Couples therapy sounds very ominous to most people who are in relationships. The idea of going to see a therapist to talk about your relationship implies that something is terribly wrong. As such, couples therapy tends to be a last resort – a route is only taken when it is too late.
But how do you know if you should go to couples therapy? It is easy to see in hindsight that something was wrong, but what are the signs it is necessary right now?
On a personal level, I consider couples therapy a rite of passage every relationship needs. Relationships don’t come with guides. Even if they did, the ways your personality and your partner’s personality interact are very specific. My partner and I went to therapy a few months into our relationship even though nothing was wrong. Eight years later, I doubt we would have made it this far without those sessions.
However, most couples won’t go for relationship therapy preemptively. The following are signs that you should take the leap now before it’s too late.
You think your partner is lying to you:
Trust is a difficult thing to measure, and everyone has different past experiences. Some people will always have caveats when it comes to trusting their partners. But if you have a strong suspicion that they are lying to you about something important, you may need therapy.
This applies whether or not they are actually lying to you. The fact that you suspect it indicates that there are trust issues specific to the relationship. Chances are that you suspect them of lying because they have already done something to warrant your suspicion.
If there is no basis for it, your trust issues need to be dealt with in the context of your relationship. You don’t need to be a fully trusting person to be in a successful relationship, but trust does need to be built between you and your partner or your relationship will not last.
Infidelity does not need to signal the end of a relationship. Many couples have actually grown stronger after one or both partners cheated. However, infidelity is an indication that work needs to be done. It may be a bump in the road. It may signal underlying issues that need to be addressed. It may even be a sign that the relationship is coming to an end. But you cannot sweep it under the rug.
Couples therapy is a safe space to discuss what happened and why. It is a space where both partners are validated; where guilt, anger, grief, and any other emotions get to flow free. It can be the catalyst for growth in your relationship.
Without couples therapy, trust issues become insurmountable, resentment remains, and the stage is set for it to happen again and again and again.
You’ve been through trauma:
In some situations, shared trauma brings people together. However, that is not nearly as common as people assume. The reality is that trauma often tears relationships apart, as both partners struggle to confront their own emotions without projecting them on one another.
You may have heard that parents who lose a child often end up splitting up. The same is true for many kinds of trauma. When you are affected by trauma, you respond in highly emotional ways. This can be healthy, but without a healing context it can damage you and your loved ones.
Seeing a therapist to help process the trauma is crucial. It will give you the chance to deal with survivor’s guilt, blame, anger, grief, and all of the other difficult emotions.
When should you NOT go to couples therapy?:
There are circumstances in which you should not go to couples therapy. Specifically, if you suspect that your partner is being abusive towards you – whether through physical abuse, verbal abuse, or manipulation – couples therapy is not the space to address this. Rather, you should see a therapist on your own as soon as possible.
In therapy, you can discuss what you have experienced and the therapist can help you process your reality. They can help you separate fact from fiction, which can be difficult if a partner has been manipulating you and gaslighting you. They can also help you plan to leave the relationship if necessary, minimizing danger or negative repercussions.