7 Clear Signs Your Relationship Needs Couples Therapy

Couples therapy

This article was originally published on Healing Moments Counseling.

Researchers in the field of romantic relationships know that the best intervention is prevention. This means that the earlier you get support, the better. Research indicates that couples wait on average 2.5 years to get help with relationship challenges. [1]

Every couple goes through ups and downs. It’s normal to experience conflict and disagreements, but sometimes these issues can become too overwhelming to handle alone. Couples therapy is a valuable resource that can help couples work through their problems and strengthen their relationships. 

But how do you know if you’re ready to start couples therapy? Here are seven clear signs that it’s time to talk and seek help from a trained couples therapist.

1. Communication has Broken Down

It’s common knowledge that communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Unfortunately, many of us were not taught healthy and mature communication skills. We didn’t learn how to regulate difficult emotions, so when something happens that is hurtful, we lash out or withdraw. 

Research shows that if you start a conversation harshly, 96% of the time it will end negatively. [2] According to Dr. John Gottman, a harsh startup includes an attack on a partner’s character rather than expressing a feeling, need, or longing. [3]

This is an example of a harsh startup: “You never help out with the dishes. You’re just a lazy person.” 

A softer startup could be: “I am so overwhelmed. Can you please put away the dishes? That will help me feel less overwhelmed right now. Thank you for supporting me. I appreciate you.” 

If you find yourselves constantly arguing or not being able to communicate effectively, it’s a sign that communication is breaking down. Couples therapy can help you to understand where you are getting stuck, learn new ways to communicate, understand each other’s perspectives, and rebuild the trust and intimacy that may have been lost due to communication struggles.

communication has broken down. Couples therapy

2. You’re Stuck in a Pattern of Negative Behavior

Do you find yourselves repeating the same negative pattern over and over again? It’s like you’re reliving a painful Groundhog Day with a person you deeply care about. 

Whether it’s criticizing, blaming, or ignoring each other, these patterns can be difficult to break. Couples therapy can help you identify unhealthy communication patterns and develop new strategies to overcome them.

For example, a dual-income couple with three children are stuck in a pattern of disconnection. After work, family dinner, and putting the kids to bed, both parents go into separate rooms and scroll social media before crawling into bed without a word. In couples therapy, they report wanting to divorce since neither partner takes an interest in the other. The problem isn’t each partner’s lack of interest, it’s how both partners cope with their exhaustion. They turn towards their phones rather than each other. 

By mapping out this disconnecting dance, the couple was able to recognize how each of them played a role in the lack of connection. In couples therapy, they learned how to turn towards each other and comfort each other in their exhaustion. While their circumstances didn’t change, the couple was able to find one another again and build more closeness and intimacy. 

Negative pattern. Couples Therapy

3. An Affair: Cyber, Sexual, and/or Emotional was Discovered

Infidelity can be devastating for any relationship, and it’s not uncommon for couples to seek therapy after it has happened. Infidelity is defined as any physical, emotional, or sexual interaction that creates relational distress, and threatens attachment trust and security. [4] Research indicates that lifetime rates average about 20–25% for married men and 13–15% for married women [5], with higher rates among cohabiting and dating relationships. [6]

In the aftermath of betrayal, partners may want to repair the rupture in their bond. Couples therapy can offer a roadmap for healing and rebuilding the relationship. 

Typically, the first step is to create a constructive space to discuss the affair including insight into the choices that led to the betrayal, factors that contributed, and how it impacted the relationship and each partner’s emotional health. It’s common for the hurt partner to experience PTSD symptoms such as hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, etc., as a result of the betrayal. [7] The involved partner may experience feelings of guilt, shame, and regret, while also trying to address the underlying issues that contributed to the infidelity. Often, consequences for future betrayals are put in place to protect the relationship. 

Next, the therapist will support the couple in developing skills to improve communication, rebuilding trust, and strengthening the relationship. This may involve setting clear boundaries, identifying and addressing any underlying issues that may have contributed to turning away from each other and towards someone else, and learning new coping strategies for managing emotions and relational challenges.

Finally, the therapist may help the couple secure their bond so that it is protected from future betrayals and may continue to thrive. Couples therapy can help you work through the betrayal, rebuild trust, and move forward in a healthier way.

Affair: Couples Therapy

4. You’re Experiencing a Major Life Change

Major life changes such as moving, having children, or changing jobs can be stressful and challenging for any relationship.

