When you’re going through a relationship problem with a partner, it can feel like you’re the only people in the world to have ever reached this particular breaking point.
Despite the frustrations of your unique circumstance, the truth is that common themes and concerns create conflict in many relationships. Here are 4 of the top reasons couples seek out couples’ therapy:
1. Difficulty communicating
In a world where many of us are not taught to identify what we truly need and want or express our thoughts and feelings healthily, it should come as no surprise that communicating these in intimate relationships does not always come easy.
Couples may struggle to understand each other if one or both partners use indirect forms of communicating — like passive aggression — or inappropriate means of sharing emotions — like outbursts and tantrums.
If couples are not on the same page about what each other’s statements and gestures truly mean, they may be missing important emotional messages. For example, let’s say you cleaned the whole apartment and cooked your partner a special meal to welcome them home after a trip. Your partner, overlooking those actions and hurt over not hearing the words “I really missed you”, might start to feel disconnected from you despite the positive intentions behind what you did.
In a couple where one or both partners have past experiences of trauma, conflicts and expressions of emotion can bring up painful memories not directly related to the present moment. This can bring important conversations — like exploring sexuality, managing finances, or discussing the future of your relationship — to a standstill.
2. Navigating sex and sexuality
To paraphrase psychologist Joseph Burgo, when you and your partner are connecting well sexually, sex feels like one of many beautiful parts that make up your relationship. But when partners are NOT on the same page, sex (and its conflicts) feels like it makes up 90% of your relationship.
Couples can be frustrated about desire discrepancies, i.e.: the difference in the level of sex drive naturally found in each partner. Partners may not be on the same page about aspects of their separate or shared sexual lives, such as kink, watching porn, or having sexual encounters outside of the relationship.
One or both partners may feel dissatisfaction with a decline in sexual activity, brought about by factors such as:
- Diminishing emotional intimacy
- Life stressors (medical issues, chronic stress, etc.)
- Changes to desire found in the modern structure of long-term, monogamous relationships
Infidelity and affairs are common reasons that couples seek therapy. Outside support can be crucial to help couples rebuild trust, understand why the infidelity took place, address underlying issues in the relationship, and heal.
3. Struggles with addiction and/or mental health
Stressors that significantly impact the life of one partner will inevitably have an effect on the life of the couple. Here are some ways that mental health issues may take a toll on a partnership:
- If your partner has difficulty coping with anxiety, you might start to become frustrated about their reluctance to take a plane trip to meet your family or their panicked text messages when you’re a little late getting home
- If your partner lives with ADHD, you might have a hard time keeping up with their changing interests or feel hurt getting stood up for the date they completely forgot about
- If your partner has been recently diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, you might feel really affected by things they did or said while experiencing mania or worry about how you can best support them moving forward
For people in recovery from addiction who are partnered, couples therapy can have a major effect on ongoing wellness. When a person is actively abusing drugs or alcohol, their behavior is often tacitly supported by codependent relationships with others. In other words, if the partner of the person in recovery has historically tried to cover up their mistakes, “rescue” them from the consequences of their actions, etc., working together to break out of this pattern can help ensure the person in recovery won’t fall back into their previous behavior.
Regardless of if codependence has been a significant factor, substance abuse negatively affects the bond between partners. Couples therapy can create a space to start to acknowledge what went wrong, and work toward accountability and healing.
4. Family relationships
Couples may find themselves at an impasse about how to relate to others in their family — most frequently, their children and/or their in-laws.
Couples could be at odds about when (or even if) to have children. They may have different ideas about styles of parenting or one parent could resent feeling that they do an unfair share of childcare. Conflict can emerge around what religious or cultural traditions to share with the children, particularly if partners come from different religious or cultural backgrounds.
If one or both parents have children from another relationship, complications may arise related to how to treat all the children fairly. Some parents even seek couples therapy after their marriage or partnership has ended, for support in navigating problems with co-parenting.
The relationship between partners and their parents can be a source of tension in the partnership itself. Partners may have different ideas about how much time to spend with in-laws or what information is appropriate to share versus what is off-limits. A partner who always defers to their parents may cause their partner to feel unsupported or not “on their side”.
If a partner has an arrested relationship with one of their parents, a dynamic of competition might emerge between the parent and their child-in-law (particularly if they are of the same gender). If there is a long pattern of a partner being mistreated by one of their parents, particularly if the mistreatment rises to the level of abuse, the partner may struggle to be fully emotionally present in the relationship, and the other partner may become burned out on offering support.
Don’t wait any longer
On average, couples wait seven years from first sensing they have a problem before asking for help. You don’t need to go through that resentment and heartache — you can find support now. Take the first step and click the button below to set up an initial assessment. I’d love to get to know about your partnership and help you figure out where to go from here.