Couples therapy is like emotional crossfit.
I've never been through crossfit, which if you don't know, is supposed to be a rather intense workout program, complete with olympic lifting and annoying facebook pictures. But like those who do crossfit, couples sometimes don't realize that if you push yourself too hard, you might get hurt. If you try something intense without proper support, you could end up straining something. This is why couples therapy is a delicate exercise of trust, support, and risk. I ask couples to strain their vulnerability when it is uncomfortable. I ask them to support their partner when they exercise emotional muscles that have atrophied over years of inactivity.
I ask couples to rest. I ask them not to push too hard because growth is only possible in moments of stillness.
By the time couples get to me, they've usually waited far too long. Recently, I was asked by someone how long they should wait before they seek therapy. My response?
When it hurts.
I know there are exceptions to the rule I'm about to suggest, but how long do you wait to go to the doctor when you have some kind of physical pain? Maybe some of us wait days, maybe even weeks hoping that our symptoms will disappear. But I imagine if something hurts so badly that it has you crying or screaming at the top of your lungs, behaving in ways you never thought possible, and secluded to the corner of your house in shame or isolation, you'd probably not hesitate to seek medical care. So what makes your relationship any different?
Relationships break down when couples stop attending to each other.
Over time we begin to resent each other and get angry with each other for not being there for us. This makes sense. It is a natural protective response to fear-based anger and withdrawal.Because resentment is really loneliness dressed wearing an angry contorted face, and apathy is really powerlessness dressed in drab clothing. Do not despair of each other before you really get the chance to find each other again.
Couples therapy is an exercise in hope.
It requires patience, experience, and also patience. Do yourself and your partner a favor and do not wait until the throws of conflict and devastation to reach out for help. Instead, ask a friend or a trusted colleague if they know a couples therapist they trust. Find someone with whom you can connect online and get into their office. Be scrupulous. Do not be satisfied just because you've started working with the first person you find. Success in couples therapy is about connection. If you have trouble connecting with your therapist, move on. Would you return to a physician you did not like?
Couples therapy is an exercise in courage.
The first step will be difficult. He may not want to go. She may feel like you've tried it before and it never went anywhere. In the face of so many reasons why not, dare to take a step and get on a path to healing. Don't wait. Reach out when it hurts.