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5 Signs It’s Time to Close the Door on Your Current Relationship

Brad Brenner, Ph.D.

In the 1950s, lifestyle magazine Ladies’ Home Journal launched a column entitled “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Couples would describe their relationship issues, and marriage counselors would offer his advice. The column was so popular that it ran for nearly 60 years, eventually converting to a video format.

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Relationship Therapy Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

That column was a predecessor to the eventual plethora of platforms for couples to share their deepest concerns in front of an audience. Today, there’s the Couple’s Therapy podcast and popular YouTube video series where Casey Neistat and his wife Candice discuss “candidly the ups and downs of their marriage, friendship, parenting, and lives in the YouTube spotlight.” Two other TV shows are also called Couple’s Therapy: one featuring troubled couples working with New York clinical psychologist, Dr. Orna Guralnik, and a celebrity couple’s version with therapist Dr. Jenn Mann.

The popularity of these columns, podcasts, videos, and shows — not to mention the hundreds of self-help books written by a variety of experts — may be an indication of the public’s hunger for answers to their romantic relationship issues. The problem, though, is that every couple has a unique relationship with individual disagreements and different backstories leading up to those. For that reason, the advice a counselor offers to a famous rapper, and his spouse might be vastly different from what your mental health professional would advise during your therapy sessions.

That’s why it’s important to seek help from a counselor or mental health professional to work on the problems you and your partner or significant other are having — especially if you want to save your relationship or marriage. Sometimes, though, even the longest-running relationships or seemingly happy couples reach an inevitable end. Here are five of the many signs you might want to look into relationship counseling or consider ending the relationship altogether.

There are too many disagreements — or none at all.

Every relationship will endure a certain level of conflict. But when arguments or disagreements become a part of your everyday life, the routine can become addictive, yet exhausting. You pick fights about anything and everything, and your arguments become a power struggle to see who can come out on top. Eventually, your willingness to keep fighting disappears. According to a 2013 study published in the American Psychological Association’s Couple and Family Psychology Journal, 57.7% of United States divorces are attributed to “too much conflict and arguing.” 

On the other hand, a lack of any disagreement or difference of opinion could also indicate a problem — a lack of authenticity or withdrawal. It isn’t very easy to pour out your soul and have conversations on a deeper level when you first meet someone. Eventually partners will create a safe space where secrets, vulnerability, and differing opinions are shared. Each partner must be an active listener for the other, even if it means they disagree. However, when a partner becomes emotionally detached, and intimate conversations or disagreements become superficial or disappear altogether, it may be time to see a relationship counselor. Your counselor can help you to uncover the core issues behind your arguments, and help you to improve your mutual communication skills.

You’ve lost trust in one another.

Mutual trust is an invaluable trait in all adult relationships, romantic or otherwise. When that trust is broken once, it takes hard work on the part of both partners to build it again. Sadly, infidelity is behind nearly 60% of divorces, and perhaps even a higher percentage of relationship breakups. 

Infidelity isn’t the only way to lose trust in a partner, though. Catching the other person in a lie, even a small one, can plant seeds of doubt and suspicion. The inability to be completely open and honest with your partner, and questioning whether they are open and honest with you, leads to jealousy, anger, resentment, and other negative feelings. A couples therapist can help you sort out these feelings and the underlying emotional issues or motivations that led to them.

Your relationship lacks affection or intimacy.

Human beings naturally crave human connection, both emotional and physical. Most romantic relationships begin with a mutual attraction that blossoms into a passionate physical intimacy. When a relationship starts to lose its romantic or emotional spark, though, the human connection can seem tenuous. One partner may feel the other is no longer attracted to them or no longer feels the same way emotionally. As with losing trust, losing affection or physical intimacy can lead to doubt, sadness, resentment, and other negative emotions.

Relationship counselors who specialize in issues with physical intimacy can help you to get your love life back on track. Emotionally focused couples therapy (EFT) is a particular type of relationship counseling that works to strengthen attachment bonds among partners.

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You’re following increasingly divergent paths.

In happy relationships, couples have their own interests, friends, and goals in addition to those they share. One person may love Chinese food, but the other hates it. Or one may like to save money while the other enjoys spending it. Couples usually find ways to make allowances for the other’s needs.

“It is only when resources are pooled that partners begin to reveal what they can live without, compromise on, or are unwilling to change,” writes marriage counselor Randi Gunther, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. “Those differences need to be sorted out with mutual respect and support, but often bring out behaviors that neither partner could have anticipated, nor can live with.”

When partners consistently assert their wants or needs above their partner, lack compassion or empathy for the feelings or concerns of their partner, or increasingly separate their life from that of the relationship or family, couples therapy may be a good idea. Couples counseling can help you to either help your separate paths to reconverge or continue outside the relationship.

You can’t imagine a future with this person.

A “lack of commitment” topped the list of reasons for divorce in the 2013 couple’s study at 75%. Partnerships aren’t always easy, and a lot of people will give up rather than do the hard work it takes to build and maintain a healthy and robust relationship. Sometimes, though, two people just aren’t a good fit, and it takes a while for them to figure that out. They can’t imagine or see themselves enduring the next date, a marriage, or making it to the next wedding anniversary with this person. Even if only one member of the couple loses interest and the will to fight, the relationship is probably over.

Overcoming objections to couples therapy

Counseling can and does help couples understand and overcome a variety of relationship problems. When one member of the couple resists seeing a mental health practitioner, though, the other partner can still pursue individual therapy to explore their frustrations with the relationship with an unbiased, active listener. Individual counseling can be quite helpful in unpacking your personal feelings and actions and learning how they might be sabotaging the relationship.

Do you need a family therapist?

A lot of people forget that problems between partners or the breakup of a relationship rarely affect only two people, especially in relationships with children. Turmoil between parents or caregivers can take a toll on the emotional and mental health of all family members.

A licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), according to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), is a mental health professional who trains in “psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples, and family systems.”

The AAMFT reports that after marriage counseling and family therapy, “almost 90% of clients report an improvement in their emotional health and nearly two-thirds report an improvement in their overall physical health.”

Goals of relationship counseling

Relationship counseling can include “different goals and different techniques,” writes Susan Heitler, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. “In this regard, it’s less like aspirin and more like salad, with many optional and varied ingredients.” However, the primary goal of any couple’s therapy is a healthy relationship.

Heitler explains that couples come to a therapist because they’re unhappy and haven’t been able to resolve their conflicts on their own. A couples therapist will create a safe space where both partners can talk about their current conflicts, what earlier experiences may have led to them, and how to resolve them on their own. The therapist will teach each partner the skills they need, including communication skills, anger management, and collaborative problem solving. A great couples therapist will capitalize on each partner’s strengths and help them to improve their weaknesses.

Should you close the door on your relationship?

If you’re struggling with any of the five signs, then couples counseling, or another type of mental health therapy is a great start. However, even television clinicians, newspaper counselors, podcasters like Candice and Casey, or legitimate mental health professionals can’t save every marriage or relationship. Sometimes the best path for your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing will be to part ways.

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