There are plenty of good reasons to go to couples therapy: maybe the pair of you have been through a traumatic experience together, or have hit a bump in the road in your relationship. Perhaps one of you is going through a particularly difficult time and the other needs help understanding how they’re feeling.
However Megan Close, a New York City-based licensed marriage and family counsellor (LMFT), has now explained that we shouldn’t just think about going to couples therapy in times of crisis.
Sitting down with hellogiggles.com, she explains that seeing a therapist is an extra form of commitment – a sign that you’re dedicated to “working on your relationship”.
Which means that if you’re thinking about taking a big step together (think moving in together, coming out to your parents about your sexual orientation, or starting to talk about marriage and kids), heading to a professional is a good first step.
“Just to make sure you’re on the same page,” Close says. “That way, going into the ‘big’ thing will go more smoothly and everyone knows the sensitive spots before things get crazy.”
Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard (aka one of our favourite celebrity couples) are firmly in favour of relationship therapy. In fact, they recently confirmed that they have been been attending regular sessions with a therapist ever since they started dating back in 2007.
“We're the Paula Abdul video Opposites Attract personified,” Bell explained to Good Housekeeping magazine.
Shepard – who has two children with his wife of four years – added: “There were hurdles, things she didn't trust about me, things I didn't trust about her. I just kept going back to ‘this person has the thing I want, and I have to figure out how we can exist peacefully.’ So we started [seeing a therapist together] right away.”
The couple have credited their therapist with teaching them how to handle confrontations in the right way.
“The way Dax and I argue now – and we argue a lot; we disagree on almost everything! – is so healthy,” said Bell.
“You do better in the gym with a trainer; you don't figure out how to cook without reading a recipe. Therapy is not something to be embarrassed about.”
Shepard added: “The clear message is, ‘Oh their marriage is ending.’ That's such a negative connotation.”
So how does one argue in the correct way?
Well, John Gottman, a professor of psychology who specialises in marital stability, has revealed that we need to avoid “the four horsemen of the apocalypse” when fighting with our partners.
- Criticism (framing complaints in the context of a defect in your partner)
- Contempt (name calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humour)
- Defensiveness (making excuses to explain away your actions)
- Stonewalling (withdrawing from a conversation, even if physically present)
Gottman also encourages couples to stop using the word “you” in arguments, and choosing instead to use the word “I” – and to work on their marriage each and every single day, rather than just when it is in trouble.
“Reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went,” he says. This will help to bleed off stress from the day, and stop it from negatively affecting your relationship.
Images: Rex Features