Tonight, I’m writing about a topic that is truly near and dear to my heart. It’s love. More specifically the love found in the relationships we choose to have with one another. Spouses, parents, children, friends. This, is why I do what I do. Now I think it would be safe to say that we all have a vested interest in love and relationships, but as a marriage and family therapist I take it a step further. I want to know WHY we do things in relationships, WHAT kind of affect they have on our relationships (both negative and positive) and HOW we can improve our relationships. Because lets face it, our happiness is inextricably linked with those relationships we hold dear.
In my experience, when a couple walks through my door for counseling, they are typically at the point where they are considering separation or divorce. Counseling is the last ditch effort. And I applaud them for coming in, because they are STILL trying to make their relationship work. And that is awesome. But here’s the thing, according to Dr. John Gottman of the Gottman Institute, couples on average come to therapy 7 years “late”. That means, they have been dealing with ever increasing problems, growing resentment, hostility, trust issues, sadness, loneliness and unhealthy fighting for 7 years. That does a number to both themselves and their relationship.
Now, in medicine there is the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and for the most part we all believe that. Why is it that we still won’t accept that for our mental and emotional health? Why is it what we put off the “prevention” or early “treatment” when it comes to our relationships until we feel like we are on a sinking ship? Taking care of relationship issues before they become a problem is easier, has a higher chance of success and will likely cost you less in the long run than if you wait till your relationship is on the edge. Now by no means am I saying that couples counseling isn’t effective if you have major relationship issues, because it can be a the tool you need to save it. It can also be extremely helpful to smooth out divorces in cases where partners decide to go their separate ways. We acknowledge that everything in life takes skill and practice such as: driving, cooking, reading, learning to walk and talk, so why why would we think successful relationships would be any different? Happy partners have just mastered skills such as effective communication, listening and empathizing like everything else.
I feel passionately about this topic because I know that relationships don’t HAVE to be bad. They don’t have to make you feel insecure or unhappy and they don’t have to end in divorce or break ups. But they do take work. And maintenance. If your partner suggests going to counseling please listen and consider their request. Far too often I get phone calls from a partner ( cough, cough,guys are you listening) that is desperate to try and save the relationship but at this point it was too late. The other partner was done asking for help a while ago and has emotionally (and maybe even physically) moved on.
If you think your relationship could benefit from some new skills, check out a couples counselor by you. Ask a friend or family member for recommendations, check out psychologytoday.com, search google or even ask your family Dr for a referral. Counseling can be more affordable than you think and it’s a worthwhile investment in your relationship. I hope this has been helpful to those of you that have been kinda sorta thinking about maybe looking into doing some relationship work. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions I can help out with!