These transitions and the stress they create can be overwhelming and impact each partner’s ability to regulate their emotions, talk in a constructive way, and work with each other. All therapists know that during stress, we regress in their ability to communicate. For example, research shows that 67% of wives experience a decline in satisfaction after a child is born. [8]

For example, a couple who was planning to move across the United States for work was also coping with the loss of a parent. While both partners in the couple were grieving, the timeline of the move combined with the loss formed a pattern of criticism and emotional shutdown. In couples therapy, both partners expressed their fears and excitement regarding the move, as well as to made space for their grief in a supportive way. 

The couple found new ways to connect and regulate the intense emotions they were experiencing as a result of these major life transitions. They both reported feeling more secure during the last day in couples therapy before they boarded the plane. 

Couples therapy can help you navigate these changes and learn how to support each other through the ups and downs. 

Life changes: Couples Therapy

5. You’re Feeling Disconnected

It’s not uncommon for couples to feel disconnected from each other, especially if they’ve been together for a long time. Maybe you report feeling more like roommates than lovers. 

The reality of relationships is this: If you do nothing to improve your relationship, but do not do anything bad, your relationship will get worse over time.

Often both partners love each other. What got in the way of their love was the struggle with expressing their feelings and needs for connection. Couples therapy can create a supportive environment to be able to express those feelings and needs to help re-ignite the connection.  

Couples therapy can help you rediscover what drew you to each other in the first place, and learn how to reconnect emotionally and physically.

Distance: Couples Therapy

6. You’re Struggling With Sexual Intimacy

Sexual intimacy is an important part of any relationship, but it’s not always easy to talk about. If you’re struggling with sexual intimacy, couples therapy with a sex therapist can help you identify the underlying issues and develop a plan to improve your sexual relationship. 

Common challenges include communication issues, erotic conflicts, differing libidos, and desire discrepancy. By talking about the blocks to sexual connection, partners can begin to team up to create a more passionate and erotic relationship. 

Sexual Intimacy: Couples Therapy

7. You’re Considering Separation or Divorce

If you’re considering separation or divorce, it’s important to try couples therapy before making any final decisions. Couples therapy can help you explore your feelings, identify the root causes of your problems, and determine if there is a path forward for your relationship.

Considering Divorce: Couples Therapy

In conclusion, couples therapy is a valuable tool that can help couples work through their problems and strengthen their relationships. If you’re experiencing any of these signs, it’s time to talk and seek help. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.


[1]  Doherty, W. J., Harris, S. M., Hall, E. L., & Hubbard, A. K. (2021). How long do people wait before seeking couples therapy? A research note. Journal of marital and family therapy, 47(4), 882–890. https://doi.org/10.1111/jmft.12479 

[2]Carrere, S., & Gottman, J. M. (1999). Predicting divorce among newlyweds from the first three minutes of a marital conflict discussion. Family Process, 38(3), 293–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00293.x

[3] Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. Harmony Books.

[4] Blow, A. J., & Hartnett, K. (2005). Infidelity in committed relationships I: A methodological

review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31(2), 183–216. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2005.tb01555.x.

Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (2017). The natural principles of love. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 7–26. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1111/jftr.12182   

Weiser, D. A., Shrout, M. R., Thomas, A. V., Edwards, A. L., & Pickens, J. C. (2022). “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved”: Two decades of infidelity research through an intersectional lens. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 40(3),    856–898. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075221113032 

[5] Blow, A. J., & Hartnett, K. (2005). Infidelity in committed relationships I: A methodological

review. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31(2), 183–216. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-0606.2005.tb01555.x.

[6] Weiser, D. A., Shrout, M. R., Thomas, A. V., Edwards, A. L., & Pickens, J. C. (2022). “I’ve been cheated, been mistreated, when will I be loved”: Two decades of infidelity research through an intersectional lens. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 40(3),     856–898. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075221113032 

[7] Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2012). What makes love last?: How to build trust and avoid betrayal. Simon & Schuster.

[8] Shapiro, A. F., Gottman, J. M., & Carrère, S. (2000). The baby and the marriage: Identifying 

factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction after the first baby arrives. Journal of Family Psychology, 14(1), 59–70. https://doi.org/10.1037 /0893-3200.14.1.59

7 Clear Signs Your Relationship Needs Couples Therapy