How long should you wait before going to couples counseling?

Unfortunately, most couples wait about 7 years too long before reaching out for help. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t wait to go to couples counseling if you’re experiencing problems in your relationship:

  1. It’s easier to fix problems earlier: The earlier you seek help for problems in your relationship, the easier it is to address them. Couples counseling can provide you and your partner with the tools and strategies you need to overcome your issues and strengthen your relationship.Sometimes small issues at the beginning of a relationship are things like miscommunications or even adjusting expectations. Many of us start marriage with preconceived expectations about how romantic or connected we will feel toward our partner every day and it can be difficult to figure out the balance between asking for our needs to be met and letting go of the fairy tale we envisioned at the start.An outside perspective can help you to make necessary adjustments earlier rather than trying to adjust with a few years of disappointment to then work through. Couples counseling can also help you to recognize your own less helpful patterns before they have caused further damage to the relationship or your partner’s satisfaction.
  2. Communication can break down: Waiting to go to couples counseling can make it more difficult for you and your partner to communicate effectively and can lead to misunderstandings and further miscommunications. One of the most common reasons for problems in a relationship is poor communication. Little miscommunications can add up and create unnecessary stress in the relationship. Maybe you try to ask for a need to be met your partner forgets the request or responds in a way that is unhelpful; over time and repetition this pattern can lead to resentment that could have been avoided with clearer communication skills addressed early on.When we are not intentional in our relationships, we will most often go on autopilot which will likely be what was modeled for us growing up—for better or for worse. Maybe you and your partner didn’t learn solid communication skills from your families growing up. If you grew up in a family that raised voices when frustrated, it is likely you have found yourself repeating that behavior when communication goes ary. If you grew up in a house where your parents engaged in avoiding conflict or being passive aggressive in their communication, you’ve probably heard yourself say something like, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine—I’ll take care of it myself.” These patterns can lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings that over the long term turn into bigger resentments.

  1. Issues can escalate: Problems in a relationship can quickly escalate if they’re not addressed. What may start as a small disagreement or misunderstanding can turn into a bigger issue if left unaddressed, leading to resentment, anger, and even the breakdown of trust in the relationship. So the initial annoyance over “You forgot to do the dishes last night like you said you would” turns into “You never help me at all around that house and I feel like a frustrated roommate not a partner.” Or a concern like “It bothers me when you look at porn” turns into “I don’t believe you’re attracted to me at all and now I have resentment about these elements of our sex life.” Furthermore, couples who wait too long to seek help may find it harder to resolve their issues and may require more intensive and long-term counseling to address their problems successfully. Instead of addressing your disappointment about your partner’s behavior at the last family get together, you now have years of family events to work through and forgive.
  2. Negative patterns can become ingrained: Over time, negative patterns of behavior can become ingrained in a relationship. Waiting too long to seek help can make it more difficult to break these patterns and may require more time and effort to undo the damage that has been done. If you always handle conflict in a certain negative way, you build habits that have to be challenged and reworked in order to handle things in a healthier way. If you have always communicated by avoiding certain topics, it may provoke more anxiety to start having those hard conversations after so long. If you engage in behaviors that damage the trust between you and your partner, you build up histories that may be more challenging to forgive and move past. It’s much easier to deal with some pebbles in your way, than to wait until they pile into mountains worth of issues to overcome.

Waiting to go to couples counseling can make it harder to address issues, can lead to breakdowns in communication, can cause negative patterns to become ingrained, and can make it harder to fix problems in the long run. If you’re experiencing problems in your relationship, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible to prevent these issues from escalating and to improve your chances of resolving them successfully.

It’s important for couples to recognize that seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness but rather a proactive step toward improving their relationship. By seeking help earlier rather than later, couples can increase their chances of resolving their issues and building a stronger, healthier relationship.

Lastly, relationships are like vehicles in that they need regular maintenance to function at their best. I recommend thinking of couples counseling like getting your car’s oil changed. By regularly doing maintenance work on your relationship, the problems that arise in the future–and problems will arise!—will feel much more manageable. You are also investing in the long-term care and success of your relationship.

 May 2023, Jenny Beall, Counselor, Threads of Hope Counseling