If your relationship is in trouble, the kind of trouble you don’t seem to be able to sort out on your own, it might be time to look for a professional counselor to help.
Why might you want to consider seeking professional help?
If you have tried talking about difficult issues and can’t do so in a civil or productive way, that’s a good reason. Perhaps whenever the “hot button” issues in your relationship come up – money, sex, fidelity, work (overwork or unemployment), chores – you can’t discuss them because the emotions involved trigger an instant fight. If one or both of you keep hitting the nuclear button whenever a certain topic is raised, then you probably need some help working through those issues. If you interrupt each other before you even finish talking, and if you end up shouting and screaming instead of communicating, that’s a warning sign.
One partner may bully the other, verbally or even physically, too – this type of problem is difficult to solve on your own.
Perhaps one of you has cheated on the other, and the subject is just too painful to talk about. Cheating is one of the most emotional subjects in a relationship, and can consequently be the hardest to talk about reasonably. [Related: How to save your marriage after cheating]
Another possibility may be that you simply don’t communicate. Maybe you don’t have time or don’t want to due to fear or insecurity or frustration.
A good, professional couples counselor can do you a world of good – he or she will function as a kind of referee during your discussions, keeping you on productive topics and away from inappropriate expressions of anger or violence.
Once you’ve decided to seek professional help, how do you go about finding a good therapist?
There are many factors involved, but the best and easiest way is to ask other couples you know for a recommendation. You’d be surprised how many couples have gotten this type of help, and a referral from someone who has actually been to a therapist will really be helpful. You’ll know in advance that the therapist is good at their job, that they’ve already helped someone out.
Don’t be shy about asking your friends for this sort of help. It shows that you are an adult and are serious about your relationship. If you’re a young couple and your peers haven’t much experience with couples counseling, ask some older, married couples you may know through friends or family. Even your own parents may have some ideas, if they live in the same area you do.
Maybe you already have a personal therapist, or some of your friends do. Ask that therapist for a recommendation. Professional therapists have access to a wide network of other professionals in their field, and can probably give you a list of several names to call.
If no one can recommend anyone to you, then you’ll just have to search local online listings for names and numbers. Look for serious professionals – they’ll be licensed “marriage and family” therapists, usually with a master’s degree or equivalent. Make a list of those in your area.
However you compile your list, call them all and ask which ones have available time slots (therapists, especially good ones, sometimes have a full load of patients).
Set up interviews with the therapists you’re interested in and go and see them. Depending on the state of your relationship with your partner, you may have to go interview them on your own, but it is best by far for both of you to go.
Ask the therapist any questions you have – write them down beforehand. Don’t ask a bunch of questions about your own situation at this first meeting – stick to your questions about therapy. Ask the counselor’s approach to couples. How much experience do they have in that particular area? Feel free to express your own emotions around therapy, whether positive or negative. A professional counselor won’t be offended, nor will they judge you.
This first meeting is a chance for you to get to know the personality of the counselor, and for them to get to know you. Seek out a counselor you feel you can learn something from. Trust your gut feeling about the person. Don’t panic, either – you can always switch to another therapist later if this one doesn’t work out. Remember, your counselor is a professional and isn’t emotionally invested in you or your business at all. They understand you may choose at any time to stop seeing them. So don’t let your worries about offending them or “letting them down” keep you from making any decision.
You may have questions about the price of therapy. Those are perfectly legitimate, and the best, healthiest thing to do is to discuss them directly with your therapist. Remember, this person is a professional, and they are used to this sort of thing. They do it every day. If you can’t afford the price the counselor is asking, you can negotiate. In the end, if the counselor won’t lower their price, ask them to suggest some lower-cost options, perhaps at a local community clinic. Your health insurance may also cover therapy in some cases – so check your policy carefully.
The counselor will usually want to schedule you for a particular hour-long “slot” every week. That’s how they fill up their schedules and plan their work days. Sometimes it is possible, if you can’t afford a regular, weekly slot, to pair up with another couple and go every other week. It’s a kind of counseling “time share” where you get regular meetings every other week, and the therapist gets to fill that time slot every week. Don’t ever be afraid or embarrassed to ask about alternative arrangements like this.