By Stacy Mosel, LMSW
As a therapist with over two decades of experience in working with couples, I often feel like I’ve just about seen it all — from nasty separations that end in divorce to couples who ultimately rekindle long-lost love for each other and work things out for the best. I’ve noticed that in most cases, people tend to wait until they’ve almost reached the breaking point before reaching out for help. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to — and arguably shouldn’t — wait to seek couples counseling until the last minute. Just as you might go to the doctor for a yearly physical or preventative care, investing in couples therapy — even when things seem to be going well — can provide a sort of “tune-up” to keep your relationship on a healthy and happy track. Here are just some of the benefits you may experience so you know what to expect in couples therapy.
Avoiding the Mind-Reading Trap
We’re not born knowing the tricks and tools of effective communication. What I’ve observed is that many couples (especially those who have been together for a while) tend to fall into the mind-reading trap. Since it often feels like you share a brain, you subconsciously assume that you shouldn’t have to overtly express your needs. Over time, however, this lack of communication can build up and lead to resentment until, one day, you both explode at each other over “nothing.” Seeing a couples counselor can help circumvent this buildup as well as teach you ways to improve your communication skills, which can fortify your relationship and help prevent problems further down the road.
Learning How to Argue the Right Way
Arguing isn’t always a bad thing; in fact, if done correctly, it can be a productive way of improving intimacy and communication. Ineffective arguing leads to frustration, increased anger and resentment. Trust me when I say that arguing is a normal part of any relationship, and it doesn’t mean you don’t love each other. But knowing how to argue and what rules to play by are really important. I’ve noticed that when problems arise, even the happiest of couples report feeling unheard by their spouse and that their arguments don’t lead to a satisfying conclusion.
Don’t be surprised if this rings a bell. Couples frequently tell me that the most common issues they face in arguments include placing blame, name-calling and interrupting. For example, blame is often used as a way to avoid feeling vulnerable. Instead of saying to your spouse, “I felt scared because I didn’t hear from you on the way home,” you might attack her as soon as she walks in the door and say, “How come you didn’t call me! You don’t care about how I feel!” and sulk away. Your intention obviously isn’t to attack her, but if you can’t express it and she can’t hear the real intent behind your outburst, she could respond defensively and an argument can erupt.
Regardless of the issue at hand, your partner might not realize how they come across during an argument. They don’t intend ill will or want to hurt you, but they might genuinely have no idea how to communicate their feelings in a better way. By learning and practicing effective ways of arguing in therapy, you’ll be better equipped to handle real-life situations when they arise and help prevent nasty blowouts (or at least make them a bit less intense when they do occur).
Rekindling the Spark
You’re not alone if you feel like the spark has fizzled in the physical intimacy department. When you’ve been together for a while, it’s normal for things to cool down in the bedroom — trust me, it’s more common than you might read about on social media or hear from your friends. Although you might feel like your spouse is your best friend, you don’t have to resign yourself to feeling like your partner is your roommate or weekend activity buddy. However, talking about sexual issues can be difficult and frustrating; since it’s not easy to broach the subject, a lot of couples just avoid the topic altogether. Here is where talking things through in a safe space with a counselor can help. You can learn effective ways to reconnect and rekindle the fire of physical intimacy that you had in the early days of your relationship. (Tip: Starting things off easy with a loving massage or quick cuddle session is a great way to get that intimacy pilot burner back on ASAP.)
Make a Short-Term Investment for Long-Term Happiness
A lot of people assume that therapy requires a long-term commitment, but that’s really not the case. In fact, some forms of couples therapy, such as Imago therapy developed by Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, generally only require up to 12 sessions, and many couples make tremendous strides in just a few visits. Just remember that a short-term investment can help you reap long-term rewards — after all, your relationship is worth it!
Stacy Mosel is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist and writer on mental health and relationships. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a master’s degree in social work. She has extensive training and experience in child, couples and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of relationship issues and mental-health disorders.