Why do couples wait so long before they seek a marital therapist?

Ideally, couples would seek help before problems become overwhelming, however, many couples wait up to 6 years before seeking help.

Why the wait when it comes to marital problems……

Many couples feel embarrassed or shy about revealing their problems. Shame is the barrier for not sharing their problems. Feeling bad about themselves, and not being able to work through it on their own, they are in fear of having someone pointing it out to them. That sense of inadequacy heightens…especially for men. The wife may be threatening divorce or separation before his willingness sets in to join her in a therapy office.  When he does, she is often very hurt, filled with resentment and is unwilling to open herself.  He now tries to do everything to preserve their relationship. At this point, her ambivalence may be high and their hope has waned. This last ditch attempt has high stakes and high expectations for this couple adding to their challenges that already exist.

Other couples feel that they need to understand their problems before seeking help. One or both of them may have seen an individual therapist. This approach has some benefit. One person can change a relationship. However, it is often a slower process than two people working together as a team. By the time, couples get to a later stage; they have tried their own methods to connect and now have lost hope. With little communication skills in being able to hear and understand each other, they have developed a “hardness” or distance that seems almost impossible to break through.

The overall research indicates that couples wait these six years before seeking help in their relationship. Many couples frequently think that they should be able to fix their own problems and are reluctant to seek help. They are called the “do it yourselfers”. They may have purchased a marriage book – read some of the exercises and made some attempts.  Having difficulty with learning and doing the processes, they get frustrated and tell themselves it won’t work.  The book goes on the shelf and they fall back into their status quo. Their feelings of hopelessness and despair continue.

Denial plays a part in couples seeking the help of a therapist.  They think for many years that they are doing fine – their relationship is “good enough”. The hints of disconnection may have appeared earlier, also some feelings of dissatisfaction but not enough to risk revealing theirs truths in a conversation. Many couples think – “why rock the boat, if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it”. These denial statements keep couples from feeling the anxiety and fear about opening up Pandora’s box. Many couples believe that if they begin to acknowledge their hurts, fears and resentments…they won’t be able to deal with them (even with the help of a therapist) and they would rather live with the “devil they know”, then the “devil they don’t know”. Avoiding these inclinations and painful feelings adds to the underlying discontentment and disillusionment without resolution.

 “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  
Ben Franklin

Waiting so long to seek the help of a marital level increases the difficulty in making the repairs, however, not impossible! With issues, having been “swept under the carpet”, it may take some time to reconnect.

Are there ways to avoid the crisis and maintain the connection?

What are the benefits to seeing a therapist, and getting some assistance early on?

Just as a healthy lifestyle includes preventative measures, so does a healthy relationship. By implementing safeguards and tools for a healthy connection, we can reap the rewards for a long happy marriage.  Research repeatedly shows that marital education and relationship therapy can significantly increase your chance of staying happily married.

One primary motivation in therapy is to re-educate the couple that conflict and struggle are a necessary part of a healthy relationship as noted by John Gottman, The Marriage Institute. When couples are able to re-frame their struggles and conflict as “growth trying to happen”, there are more readily able to see their relationship is a milieu for expansion and growth.

For many, learning that any unfinished business with our parents/caregivers is showing up in the “adult love relationship” and attempting to be completed/healed in the present brings a feeling of compassion and relief. Couples learn that there is nothing wrong with their marriage and or the person that they have chosen.

 Learning how to create a safe, reliable connection becomes the focus, a basic survival need whether we are from the cradle or close to the grave.

A marital therapist can provide feedback and the necessary tools to increase the closeness, respect and affection for one another. With new awareness and tools, the couple are better at understanding one another and maintaining their connection through the “unavoidable and inevitable” conflict that is supposed to happen.

Even though handling our own problems comes with the advantage of not having to share your problems in front of someone else; it is often difficult to see what is at the root of the issue. The assistance of a therapist can offer the objective, safe and neutral perspective to allow a breakthrough in the “blind spots”. A therapist can hold and create a safe place for the defenses to lower and the vulnerabilities to emerge, inviting more closeness and connection.

Regardless of the stage a marriage is in, every couple has the ability to restore their loving feelings and create an environment for safe connection. Even when things seem beyond help, there is hope. With the guidance of an effective therapist and the courage and willingness of the individuals, every couple has the potential to heal their relationship.

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