There's no question -- marriage can be challenging. Maybe marriage counseling should be something you register for when you tie the knot. Much like a new set of dishes that gets scratched from constant use, relationships can also show wear and tear over the years. So how do you know if your marriage has hit a rough patch or it's something more serious... requiring professional help?
Sign 1: Poor Communication.
Martin Novell, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles, urges couples to seek professional help when they aren't able to talk about their problems. According to Novell, "When It's just too frightening to even bring issues up -- from sex to money, or even annoying little habits that are being blown out of proportion, a therapist's job is to help the couple become clear about their issues and to help them understand what they are truly talking about."
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Sign 2: Your Sex Life has Significantly Changed.
Most feel that when there is a loss of intimacy, there are problems. While this is true, it is also important to be mindful of a sudden increase. Valerie Jencks, Founder and Executive Director of Prairie Family Therapy in Chicago, warns that either an absence or a sudden increase of sex in your relationship can signal danger. "If you have not been having regular or passionate sex and all of a sudden your partner behaves like a courting lover or wants to experiment with new activities that s/he has never expressed an interest in before, it could indicate that he is experiencing feeling of arousal that are not originating from his relationship with you!"
Sign 3: Holding on to the Past.
Silvia M. Dutchevici, the founder and President of the Critical Therapy Center in New York City, suggests that it might be a good idea to talk to a professional when there has been a traumatic event in your lives, like the loss of a child or an affair -- and one partner cannot let the past go. "Whatever the situation, every person processes trauma differently."
Sign 4: A Reoccurring Issue.
"One type of red flag that usually can be greatly helped by therapy is an issue that has been difficult in the relationship from the beginning, but regardless of endless discussions, never seems to pass," explains Dr. Julie Gurner. "When you see that the same issues are coming up again and again in disagreements, it is a good sign they are not effectively being resolved and the couple is at a 'sticking point.'" Dr. Gurner encourages couples to seek help to save "many years of trouble down the road."
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Sign 5: Finances.
Disagreements over money are one of the top reasons couples find themselves in conflict. If your spouse keeps you in the dark about family finances or feels the need to control everything related to money, it may be time to speak up. Christine K. Clifford, CEO/President of Divorcing Divas, suggests you say, "I want to be aware of our debt, our monthly bills, the balance on our mortgage, how many savings/checking accounts we have, etc." Clifford explains, "If your spouse objects, it's time to see a counselor."
Sign 6: Kids.
Yes, children are a blessing, but they can also add stress to your marriage, especially if the two of you are not a united front. Clifford suggests seeking counseling if you disagree with each other's parenting styles and frequently argue about how your children should be raised. "Think Katie Holmes -- and how she doesn't want Suri raised as a Scientologist," states Clifford. "These are major issues that need to be resolved."
Sign 7: You Still Love Your Spouse.
If you still love your spouse, really want to make things work, and haven't been successful, then consider finding a counselor. Dr. Gurner also stresses the point that you need to seek advice before things escalate and you truly despise the other person. "Be a proactive couple who strives to solve issues before they tear at the fabric of your deepest bonds of trust and intimacy."
Whether you choose to seek help or continue down your current path -- be aware that counseling does not "break couples up" or even "hold them together." As Silvia M. Dutchevici says, "Couples counseling is about helping the couple communicate better and understand what is going on."