Couples Counseling For Daters

Contrary to popular belief, couples counseling isn’t just for married people. If you and your new partner are already having problems, maybe it’s time to seek out a therapist together.

By Julie Taylor

hen you fall in love, your partner can do no wrong. Fast-forward a few months, though, and it might feel like your partner can do no right. When the honeymoon period ends, real life can rear its ugly head — and baggage starts coming out. Is he jealous? Is she needy? Is he scared of commitment? Does she
A lot of people thought we were crazy for going to therapy.
hate your best friend? Every relationship has its own set of unique issues — and, at times, they can feel insurmountable. That’s where a couples counselor can help... even if you haven’t tied the knot yet.

Thought couples counseling was just for married people? Think again. According to an article in the New York Times, therapists and other marriage and family therapy professionals say that young, unwed couples are pursuing therapy more avidly than older generations did. Laurie Abraham, author of The Husbands and Wives Club: A Year in the Life of Couples Therapy, says, “It’s not surprising that more unmarried couples are trying couples counseling, because people often live together and date longer before getting married. The line between being married and not have definitely blurred. In fact, many couples go to counseling to find out if they should even get married.”

Joanie, 28, went to counseling with her boyfriend of six months. “He was a workaholic and couldn’t understand why I was not okay with him working 90 hours a week,” she says. “A lot of people thought we were crazy for going to therapy and that if we had to go to therapy after six months, our relationship was doomed. But the counselor helped us get past our issues so we actually could get serious. Now we’re engaged.”

Abraham spent two years observing five couples in couples counseling for her latest book. “At the end of the two years, every one of the couples was much better off,” says Abraham. Research shows that 70 percent of couples who go to couples counseling report being happier with their relationship six months out.

Abraham says her biggest piece of advice for any couple contemplating couples therapy is to go sooner rather than later. “The longer you practice not liking someone, the harder it is to like him or
In the beginning, we thought we were soul mates.
her again,” she says. “People tend to wait and wait and wait — they think that the very fact they’re going into couples therapy is a failure. It’s scary for people.”

What sends unmarried couples into therapy? Of course, there are the usual, expected issues, like cheating, constant fighting and sexual incompatibility. But the problems are sometimes less explosive and more mundane. Abraham says that even if you are the most compatible couple in the world, you will likely fall into a rut at some point. “I think long-term relationships should have developmental stages, like kids do as they’re growing up,” Abraham says. “In the first stage, you’re overwhelmingly in love with that person. But that wears off — and most people are disappointed by that in a deep way. Instead of admitting it was just a stage, you get angry at the other person, or blame yourself and lash out at the other person.” Abraham says that’s where couples counseling can come in: to help men and women see that romantic love takes many forms and to see whether the couple has a future together once that initial disappointment occurs. After all, just because the relationship is evolving into something different doesn’t mean it’s over.

That was the case with Jackie and Tim. They were intoxicated by each other’s mere presence for the first 14 months of their relationship — but then the passion began to fade. “In the beginning, we thought we were soul mates,” Jackie recalls. “But after awhile, we started going out less, watching TV more and bickering about stupid stuff. We both began to wonder if our connection was as amazing as we thought it was.” Jackie suggested they try couples counseling — but Tim balked at first. “Why did we need counseling if we weren’t even married?” Tim recalls wondering when Jackie mentioned it as an option. “But I did it for her.” In therapy, they both came to realize that what they were feeling was normal. With help from their therapist, Jackie and Tim developed strategies for catapulting themselves from those inevitable relationship ruts. “Now we have two set date nights a week — I plan the first, he plans the second,” Jackie says. “We’re always surprising each other now.” Tim says couples counseling prompted him to step it up in the boyfriend department. “I discovered that I needed to put in some effort — in the beginning, there were so many fireworks, not much effort was needed. To keep those fireworks going after a year, I needed to put in some work.” Now, after three months of couples counseling, they both say that every day is like Fourth of July.

To find out if you need couples counseling, there are numerous quizzes online to choose from or you can speak to a local therapist about your issues.

Julie Taylor has contributed to Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and other publications.
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