is likely that you’ll be glad that you did!
Take the first step in getting the marriage help you need. Click here to download Relish and get unlimited 1-on-1 coaching with a qualified relationship coach.