Relation Wellness in the Age of Mental Health Awareness
Scrolling social media these days it is refreshing to see more awareness being drawn to mental health and reduction of stigma.
The introduction of teletherapy during the pandemic has allowed some who may have been hesitant to engage in treatment to seek help for the very first time. More and more people are talking about the benefits of seeking mental health treatment for overall wellness, but more work must be done!
One main area of importance is education on the benefits of relational counseling as a part of mental health care.
Working on the development of sustainable, secure, safe, and loving partnerships are an important aspect of one’s wellbeing as it is a primary need much like food, water, clothing, and shelter.
As a clinician who specializes in working with couples and relational systems, I believe that many people don’t fully understand the impact that relational strains have on one’s individual well being.
Oftentimes when I receive a referral for couples counseling many will tell me that this is their “last ditch effort” to see if the relationship is salvageable. What an uphill battle to climb! I’d like to offer some perspective about when to seek guidance from a relationship therapist, not just as a last resort!
Just as individuals change and grow and may need some professional guidance at sticking points in their lives, couples need this support, too!
Here are just a few examples of times when couples counseling may be beneficial:
1. Major Life Transitions
Examples of major life changes that impact a couples dynamics may include: getting married, moving in together, new jobs, moving to a new state or city, having children, children moving out of the home, starting a new education journey towards a career, or retirement to name a few.
Anytime daily routines, schedules, and expectations of the day to day business of the relationship is sure to change it may be a good time to consult with a couples counselor to talk over these changes. These consults could happen prior to the transition on in the midst of it.
This past year has been a major time of transition for many couples that suddenly find themselves home very frequently with many even working from home. This sudden change has impacted so many relational dynamics! It is so important for couples to check in with one another not only to talk about the nitty gritty of how things will work but also to touch base with one another about how each person is feeling about the changes as well.
2. Traumatic Events
Couples who have a long-term commitment are likely to have their relationship impacted by loss or trauma over the course of their relationship in some capacity. Losses or traumas could include miscarriage, unexpected serious illness, infertility, loss of loved ones, unexpected loss of a job or individual traumas either currently or from the past that resurface and impact the current relational functioning.
When one or both partners experience trauma, their ability to connect and relate to one another is often impaired. Our fight or flight responses that result from traumatic experiences look like increased tension, arguments, and resentment in relationships or the opposite such as complete withdraw and disconnection. Careful navigation with a couples counselor will allow couples to provide solace and support to one another by exploring the impact the trauma has had on the relationship and how to move forward, together.
3. Life Changing Treatment
As stated above, we are in a time where seeking help for ones mental health has started to become more common. This is a wonderful thing! Here’s the caveat: when one person “changes” in a relationship, even for a healthy reason, the dynamics often become strained or stretched.
You would think that when one person has struggled with an addiction or mental health difficulty in a relationship that positive change and healing would only benefit a relationship, right? This is not always the case!
Every relationship has a sort of “contract” that are the unspoken things about what makes a couple stay together. These unspoken “contracts” could include life goals, roles that each person serves, or how a couple chooses to spend their recreational time. When one or both partners engage in any sort of treatment that requires behavioral, lifestyle, and emotional changes, the terms of this “contract” will change.
This is an extremely important time to work with a couples counselor and most will be very open to consulting with individual therapists to determine how they can support one or both partners in their journey to wellness and process the impact on the couples relationship.
4. Infractions of Trust or Commitment
It is more common for couples to seek the assistance of a couples counselor when a recent affair has been disclosed and emotions are running high. Oftentimes the initial disclosure of infidelity in a relationship is traumatic for one or both partners and guidance is extremely beneficial.
There are other infractions of trust, however, they also occur in relationships that may not seem as impactful but are just as important to navigate with some help. Examples may include: withholding financial information, gambling losses, discovery of emotional affairs/infidelity, relapse of drug and alcohol use, or ongoing lack of follow through with promises for things like date nights, time spent together, etc.
Relational stability is built upon trust and commitment and any time these begin to feel rocky it is time to work with a professional to explore if they can be restored.
5. Uncertainty about the Relationship
If one or both partners have questioned if their relationship was sustainable either outwardly to one another or individually it is a conversation that is worth having.
Sometimes couples will threaten to end a relationship when tensions are high or in the middle of an argument, and this should not be ignored or pushed under the rug. The likelihood of it coming up again is high and should be addressed.
One individual in the relationship may also feel that their relationship is no longer safe for them, or they may have had loved ones express concern about their relationship dynamics. In these instances, there is a specialized type of couples counseling called Discernment Counseling. This will allow couples to explore their relational dynamics and if they should pursue separation or divorce or move forward with committing to working on the relationship in couples counseling.
A relationship is a living and breathing organism just like a human being.
It requires maintenance, care, and attention as it grows over the years.
Just as individuals require regular physical and mental health check ups with their physician or therapist to ensure that they are in optimal health, our relationships deserve the same level of care.
If you find that your relationship all of the sudden experiences a drop in closeness, connection, desire, or an increase in conflict it could be time to talk it through with a licensed therapist who has a specialization in working with couples.
Let’s work on breaking that six year statistic and build a society of ethical and sustainable partnerships, one relationship at a time!
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Amber works in Central PA providing hope and healing to her clients, and selflessly volunteers her skills and experience to the Hope Noted team. As a reoccurring author of our “Expert Advice” section of the Community Journal, we are grateful for the opportunity to learn from her!