05 Sep 2012

At What Point Should A Couple Really Seek Counseling?

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A recent article by an experienced marriage counselor on The Marriage Counseling Blog captured my surfing attention, and I read it with interest. It addressed a major question that I’ve heard many couples ask, how do we know when the time is right for marriage counseling? Most adults who have experience in a marriage realize that there will be good times and bad times in the relationship, but the problems usually get worked out and time marches on. But what if the problems seem to linger, or worse yet, apparently disappear only to resurface months or even years later? Unresolved issues can be relationship breakers, so it’s important to know when you should get professional help.

The author says that the first issue is that people wait too long to come to counseling, usually because they didn’t think their problems were that different from everyone else’s. When you see your friends going through similar difficulties, you tend to think that you and your husband or wife should be able to work things out like they are doing.

I believe this is true, but there is another factor in why couples wait too long – there is a stigma attached to seeking counseling. The decision to get help can be hard enough for two people to reach on their own, but when you add in the admission to family and friends implied by marriage counseling that you’re having problems, it makes just getting started a big hurdle.

The article also says that time is an important factor because letting too much go by before seeking help only makes the problem worse. And of course, the more deeply ingrained and habitual the issue is, the harder it is to get to the bottom of it and solve it. Again, I agree up to a point, but there is the other side of the coin to consider – if a couple can recognize what’s happening, work it through, and find a suitable resolution on their own it is much healthier in the long run than immediately going to a counselor.
Naturally, not everyone can do this, and it takes a recognition of you and your spouse’s strengths and weakness to know your own tolerance level. Sometimes it really is time that heals, and the hard work of two partners who love each other enough to put in the effort on their own.

Another point made by the author is that what might be normal for one couple could be what breaks another – so why wait and risk letting that happen? While it’s definitely the case that every couple is unique and will respond to varying situations in a variety of ways, there are some constants that consistently cause problems in marriage – finances, intimacy, parenting, social life, and so on.

Most of us recognize the source of these kinds of issues and can learn to understand common ways to deal with them, especially in this age of information at your fingertips. It’s great advice not to judge your own relationship against others, but we are all human, and human behavior is remarkably uniform and predictable – and comparisons with the neighbours are inevitable.

If my comments make me sound like I’m against marriage counseling, please don’t take me the wrong way. I know that it’s a necessity in some cases, and a good precaution in most others. But one thing the author says makes complete sense to me – that if either person thinks or says that he or she needs space, it’s a red flag. The fact is that the lovers in a relationship need to heal together, and that healing apart puts distance between you – which you don’t need if you’re having problems.


Grace Pamer is a full time romance and relationship writer. She writes romance and marriage proposal tip columns for various publications including YourTango.com and GalTime.com. As seen on FoxNews.com, Cosmopolitan.com, DivineCaroline.com and CanadianLiving.com to name but a few.

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4 Responses to “At What Point Should A Couple Really Seek Counseling?”

  1. Reply Liam says:

    Hi Grace,

    In my experience(both literally and what I have observed with others), things between a couple are usually at rock bottom before counseling is considered. There are exceptions of course – often people need, and will seek help to work through big marriage threatening issues like infidelity or domestic violence.

    When I say ‘rock bottom’, I mean one or both parties are seriously considering walking away from the marriage. Ideally though, like you mention, things should never get to this stage…and if they have, it could mean the couple has just never developed the communication and problem solving skills needed to overcome issues.

    I always view counseling as a last resort. I think there are always ways to tackle problems before things get so bad that money is spent on professional help. At the same time though, I am not ‘against’ counseling. In some cases, it’s the only way forward. I also agree about the ‘needing space’ aspect of the article you are referring to. A definite red flag.

  2. Reply Rosemary says:

    One danger of comparing yourself to others is that you don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors. People may feel that their friends have fewer problems than they do, or that others are easily solving the same problems on their own. But even close friends often will not reveal the true level of difficulty they are facing. They may put on a happy face in public while they are miserable at home. And people don’t necessarily tell friends and family that they are seeing a counselor, so it may seem that they’ve solved it on their own when in reality they got a little help. I think that more couples than we know go to counseling. Just look at how many marriage and family counselors there are in thriving practices. Lots of people are going there, or they wouldn’t be in business. Just as we aren’t ashamed to see a tennis coach when we need help with our game, we shouldn’t be ashamed to see a counselor when we need a little help with our relationship. If people looked at it that way, maybe they wouldn’t wait too long before seeking help, and a lot of unhappiness could be avoided.

    • Reply admin says:

      Agreed Rosemary. I think it depends on the couple but I see no issue for some with seeing a relationship councellor from the very start of their marriage as a means of focusing their minds on keeping communication open – it’s a habit some people qucikly lose. For others they do not need this because they are more honest with their feelings. As ever it depends on the individuals and the make up of the couple.

      Thanks as ever for the excellent input Rosemary!

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