Knowing When Your Relationship Needs Help

5 Questions to ask.

Couples counseling. Marital therapy. These can be loaded words depending on your past experiences, your cultural background, and maybe even what you watch on TV or in movies. But seeking professional help for a relationship isn’t as scary as you might think.

It can be tough to know when to bring in a third person to help you settle conflict or deal with differences in a relationship. You might think that if you just work hard enough, you don’t need any outside help. Or maybe you feel uncomfortable about letting a stranger know intimate details about your marriage.

Here are five questions you can ask yourself if you feel you have this dilemma. If you answer yes to any of them, you might want to consider that counseling could breathe some life back into your relationship, or calm it down enough so that you can start making changes.

1. Can I really hear my partner? Just because you understand the general meaning of the words your significant other is saying, doesn’t mean you can really hear them.

Really listening and practicing empathy (being able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes) can be incredibly difficult in the heat of the moment. Having a third person in the room can help keep you both calm and neutral enough to hear each other and consider what each of you contribute to the problem.

2. Am I involving other people already? If you’re having a lot of conflict in your relationship, chances are you’re already bringing in other people so you can vent or get advice. Involving close friends, family members, and even your children might make you feel good temporarily, but it can also make your partner very defensive and suspicious.

A neutral professional like a therapist minimizes the possibility that he or she will take sides, because a therapist has no history with either one of you. He or she has also been educated on how to help you deal with conflict and work on self-improvement.

3. Is my health at risk? When we put ourselves in high-stress situations, like relationship conflict, we jeopardize our mental, emotional, and physical health. We also tend to spend less time engaging in healthy habits and lose a lot of our energy.

If the stress of your marriage or relationship is having an impact on your health or your partner’s health, it might be helpful for you both to see a counselor to work on the relationship as well as a physician to address physical issues.

4. Is my family at risk? Constant problems in a relationship, like fighting, verbal abuse, and infidelity can damage the legacy you want to leave in your family, affecting future generations. If you have kids, they might absorb some of the stress and anxiety and start to have their own problems at school or home. If you feel like relationship problems are overflowing into family issues, then it might be too much for you to handle on your own.

5. Could I benefit from working on myself? This is probably the most important question you can ask yourself in a relationship. So often when there are problems, we focus on what needs “fixing” in our partner or spouse. But if we are committed to working on ourselves and being better people, then everyone we love will benefit, including our partner.

Counseling or therapy is an excellent place to start working on yourself, defining your goals, and improving your relationship. You and your partner can benefit when you shine the light on yourself and see where you could use some care, attention, and hard work.