“I feel stuck in this relationship,” “I wish he (she) could understand me,” “How do I save my relationship,” or “Is it time for me to end this?” Between children, disagreements on finances, a recent move, a job change, sexual challenges or suspecting that there might be someone else, sometimes relationships need outside help. If you find yourself thinking these things, please understand that your feelings are common. In fact, a recent study conducted in Europe suggests that approximately 20% of couples are “distressed,” or under a current state of relationship dissatisfaction.
The problem, however, is found in society’s view of seeking help. In a classroom setting, you are told that if you don’t understand something then you must ask for help, to raise your hand for assistance. At home, you could ask your family for help with chores, for money to buy things, or for assistance with a fundraiser. You had no problem doing this because it was socially acceptable. But as you age, you become more independent. You make your own money, you take care of your home. You are expected to do things for yourself, to solve your own problems. You become capable and competent at fixing most things on your own or with moderate help. Oftentimes, people will come to you for assistance because you have become hardworking. There’s a feeling of pride that comes with being independent. That’s what it means to be an adult.
But what about the problems you can’t solve? If, while driving, you feel the car shaking or if “my car has a funny sound when I start it,” you feel comfortable and valid taking the vehicle to a mechanic if you are not familiar with fixing cars. If you feel like your “heart is rapidly beating and I have not been moving quickly” or “Whenever I bend down, my back tightens and I gasp,” you will have no problem in making an appointment with your physician if you have no medical knowledge. You understand that a specialist is there to assist with things that are beyond your comprehension. But when you think within yourself, “I don’t know how to fix this relationship” or feel the sadness of “I just can’t do this anymore,” you tend to bottle it up. This does not fix the problem. You feel a degree of shame and incompetence admitting that you need a relationship specialist because you cannot solve this problem.
Like a mechanic and a physician, a therapist has had years of study and practice. Though they are all specialists, your experience with them is very different. A mechanic and a physician fix your respective problems with little to no assistance from you. You just simply drop your vehicle off or sit patiently on the exam table while the repairs are done for you (vehicle) or to you (your body). But with a therapist, your motivation to fix your problem drives therapy while the therapist supplements your efforts with skills and behavior changes. You will work side-by-side with the therapist as you heal your relationship. Like a vehicle or your body, this process requires that you become vulnerable and open so that the issue(s) can clearly been seen and addressed. There is no shame in admitting that you need a specialist to assist you repairing your relationship. Specialists are needed so that you can continue living the life you desire.
However, many good people do not get the help they need because they feel “weak” or “incompetent.” Please remember that it has always been socially acceptable to ask for help when you need it. You have always sought people who you know can help: family, teachers, police, mechanics and physicians. Therapists are no different.
Seeking a therapist has its rewards. The following is a statement from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy:
Studies show that clients are highly satisfied with services of Marriage and Family Therapists. Clients report marked improvement in work productivity, co-worker relationships, family relationships, partner relationships, emotional health, overall health, social life, and community involvement.
In a recent study, consumers report that marriage and family therapists are the mental health professionals they would most likely recommend to friends. Over 98 percent of clients of marriage and family therapists report therapy services as good or excellent.
After receiving treatment, almost 90% of clients report an improvement in their emotional health, and nearly two-thirds report an improvement in their overall physical health. A majority of clients report an improvement in their functioning at work, and over three-fourths of those receiving marital/couples or family therapy report an improvement in the couple relationship. When a child is the identified patient, parents report that their child’s behavior improved in 73.7% of the cases, their ability to get along with other children significantly improved and there was improved performance in school. Marriage and family therapy’s prominence in the mental health field has increased due to its brief, solution-focused treatment, its family-centered approach, and its demonstrated effectiveness.
One of the major obstacles of therapy is finding someone who you can trust and who you can relate to. It is understandable that as you come for the first session, you are meeting a stranger. You might feel like you have no obligation to tell the therapist anything because you do not know if you can trust him or her. It is normal to feel hesitant. Risk is a necessary part of this process but as you do so, the therapist will validate your efforts. As you share your problems with your therapist and as you are validated, trust will be built. You will feel cared for. Once trust is established, you can discuss and review any skill you need to improve your relationship. In therapy, you will explore what you think and feel, and especially what you need. Through understanding yourself, you will come to know that your partner is also unique and has needs that they want fulfilled. Through this process, you will gain the hope that your relationship will heal. You will also gain the knowledge to solve your problems. Further, you will gain the power needed to make your relationship yours again.
To the other 80% that may not be “distressed,” I encourage you to make an appointment for a relationship check-up. Much like the person who hears the funny sound in their vehicle or who feels pain when they bend down, the person or couple knows that the problem already exists. Either a “check engine light” or a sharp but brief pain informs you of that. Please do not neglect those indicators so that the problem does not become so large that the only logical option would be more drastic, like divorce. If you feel any measure of discomfort in your relationship, please seek assistance. The discomfort may not be linked to relationship problems but if it is, you will be grateful you asked for help.
– Shawn Bills, LMFT