When is it time for couples counseling? How do you know when you and your partner need a therapist? Of course, no two couples are the same, so it's hard to give a "one size fits all" answer. But, here are a few signs that it's time to get help. No couple can stay "starry eyed" and head over heels, crazy in love forever. That will wane, but deep admiration and respect, positive sentiments toward one another, friendship and appreciation, openness, trust and intimacy, those things should stay. When they start to wear thin, it's easy to begin seeing your partner in a negative light. When you see more to criticize than compliment, more of what's wrong than what's right, when you become a "fault finder" with your spouse, that's a red flag. It is a downward spiral that can snowball quickly. When you seem to go around and around the same disagreements and you feel "gridlocked," dug in, neither giving an inch, unwilling to compromise, that is a red flag. If you feel that you have grown so distant as a couple that you are living "parallel lives” and you share very little of your world with your partner, that is a red flag. If your problem conversations erode into blaming, defending and attacking, be it with bitter, cutting remarks or just shutting down into silent desperation, that is a red flag. It's time to get help.
Some couples see therapy as a sign of failure. But, when you get bronchitis and go to the doctor, is that a personal failure? When your car begins running rough and you take it to your technician, does that mean you are somehow inept? Quite the contrary, it shows that you're smart enough to fix a problem before it becomes "unfixable." The point is certainly the same with your marriage.
An old television commercial for Fram oil filters said it well. The mechanic looks into the camera and says, "You can pay me now or pay me later." The point is clear: get the help; do the work and the sooner, the better. A tuneup is cheaper than a rebuild and a counselor is cheaper than a lawyer (which is not a knock on lawyers!). There is no shame in consulting a trained, competent therapist. Marriage doesn't come with instructions. Sometimes, just a few adjustments can make a world of difference.
Couples counseling may be the smartest, best gift you ever give yourself and your family.