Relationships are hard work, and there's not always an easy solution for the tiffs that come between a couple. Every couple has a set of things that seem to become recurring arguments or disagreements that slowly but surely poke holes in the relationship, potentially causing it to become weak and breakable. Which is why turning to a third party, an outsider and someone who is qualified to help like a therapist, might be a game changer for two people trying to get their groove back.
According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, couples counseling succeeds somewhere between 50-75 percent of the time. Which begs the question: when is the right time to go and what are some of the situations that couples therapy can help sort out? Here's a breakdown of when couples therapy can shake up your relationship.
1. When You Need an Objective Mediator
Sometimes, you can't be the problem solver in your own relationship and you need help from an outsider. "Couples therapy can be very helpful when couples struggle to communicate and need a mediator, aka a therapist, to help call out defenses and avoidance," says Shannon Kalberg, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist and an adjunct clinical professor at Pepperdine University. "The therapist can point out nonverbal communication cues that tend to cause couples to escalate their negative emotions (i.e., anger, sadness, fear) during an argument."
2. When the Past Isn't Staying in the Past
When you and your partner are finding it nearly impossible to keep the past in the past, you might want to head to couples therapy to learn how to forgive and forget.
"Couples therapy can help a couple dive into their past within a safe space, where they can explore how their past romantic relationships and family dynamics influence their current selves in the relationship," Kalberg says.
3. Before the Problem Becomes Too Big
Oftentimes, couples think about seeking therapy when there are already big problems present. But starting therapy together can happen even if things are going well.
"Couples learn much about themselves as individuals as well as in the relationship," says Kim Leatherdale, an LPC and author of You Own It . . . Now Grow It! and Accused of Cheating and You're Not!. "They learn about their emotions and reactions to them. They learn coping and communication skills. They learn how to reconnect. When does couples therapy work best? When a couple seeks help early."
4. When You Want to Fix the Elephant in the Room
Perhaps there are things in your relationship that are hush hush and never brought to the surface. Couples therapy is a way of bringing those issues to the surface and facing the truth.
"Couples therapy will help you cut to the chase on your issues and assist you to get to the root of the problem and find the key points that you both are facing," says Audrey Hope, a relationship expert and therapist. "The confusion will end in clarity. At least you will both know the bottom line of things. At least the pain of misunderstanding will end. The goal is authenticity, facing yourself, and facing each other in the full light of day."
5. When the End Is Near
Even if the relationship isn't going to hold out much longer, couples therapy can be a good first step in learning how to end a relationship on a decent note.
"As a disclaimer, I tell couples that sometimes the session can result in them choosing to end the relationship," Kalberg says. "Although this can be seen negatively, I believe that it can sometimes be the best thing for both of the individuals. They can voice their truths, their nonnegotiables, and then realize that they are not meant to be together, which can free them to find a more compatible partner."