I once read that the average couple is unhappy for 7 years before entering counseling. 7 Years! That’s a long time to live in pain.
What is the downside of waiting so long?
Relationships are like a dance. Early on, no one knows the steps. But over time, we all learn. Eventually action and reaction become well established patterns.
Unfortunately, it is harder to break a habit than to make a habit. When you repeat a behavior often enough, pathways are worn in the brain. While parts of those pathways may weaken without use, some may never go away, and may therefore be easily reactivated.
Lesson to be learned? When there are repetitive problems within an important relationship, pay attention. If needed, get professional help sooner, rather than later.
When I am working with a couple. and I ask about difficulties within the relationship, I also ask “How long has this happening?” It’s not unusual for one or both partners to drastically underestimate the answer. One person will say “oh, a year or two.” But when I ask how long it’s been since they heard a compliment, or were the on the receiving end of a loving act, or felt noticed and heard in a good way, it will often turn out that it has been so long that they can’t remember. It’s not unusual for people to eventually admit that the trouble spot was known to them almost from the beginning.
Sometimes people delay seeking help because they are uncomfortable with the expense. Counseling is unlikely to ever cost more than divorce, either financially or emotionally!
Sometimes they say “We don’t have the time”. How much time will it take to split up?
Mostly, I sense they fear that if they come to counseling it will mean acknowledging there is a real problem. Of course, acknowledging there is a problem is the first step toward resolving that problem. Someone once told me “Counseling is for problem marriages”. There are no problem marriages! There are only marriages where partners are having problems. All relationships have problems at times. When problems are addressed early, solutions are a lot easier.
Now, in case you have decided after reading this that it is too late to seek help for yourself and/or you and your partner, let me assure you that while it is harder and will take longer when destructive patterns are firmly entrenched, it is rarely too late when people really want to repair damage.
Reading this probably means you are curious about getting help. Good for you! Think about starting the new year with a resolution to tackle your relationship issues!