7 Ways to Know if Your Relationship Needs a Tune-up

Most of us are pretty good at keeping up with maintenance on our cars. And we understand the importance of regular medical check-ups and physical exams to make sure we remain healthy and functioning properly.

Unfortunately, it is fairly unusual for people to realize that their intimate relationships could benefit from regular maintenance as well!

Throughout my years of working with couples in my practice, I’ve often been asked about my “success rate.” This is, in reality, equivalent to basically asking me if I can help them save their relationship.

Even if I had the exact statistics to quote, it wouldn’t really be helpful. Each relationship is a combination of the many unique characteristics of two individuals, different relational dynamics, and they all have their own particular problematic issues. However, there is an important set of factors that significantly determines if couples counseling will be successful or not: the qualities that each partner brings to the therapy office.

When both partners enter counseling highly motivated, ready to work, and are fully committed to the process, they’re much more likely to find the counseling sessions beneficial. It truly takes work and commitment to improve the connection and satisfaction in relationships, and to keep a relationship healthy. Simply put, going through the motions or giving a “half-hearted” effort is really not going to help!

Dr. John Gottman, a renowned psychologist and famous relationship researcher, points out another important factor inhibiting any couples therapist’s ability to make a positive difference. His research found that couples are typically unhappy in their relationship for approximately six years before seeking help. When an unhappy couple waits six years to get help, can you imagine the depth of the resentment that each partner has developed? This built-up resentment dramatically increases the chances that at least one partner’s motivation is partially (and sometimes fully) compromised.

For this reason, as Dr. Gottman’s research points out, therapists are able to help the very distressed couples much less than moderately distressed couples. When problematic relational issues have festered for years, and resentment has been growing at the same time, the relationship is often in a state of crisis. There is typically little chance of a successful therapeutic outcome if only one partner is 100% motivated and invested in repairing the relationship and re-establishing a close connection.

In order to maximize the chances of couples counseling success, each partner:

  • Is motivated and committed to work on the relationship.
  • Takes responsibility for his or her actions and behavior.
  • Listens to and understands their partner’s viewpoint.
  • Empathizes with their partner.
  • Demonstrates the ability to calm him- or herself down (self-soothe) without letting frustrations take over.
  • Addresses troublesome issues instead of ignoring them.

Couples counseling can prevent minor issues from developing into full-blown conflicts.

Some signs a relationship is in need of a tune-up:

1. When conflict exists on the same issues over and over again without resolution.

2. Withdrawing from each other instead of trying to work out differences.

3. Partners becoming increasingly critical of one another.

4. The “blame game” has increased, perhaps with more cursing and name calling.

5. Sex life is incompatible or nonexistent.

6. Quality one-on-one time together has stopped becoming a priority.

7. One or both partners begin to seek emotional support outside the relationship.

Don’t hesitate to take action when the health of your relationship is in jeopardy. Commit to some couples counseling sessions; don’t wait and assume it will get better on its own. It won’t!

Better yet, invest in preventative care. Just as you wouldn’t wait three years to get an oil change in your car, don’t wait for problems to arise before getting a tune-up on your relationship, even when things feel “okay.“

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