You Wait To Get Help For Your Relationship For Understandable Reasons
Couples delay the decision about couple therapy for understandable reasons, though this often makes matters worse. The reasons are understandable because the stakes are so high. Your relationship is so important. (You might read this short article on Attachment.) (You might watch these videos on Attachment–Watch these together, to remember together what you might be having a hard time knowing together.) We recognize some of our limitations, sense the need to change, but are not sure we will be able. Self-criticism is as common as the criticism of a partner. Shame is as likely as blame. Moreover, it can seem daunting to share your self or your relationship with a stranger. What if good enough help for your relationship doesn’t come through when you put these vulnerable feelings on the line?
The same reluctance you may feel to reveal the depth of your hurt or anger to your partner for fear of not being understood or of damaging the relationship, often contributes to a reluctance to seek marriage counseling or couple therapy. Many people can’t imagine what significant help looks like. It’s never been a part of their lives. If you have waited long and fear that you might break apart, it’s only natural to worry whether the couple therapist will be skilled enough to hold you together while you try to heal.
Most of us try to rationalize our worry and say things like: “It’s not that bad.” “Let’s try on our own a little longer.” “I don’t need any help.” But again, the delay is probably not helping. It actually takes a lot of courage to get help. It can be one of the most powerful ways to express care for your partner and for your marriage or relationship.
I want to help, and I will help you know how to evaluate my, or another couple therapist’s, ability to help your relationship.
Things Can and Do Get Worse
When we delay the decision about finding help for your relationship patterns become more entrenched. Communicating openly (which is difficult enough for most of us anyway) becomes less likely. Resentments compound and the distance grows. You may have become less willing to reveal yourself or to show vulnerability. You may sense that you no longer show your true strengths, even to yourself. The fundamental safety, refuge, and warmth you crave in your marriage or relationship may seem to be slipping through your fingers. It can be so disheartening to feel that the best and most human part of yourself has gone into hiding from the most important person in your life.
A Reliable Formula To Help You Decide About Getting Help For Your Relationship
Still, how do you decide if it is time to go to marriage counseling or couple therapy for relationship help?
Here is a simple formula to help decide:
- Focus your attention on your contribution to the difficulties in your relationship.
- Be fully accountable for that contribution. Reveal to your partner what you recognize as your contribution. This can be scary. It will be easy to anticipate being rejected.
- Tell your partner what you intend to do differently to make it better between you. This is hard too; You know you will make mistakes and you won’t want to disappoint your partner. Talk about that.
- Make an honest effort to improve in the ways that you know you must, remembering that your relationship will erode further without your attention and your tenderness. When you distance, withhold, or provoke angrily you are making things worse for your marriage. You are, without meaning to, confirming your partner’s worse fears about your relationship and about how you feel about him or her.
You Might Not Recognize Your Contribution To The Difficulties In Your Marriage
You might not recognize your contribution to the difficulties in your marriage. It can be hard to focus on our own shortcomings – while we naturally notice first what our partner is doing that makes us feel bad. (Humans, like all mammals, are organized to respond to threat before anything else–and there is not much that is more threatening than any sign that love, liking or belonging is endangered.) Ask your friends and family for support and feedback: “What do you think are my contributions to the trouble in my relationship? How do you think I can improve things?” Hopefully your friends and family will be able to offer some meaningful insights. If they simply pile blame on your partner, they are not being helpful.
There is one potential expert on the subject who you may not have yet really consulted:
- Tell your partner that you want him or her to tell you in the kindest way possible how he or she experiences your contribution to the troubles in your relationship.
- Listen closely and look for any and every truth you can find. If your partner is angry you may have to work hard to do this.
- Do not take this opportunity to retaliate or to blame him or her. If your partner has tended to be very blaming, and won’t accept his or her own responsibility for your shared difficulties in your relationship, this may be an impossible strategy for you.
- However, if you have been in the practice of fending off blame, rather than listening closely and caring about what is said, this approach may help soften things between you. It might lead you in a better direction.
Call Me So That I Can Help You Decide
If genuine effort at constructive talking continues to end in resentment and frustration it is time to seek help for your relationship. Research has shown that couples wait to seek help, on average, about seven years from the time at least one of the partners feels distress in their marriage or relationship. This is a long time to wait. In that time the picture you have of your partner and your relationship can narrow to one in which you just see the negative. Couple therapy is meant to add several important ingredients that remind you of the bigger picture. It helps you shift patterns that have been unsatisfying and limiting. One of my primary purposes as your couple therapist will be to ensure that your relationship can continue to grow long after your couple therapy is over.
Call me so that I can help you decide. It is fine and good to make an appointment only for that purpose.
I hope this was helpful,
Robert Ogner, January 18th, 2008