If anyone tells you that relationships are “easy,” they’re lying. Even the healthiest and happiest relationship takes a lot of work. But there will be times in your relationships when things might feel totally out of your control and just too hard to handle on your own (and with your partner). If you start feeling that way, it might be a sign you should try out couples therapy with your dearly beloved. Couples therapy has a silly reputation in our popular culture. Usually, we only see couples in therapy if they’re in the middle of a divorce but fighting it out for the kids or something. Or it’s seen as a “crunchy” thing to do, like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin “uncoupling” from each other.
But couple’s therapy is so much more than that. If you already see a therapist, you can probably attest to the fact that talking to someone can really help you gain some perspective. But for couples therapy to work, both partners have to want it. Megan Close, a New York City based LMFT, licensed marriage and family counselor says that both partners have to have some “buy in.”
“You can drag them to couples therapy and it can work as long as the person being dragged is still in love. Otherwise, that usually turns into me holding their hand while they break up,” she tells HelloGiggles. But you don’t have to be that close to the (possible!) end to make it to couple’s counseling. Going in crisis is important, sure, but you can also go when you just start to see some cracks, Close says. Or just as a preventative measure, like perfect couple Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard.
Here are some signs you might need to call someone to help.
1You’re talking to everyone but your partner about your relationship issues.
You should look for a couples therapist if you are having issues with your partner and spending all of your texting time and dinners with friends talking about the problems, but not talking them out with your SO. They should be the first person who knows that things aren’t copacetic. Close tells HelloGiggles, “Couples that are good at being couples together are good at working on their relationship.” If you find yourself telling the girl at Sephora all about your relationship but aren’t making time — or are scared — to talk with your partner, it might be time to call in for backup and learn how to “work on your relationship.”
2Something very traumatic happened to both of you, recently.
Trauma will mess with you. If you or your partner have experienced a huge loss, a sick parent, an accident, or even just getting laid off recently, it will take a toll on your relationship. While you should definitely seek out some counseling on your (or they should, if it’s their trauma) own, doing a few sessions with a couple’s counselor is a good way to get back on the communication train so that no one is carrying the weight all alone. It might only get worse.
3You’re making things permanent.
Close tells HelloGiggles that if you’re thinking about taking a big step together —moving across the country, coming out to your parents about your sexual orientation, or starting to talk about marriage and kids, heading to a professional is a good first step. “Just to make sure you’re on the same page,” Close says. That way, going into the “big” thing will go more smoothly and everyone knows the sensitive spots before things get crazy.
4You’re blaming everything on your partner.
When you’re blaming your partner for everything, things are going south, and quickly. Close says “like if you get a parking ticket and somehow you can trace it back to your partner, that’s a sign” that something’s off. Putting everything on your partner (or yourself!) isn’t good for anyone. You need to figure out what you’re resenting your SO for.
5You don’t know how to end it.
Sure, people teased Paltrow about her “conscious uncoupling,” but sometimes that needs to happen. Whether you’ve already been fighting and talking splitsville or you’re just not sure where your relationship is going, a counselor can help guide the way. You might even go into therapy to fix something and realize that doing the work is too hard for either you or your partner. Or you go in to break up and realize there’s more happy days to be had. Having a mediator to keep things in perspective is a luxury, and if you can swing it financially, go for it.
6Because you want to!
You don’t have to go to couples counseling in a time of crisis. “The cool thing about therapy in general or couples therapy specifically is that you’re chiseling out this time in your week…and dedicate it to working on your relationship,” Close says. You can do this on your own, too, by making a “date night” or a conscious choice to spend a certain amount of time on just you two (or three if you’re into that sort of thing), but *going* to therapy to focus on your relationship is an extra commitment. “Especially when life gets busy, there’s an instinct to ‘go along to get along,'” Close says, and it can be hard to make that time. A therapist is someone else to hold you accountable. “And there’s a financial investment, too,” Close adds.
Your relationship and your mental health is *so important* and if you feel like you need a counselor, go for it. You and your partner deserve it.