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As a couple’s therapist, you might think I would say it’s never too soon. Certainly, we know that premarital counseling statistically lowers divorce by over 50% so it is a good idea to start things out right. Most of us haven’t had the best models of intimacy from our parents demonstrating affection, good communication, and stability. We’ll need help at some point. But there are always problems when two people are falling in love. Problems are normal. We are decidedly different from each other even though in the beginning we often feel like we’ve met our soulmate – someone just like us. In reality, our partner usually has distinctive differences. One of the big differences is the way they protect themselves when they are hurt. Usually, one of you will become defensive and the other will become critical. It’s weird but we find someone with an opposite defense mechanism than ourselves. That’s okay. It takes discipline but the way out of our struggles is curiosity, discipline to let the other person fully express themselves, and enough care to repeat it back…. BEFORE we give our side of the story. Some of you have these qualities and you really don’t need couples therapy unless the negative cycle – one pursues and the other withdraws – gets stuck.
Like everything, it depends. It depends on how angry you are, whether you can remain civil, or if there is a big injury in the relationship. The angrier the couple, the bigger the problem – the more frequently you should go. And I’ll let you in on a secret. Therapists are human too. They take notes, sure, but it takes them a little bit as well to settle into a session. I recommend LONGER sessions for couples in deep distress rather than simply more frequent. Even your therapist is going to lose a little time just catching up. It’s better to schedule a two-hour session than two days a week when you are on the brink. It will give you all time to really figure something out.
Generally, people think about therapy as a weekly expense. But really you should think about it as an annual expense. To save money, couples often want to go every other week. In my 30 years of experience, this is not a good idea. Why? Because you avoid facing the rigorous challenge of therapy and often that is just what is necessary for change. Also, it just isn’t frequent enough to form a bond with your therapist so they can see how you really operate or as we all believe at the beginning of therapy – how your partner really operates. (haha – because at the beginning of therapy it is so easy to see all the crazy stuff our partner does and we are blind to our own contributions!) Go at least weekly.
Sadly. Sometimes. Unfortunately, there have often been choices that seemed expedient at the moment but have led to a permanent disconnect. One of those decisions, which sounds so noble is, “let’s wait to put time into ourselves until the children are a little older.” Unfortunately, many couples do put themselves on hold during the childrearing years. They stop going on date nights. They only give presents to the children during the holidays. They never get away together without the children. Sex grinds to a halt. Then they wake up with a stranger and feel ever so lonely. Maybe someone at work pays attention to them and their heart starts to long again for deep intimacy. Of course, there can be big injuries that are simply insurmountable like addiction, adultery, gambling, and many other forms of disloyalty. It can be too late to save a relationship. Couples often wait 6 years before reaching out for help when the problems they have could be solved. And sometimes the rules, assumptions, and roles in a particular couple’s relationship must end. Don’t suffer in misery. I’ll leave you with one word of hope, the philosopher Kierkegaard says, “Expect two marriages in every lifetime, sometimes to the same person.”