One of the biggest myths about couples counseling is that it’s only for relationships that are on the brink of breaking up and is considered a last resort. Some couples feel like it spells doom for the relationship if they are at the point where they are even considering counseling. However, couples counseling actually works best when issues are addressed at the first sign of stress in the relationship. Just like we go to our doctors and dentists for preventative healthcare, a counselor who provides relationship check-ups can help couples be aware of those early signs of stress and take steps to take care of their relationship.
Signs it might be time for a check-in
You feel disconnected:
When our daily routines become increasingly stressful, many couples begin to focus on just making it to the next day. People are juggling home-schooling, caring for elderly relatives, getting children to activities, and demanding work hours. Couples can begin to feel lonely and isolated from one another, even when they see each other every day. Due to lack of time and energy, conversations dwindle to a quick “How was your day?” or a “What should we have for dinner tonight.” When couples notice the beginnings of this disconnection, it is a great moment to schedule a check-in with one another and find ways to connect on a deeper level again and offer more support in times of stress.
It feels like there are more negative than positive interactions:
If you’re noticing an increase in bickering, sarcastic comments, passive-aggressive sighs, and general frustration in the relationship, it is the ideal time to check-in with one another or schedule an appointment with a couples counselor. These negative interactions are signs that we’re miscommunicating and our needs aren’t being met in the relationship. Intervening sooner, rather than later, helps couples repair any hurts before they build up into larger issues.
You’re preparing for or going through a major life transition:
Transitions are among the most essential times for couples to take time for one another. Family transitions are things like: moving in together, getting married, changing jobs, having children, having a child start school, moving to a new home, having adult children move out of the home, or having a family member die. During these transitional times, our roles and relationship needs can change drastically. Taking the time to understand those changes and each partner’s needs can save us from so much hurt and pain later on. When couples come to therapy in crisis, we often spend the most time focusing on deep hurts that have accumulated during these major life transitions. If couples make the decision to carve out time to tend to their relationships during these stressful times, they can learn to provide greater support to one another, and even strengthen their relationship during difficult times.
How to check-in on your relationship
Couples can learn to ask one another simple questions that can generate conversations that focus on how the relationship is doing. Examples include: “What has been your favorite part of our relationship recently?” or “Is there anything you would like more or less of in our relationship?” These questions invite a curious, open conversation about what is working well and what you might like to see more of. These can be helpful ways to bring back fun rituals like “I miss when we used to cook together on the weekends” or “I really loved when we took the time to watch a movie together on a Tuesday night.” Another great question to ask is “What do I do/can I do to let you know I love you?” The most important part of having these conversations is to go into them with an open-mind and recognize that you’re working as a team. These conversations shouldn’t be about placing blame or sharing a laundry list of criticisms. These check-ins can also be used to shine a light on when things are going really well in the relationship and sharing positive appreciation with one another!
If a couple has a hard time initiating these kinds of check-ins on their own or if these conversations quickly become defensive and tense, some help may be needed. Couples therapy can facilitate a safe place for partners to learn how to check-in with one another and repair past hurts. There are even customizable assessments couples can take if they prefer a more structured way to check in on their relationship. At Phoenix Counseling Services, I offer a relationship check-in session series using the Prepare-Enrich Assessment, which is an evidence-based relationship check-in tool. You can find out more information about this assessment or find a facilitator local to you at the Prepare/Enrich website. If you are interested in more information about scheduling a relationship check-up, you can contact Phoenix Counseling Services here.