Don’t wait before it’s too late. Early intervention saves relationships.
For years I have had the fantasy of creating a city-wide billboard campaign that reads, “Don’t wait before it’s too late. Early intervention saves relationships.” As a couples therapist, I regularly hear stories from distressed couples who say they have been unhappy for years. In fact, research has shown that couples often endure 7-8 years of unhappiness before they call a therapist for help. Naturally, over those years each partner creates emotional protections to defend themselves from the pain, anger, loneliness and unhappiness they are experiencing. The more entrenched these defenses are the more difficult it is to recover from them. As with any health issue, early diagnosis and treatment can forestall deeper more systemic problems.
When I ask clients what kept them from coming in sooner a common response is, “We were busy with little children and didn’t have the time or money or energy for us.” Some couples don’t come in until one threatens to leave, or there is an affair, or after years of trying to figure it out themselves they admit they need help. It is not uncommon to resist couples therapy because one may have an underlying fear that it will mean it’s the end of the relationship rather than see it as a process to find a pathway back to each other. Others may see seeking help as a failure and they’d just rather avoid the whole issue. Some couples who are on the brink of divorce make an appointment as a “Hail Mary” attempt to reconcile.
The simply amazing thing about couples therapy is that it is extremely successful. Research by Sue Johnson, Ph.D., founder of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples reports that, “70 – 75% of couples move from distress to recovery while 90% show significant improvement.” EFT research has been ongoing for 35 years by Johnson and her academic researchers at the University of Ottawa and the results are stable and have been repeatedly validated across a variety of populations and settings.
Couples who wait until it’s too late have a lower success rate because one or both may have given up all hope that anything will ever change, or because trust may be irrevocably broken, or because the amount of work to heal the wounds and injuries seem too daunting, too overwhelming to face. There are other issues that interfere with successful therapy outcomes. If there is a lack of emotional or physical safety in the relationship due to addiction, violence, abuse or personality disorders, couples therapy will not be successful. In fact, if any of these issues are present, couples therapy should be delayed until these problems are addressed and safety is reestablished. Additionally, if there is no motivation for growth and change, therapy will not be successful.
Of course, finding the right therapist is the key to success. It is essential to find a therapist who is trained in a science-based model specific to couples. The key to the success of Emotionally Focused Therapy is that it is an experiential process that explores both the subjective realm of feelings, thoughts, behaviors, attachment needs and fears while simultaneously exploring systemic, habitual patterns and relational dances couples create to manage these emotional experiences. The model offers couples a roadmap, a structure to effect deep change that promotes safety, security and healing of the relational bond.
Have you ever wondered if couples therapy would help you and your partner feel more connected and responsive to one another? Would you like to feel more engaged? Would you like to argue less and enjoy your relationship more? If any of these are true, please remember my billboard campaign:
Don’t wait before it’s too late.
Early intervention saves relationships.