I often get phone calls and emails asking me this question. My answer is usually something pretty vague like “well, what do you think?” To which I then get a description of the state of the marriage. Typically the caller is unhappy, not feeling heard and/or appreciated, sick of arguing, or the couple are struggling to overcome a breach of trust (an affair, pornography, financial problems, etc). So, how do couples know when it is time to seek the help of a professional?
You’ve read all the books. Often when couples come to me for therapy they have tried reading self-help books, gone to seminars, tried talking to each other, ignoring each other, and changing each other yet nothing has worked.
You’re looking outside your marriage for relief. Whether it’s complaining to your girlfriends about what a jerk your husband is, or looking online for a new partner – when folks start looking outside their marriage for happiness and fulfillment, it is usually a sign that there are problems.
Your other relationships and roles are suffering. I often hear women say that their relationship with their husband is so bad that it is affecting the way they parent, or their relationship with their friends, or their ability to concentrate at work.
You’re married. Marriage is hard. Kids are hard. Work is hard. Put it all together and it is a recipe for strain on even the most solid, loving marriages.
I think all couples can benefit from therapy at some point in their lives together. Maybe it’s after a baby is born, or after a lay-off, when someone decides to stay home with the kids, or when grandma moves in. Whenever the tough times might come (and they come for every relationship) it can be a relief to know that there is a way to get help.