Yes, yes, he’s incapable of getting his gym clothes to the washing machine, and it drives you up a wall. So, no judgement if you picked (another) fight about it. But if arguing feels more normal than getting along, and what was once just a rough patch is now the reality of your union, then you could be headed toward a loveless marriage, and that ain’t good. So what’s a girl to do? Grab your man and head to — wait for it — couples therapy.
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Now, just because movies and TV shows poke fun at therapy (come on, everyone has seen what Matthew McConaughey’s character goes through in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it into serious consideration.
“It gives each partner a safe, unbiased, clean-slate space to communicate, wrestle with and work out differences when all personal attempts have failed,” says Fran Walfish, psychotherapist, author and current expert panelist on WEtv’s Sex Box.
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An open dialogue with a trained expert will not only help you better communicate with your hubby, but it could also put away problems you’ve always had, once and for all. At the very least, Walfish says it can teach you how to effectively respond to issues when they come up, rather than blowing a fuse and potentially making things worse. Because let’s get real here: Doing the same thing (think having those heated fights seemingly every weekend) over and over again isn’t quite the definition of marital sanity. Plus, if you and your man constantly criticize, shame or blame one another, not only will your self-confidence falter, but neither of you will ever feel like you’re being heard. That’s a dark road to travel, and one that can cause some serious heartbreak or possibly even — gulp — divorce.
But how do you know if you’ve reached the point where you need assistance? Straight from the horse’s, er, therapists’ mouth, here are all the signs that it’s time to sign-up for a session — now.
1. You’re still arguing about who loads the dishwasher the right way.
Sharing your home with someone else is bound to lead to differences and frustrations. But if you’re bitching about the same thing repeatedly — you know, about how he can’t (for the life of him!) turn the cookie sheet the right way in the damn dishwasher — you might need to find a better way to express yourself.
“Often when a couple has an argument that never gets resolved, they aren’t talking to each other in the right way,” says Walfish. “They’re screaming, yelling, and attacking, then going silent because they don’t feel heard.”
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By going to a therapist, Walfish says you can finally figure out how to illustrate your feelings in a way that your partner can understand — so instead of screaming and slamming the baking sheet into the “correct” position, which can make him shut down, you’ll learn that saying something like, “Sweetie, you may not think it’s a big deal, but loading the cookie sheet this way isn’t getting it fully clean, and that bugs me.” Then you can talk about why — it could mean you’re concerned about the water bill going up so you can run the dishwasher twice, and that’s not exactly cost-effective.
Either way, “a therapist can take the couple through the conflict in slow motion and not allow them to sweep issues under the rug,” says Walfish. “Hashing through the details, however long that takes, is the only way to put the problem behind you.”
2. You would rather watch Scandal than have sex.
When those steamy sex scenes between Fitz and Olivia pop up, admit it: You’re turned on. But when your man makes a move, it’s dryer than the Sahara desert downstairs. That’s a problem. Or maybe it’s not quite so intense — perhaps there’s a rare moment in between PTA meetings and filing your taxes when you do get hot and heavy… but you’re not quite as into it as you used to be. Regardless of which it is, it’s time to figure out why you aren’t connecting romantically.
“If there’s been a long-term decline in physical affection and sex, there is usually a root cause to the pattern, and sorry, it’s rare that you’re just tired all the time,” says sex and marriage therapist Dr. Kat Van Kirk.
It can be helpful to have someone who isn’t in your bedroom help you understand what’s actually going on (or, um, not going on) between the sheets. When the two of you have a difficult time connecting in a way that was once an easy and essential part of your relationship, there are other underlying issues happening. So if you’re self-conscious about your post-baby bod, it could mean that there’s an emotional need that isn’t being met within the relationship. Or if he’s stopped his muscle-sculpting morning runs that sent you into a sex-crazed frenzy, perhaps he doesn’t feel wanted by you in the first place, creating a viscous, intimacy-deprived cycle. Whatever it is, a therapist can help you figure out how to get that va-va-voom back into your love life.
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“Some people have a hard time talking about sex and may need the help to bring up topics like erectile dysfunction or negative body image,” says Megan Bearce, relationship expert and author of Super Commuting Couples. “A therapist will help you speak and connect the dots to your intimacy issues.” Because unless you figure out a way to understand and express what you need, you’ll never bring sexy back.
3. You’re nicer to your work frenemy than you are to your partner.
If it’s easier to have small talk with the girl who’s always stealing your business ideas than it is with the man you share a life with, you may need to figure out why you’re icing your partner out. Sex therapist Vanessa Marin says that when you notice yourself retreating into personal affairs instead of making an effort to share experiences with your husband, you’re ignoring bigger issues. You may not even realize you’re doing it, so consider this situation:
Your day started with a manic drive to your kid’s school, where for the 100th time, you forgot to send in the form that’s due. Then at work, you never felt like you had enough coffee or that you were nailing it with clients like you used to. Even worse, it was your husband’s turn to pick up the kids, but he’s stuck in a meeting so you have to leave early to get them. And, well, grocery shopping was a nice thought, but you gave in to take out — again. You’re not only worried about the nutritional value, but about your job, your aging skin, your… everything. Once your husband’s home, do you talk to him about this stress and work together to figure out how to lessen your load? Or do you give him a side-eye, take a shower, and get into bed to read a book or surf Pinterest?
