Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Plea for Couples - Seek Help Early!

One of the greatest challenges for any couples therapist is helping a couple rebuild trust when at least one person has years of resentment piled up. In these situations, even when the person in the "dog house" is finally ready to make changes, it can be too late. A relationship problem is like a weed in your garden. When it is an inch tall, it is easy to pluck. When it becomes a 4-5 foot tall plant with thistles with a root system just as deep, it is much more challenging. To make this practical: if your alcoholic spouse is finally in recovery after 20 years, how do you move forward? How do you forgive them for the impact the drinking has had on you and your children? How can you possibly trust that things will be different? How can you even picture your relationship without the addiction?

This is why I am sending out this plea--if problems in your relationship are just beginning and you cannot seem to resolve them as a couple, do not pass go, do not collect $200, apply the $200 you already have toward your couples therapy fund! If you are considering making a long-term commitment but have any significant reservations it is better to face those things now before becoming more deeply invested in building your life together. If you feel your partner is spineless with the in-laws, come in before you come to despise both your spouse and the in-laws. If you and your partner have nasty, explosive arguments, it is better to seek help before you have years to nurse grudges over insults hurled in the heat of the moment. If you feel emotionally neglected or intruded upon with some regularity, realize that these issues often do not get resolved without intervention. Even if you decide to move on, these issues can reappear in subsequent relationships, so getting therapy for yourself can be worthwhile even if your partner refuses to come to counseling.

This is not to say that all is lost if you have been stuck in the same pattern for years. It is difficult to soften your heart toward someone who you believe has failed you significantly and/or repeatedly over the years. But that softening is where hope lies. Being open to your partner's efforts to change, even if those changes are small and gradual, helps to cultivate the soil where your relationship can grow.