By Dr. Melissa Estavillo
Your big day is right around the corner. The wedding invitations are picked out, the guest list is set, and you even have a tent rental on hold just in case it rains. But when was the last time you had a relationship check in or check up? The following are five signs that your relationship could benefit from a counseling session or two.
1. At times you feel that your partner is no longer “on your team”
Remember when you first got together how wonderful it felt to have someone to trust, who understood you, and seemed to always be on your side? When we experience the benefits of an emotionally safe, connective relationship it amazing how euphoric it can feel. But contrast that with intense fighting, disconnection, and hurt and you’ve likely never felt so low. Dr. John Gottman, one of psychology’s best relationship researchers, observed couples for years and found that there are 4 key behaviors that predict doomsday for any relationship. Looking for these these four behaviors, Dr. Gottman was able to predict with 94% accuracy the likelihood of divorce or separation! In his “Love Lab” he would look for the following negative behaviors:
Criticism-focusing on the bad in our partner instead of the good
Defensiveness-feeling as though we are the victim becoming highly guarded in arguments
Stonewalling– refusing to communicate or cooperate by withdrawing or pulling away
Contempt-showing utter disrespect and treating our significant other as if he or she is the enemy
While Dr. Gottman was busy predicting what leads to divorce and breakups, Psychologist Dr. Susan Johnson began to conduct ground-breaking research on adult love, identifying key elements that keep relationships together. In her research, she found that “healthy dependence” between partners is what allows us to experience the safety, closeness, and connection predictive of a lasting and satisfying relationship.
2. You keep arguing about the same thing over and over again
Nothing is more frustrating than having the same argument over and over and over again. Yet, many couples tend to find themselves in the same rut, complaining about the same few things. But why can’t we just let it go? Many couples continue to fight about situations from the past because they are reminded of that same hurt in the present. It’s really not that our significant other wants to control us or hurt us with the same fight, but is more likely that he or she is flooding with emotion when the current situation is reminiscent of past hurt.
3. At times you wonder if you and your partner are incompatible
“Maybe I’m just too introverted and he’s just too extraverted,” said John and Phil. “I never realized just how different we actually are!” In the midst of distress, our brains tend to focus on and exaggerate the differences between the two people; but most likely, our perspective is pretty far off. While it’s true that the most successful relationships are between similar or like-minded people, the hurt and negativity in our relationship has a funny way of making us seem more different than we actually are. Remember when you could spend weeks together without getting tired of each other and felt like you could read each other’s minds? That’s due to compatibility– and compatibility does not magically disappear over time. Our focus on the negative is what makes it hard to see the similarities.
4. You can’t remember the last time you and your partner “just had fun” like when you first met
Over time, it is natural for us to become more and more comfortable in our relationship. On the one hand, this is an amazing part of a seasoned relationship. But on the other, comfortability leads to complacency and we stop doing the very things that made us fall in love in the first place. So if you can’t remember the last time you went on a date or the last time you had a few hours to just talk, make it a priority to have fun together and reconnect. Good relationships require a good deal of hard work and attention. Don’t fall for the old myth that good relationships should just come easily or naturally.
5. Stress seems to be pulling you apart
While often our stress and disconnection will stem from conflict inside of our relationship, couples can also be pulled apart by powerful external stressors like homophobia, infertility, death of a loved one, extended family conflict, or isolation. Laura and Ashley were two compassionate, connected women who decided to start a family after 3 years of committed relationship. And while their families had been “tolerant” of their relationship, their decision to start a family was enough to unearth the family’s true disagreement with the couple’s “lifestyle.” Distress such as this can push the strongest of relationships to the breaking point. It becomes all too easy to turn our fear, hurt, and frustration towards our partner, and forget that he or she is not the enemy and can’t serve as our emotional punching bag.
While any of these signs could be disconcerting, here’s the deal: going to couples counseling does not mean that your relationship is about to fail. Too often, couples come in to counseling petrified that a therapist will tell them that they should not be together or that separation is the only option. Instead, consider couples counseling like a preventative care “check up” for your relationship. Your love can only grow when you take the time to nurture and care for it.
Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.