If you often choose the latter, you’re making an effort to not connect, whether it’s conscious or not. Marin says this can likely lead to your attention being directed to something — or someone — else. Instead of dealing with what’s really making you upset — feeling overwhelmed, unhappy with your day-to-day and fighting an urge to make a big change — you’re keeping it inside and letting the pattern continue, which could make you think you’ll feel comforted by another man’s attention. If you find yourself being swayed, Bearce says to dial your therapist so you can drill down to the real issue so you’ll stop — unintentionally or not — inflicting more damage, and save a lot of heartache for everyone involved.
4. You hang out in separate rooms at home.
When you share a house, co-existing in every room can grind your gears. So yeah, it’s totally fine to need some alone time. But if you’ve actively started avoiding being in the same room with him during downtime — like after dinner when the kids have been tucked into bed, you beeline for the bedroom as he settles in front of the TV — ask yourself why.
While doing your own thing can seem normal at first, not having relaxation time together prevents you from connecting in a way that keeps marriages together, says Bearce: “One or both partners can start to feel neglected, resentful or lonely.” If this is you, couples therapy can be a time when, “if nothing else, you have a weekly appointment to be together, uninterrupted, to talk about tough stuff and re-evaluate the relationship and the goals each of you have for going forward. It’s a way to get back on track.” Once you are, it may not feel so tough to sit through a football game once a week (remember how much you watched when you dated?), and he’ll swap in time to watch a few of your favorite shows.
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5. You think everyone has a better husband — and you aren’t afraid to say it.
If you married this man, that means you were madly in love at some point, right? (Let’s hope so.) So putting him down in front of other people not only makes him feel bad — after all, nobody forced you to put a ring on it — but it doesn’t reflect kindly on you.
“Complimenting other men and ignoring your husband is a form of passive-aggressive shame and criticism,” says Bearce. And Dr. Kat says it can lead to a slippery slope of destruction: “Talking down or ignoring their needs is dangerous and can really make your partner’s self-esteem plummet,” she says. So while you think you’re just complimenting your BFF on her awesome partnership, there’s more to be discussed in therapy — safely.
“When situations like this occur in public, it’s usually because you haven’t expressed anger or resentment that you have over something he did or didn’t do,” says Van Kirk. “Talking about it with therapists gives automatic ground rules for behavior, and helps everyone articulate how damaging those actions can be.”
Productive criticism is healthy for a marriage and can help make big changes, but a therapist can teach you how to appropriately communicate without being cruel.
6. Jealousy is becoming an issue in your relationship.
Everyone gets jealous every now and then, and that’s totally normal. But when jealousy is causing you and your significant other to drift apart, it’s time to figure out why you’re feeling that way in the first place — and what to do about it.
“Some jealousy is the type that anyone would feel based upon certain events and interactions, but other jealousy is based upon your personal past relationship hurts and situational paranoia,” says Bette Alkazian, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Southern California and author of Balanced Parenting. “It can be hard to tell if your fears are legitimate or if you’re just being paranoid. A good therapist can help you figure that out.”
Whatever you do, avoid pushing your feelings to the side — nothing will ever get resolved if you don’t acknowledge them.
“Often when people bring up issues of jealousy, their partner says they’re crazy and has nothing to be jealous over. It may be true that there’s nothing going on, but ignoring your feelings can just make it worse,” says Nikki Goldstein, Ph.D., sexologist and author of Single But Dating — A Field Guide to Dating In the Digital Age. “Jealousy is a real emotion and a natural one and something we should be talking about more openly instead of trying to sweep it under the rug. Don’t judge or shame yourself for feeling something totally normal.”
7. You’re still holding onto old grudges.
No relationship is perfect: All couples go through hard times, and Instagram feeds overloaded with heart-eyed emojis and #blessed captions definitely don’t tell the full story. But the real problem begins when you’re projecting relationship perfection while holding onto a grudge and using it against your significant other, purposely trying to make them feel bad.
“You’ve likely experienced some very challenging and heart-wrenching things over the course of your lifetime and over your relationship, yet the ability to differentiate between forgiving and forgetting are subtle and profound,” says psychologist Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, Ph.D. “Some people think staying in the relationship is proof they’ve forgiven. However, in a moment of rage or tipsy anger, the past hurts can bubble up again, showing that things are really not resolved. This inability to truly let the past go will sabotage your current relationship.”
A couples therapist can help you figure out why you’re still holding onto these past feelings, as well as help you figure out if there’s a way you can move on from them.
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