There are many reasons that any relationship can benefit from professional counseling or therapy, whether the couple has been together for five decades or five months. Maybe the same arguments keep coming up, or perhaps both of you are finding it difficult to communicate; consulting a therapist or a marriage counselor could significantly improve the dynamic and health of your relationship or marriage if both partners are willing to put in the work.
In fact, there doesn’t even need to be a “problem” in the relationship to consider seeing a therapist. “Therapy can benefit couples who just want to strengthen their relationship and feel more connected and bonded with one another,” explains Jaime Bronstein, a licensed relationship therapist and author of MAN*ifesting.
Meet the Expert
Here, we speak with two relationship experts about how to know when it’s time to seek help.
Signs That Indicate It’s Time to Seek Counseling
Are you unsure of whether or not you and your partner are ready to see a therapist or counselor? Here are the signs to look out for.
You're Finding It Hard to Communicate
Dr. Satira Streeter Corbitt, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified Gottman Therapist explains that “if couples find that their communication efforts are missing the mark,” it is likely time to look for a counselor or therapist.
You'll also want to be aware of how you feel when you're attempting to communicate. “When a couple can't communicate without getting heated, they could benefit from therapy,” adds Bronstein.
The Bad Outweighs the Good
For those couples who find that they spend more time arguing and working through problems than they spend enjoying each other’s company, this could be a big warning sign. “When a couple is experiencing more difficult days together than peaceful and joyful days, they could benefit from therapy,” says Bronstein.
You Feel Frustrated All the Time
Have you ever experienced feelings of frustration when your partner does something totally normal? “If [couples] are often triggered by seemingly neutral actions by their partner and/or they find themselves feeling frustrated or lonely more often than not, therapy may be of benefit,” says Dr. Streeter Corbitt.
“There is so much stress in this world,” adds Bronstein. “Your relationship should be your solace, your safe place to land. If you are feeling lonely, angry, or upset in your relationship, you should seek counseling.”
If you feel like you’re constantly in survival mode in your relationship, that is a red flag. If you are just surviving and not thriving in your relationship, it's time to go to counseling,” says Bronstein. “Ideally, a healthy relationship is made up of two people who grow individually and together as a couple.”
You Feel Judgement, Contempt, and Resentment
“Judgement, contempt, and resentment are relationship killers,” explains Bronstein. “Be aware if you feel this way, as it could be time to go to counseling.”
Preparing for Couples Counseling
Just like any part of a relationship, couples counseling will take hard work from both partners, and part of that is preparing for the first counseling or therapy session.
How to Find the Right Therapist or Counselor
“I always recommend going to a therapist that is referred by someone you know and trust," says Bronstein. "If you are comfortable asking friends if they know of anyone, that is the best way to go." However, if you’re not comfortable talking about this with friends or family, that is totally okay. “I recommend posting anonymously in local Facebook groups. You can also do a keyword search (such as ‘couples therapy’) in Facebook groups to see what has already been posted,” Bronstein suggests. She also recommends looking at psychologytoday.com to find a reputable therapist or counselor.
Dr. Streeter Corbett, who is a certified Gottman Therapist, suggests consulting that network to find a good fit. "I am a strong believer in the 40 years of couples research that has shaped the Gottman Method,” she explains. “I suggest starting your search on the Gottman Referral Network.”
How to Prepare for Therapy Individually
Bronstein suggests two main components each partner should prioritize as they prepare for the first therapy session: Clarify your intentions for therapy and understand what you see as the issues in the relationship. Once you can keep these two things top-of-mind, you’ll be able to go into the first session with some solid goals.
How to Prepare as a Couple
When it comes to preparing for your first session as a couple—because of course, working together through this is just as important as mentally preparing individually—Bronstein suggests that you each promise to remain understanding and empathetic throughout the process. “Make a pact that you will be as compassionate and empathetic towards one another as possible,” she says. “You will listen, validate, not judge, and do your best to understand each other.”
Think of Therapy as an Investment in the Partnership
“Always honor your feelings and your voice. Trust how you are feeling and express it to your spouse to figure out what the issues are,” says Bronstein. “Look at counseling as an investment. I believe that therapy and healing is the best gift you can give yourself, as it truly is life-changing and can enhance your life in ways that you can't even imagine until you experience it.”