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Why Go to Couples Counseling? - Part 4

 


Why Go to Couples Counseling? - Part 4

While mental health awareness has improved, especially over the last few years through the pandemic.  And some of the sitgma around therapy has decreased.  But so many people still wonder why they should participate in couples counseling.

In my mind, there are several "levels" of couples' counseling.

1)  Dating Relationships

2)  Pre-Marital Counseling

3)  Marriage/Couples Counseling

4)  Stage of Life Couples Counseling

5)  When Things Aren't Working


Today, I'll talk about Stage of Life Couples Counseling.

As I was thinking about this blog post, my first thought was about the transition to Empty Nest.  But the more I thought about it, I realized there are several possible transition points in a marriage or long term relationship.

So, I'll break it down into sub-stages.
 
Casual Dating to Living Together
The first stage is the transition from casual dating to living together.  This stage may happen at different times for different people, but as a relationship gets more serious, it's a natural transition.
This stage is often a little bumpy because each person has spent a few years living on their own, being independent, doing things on their own schedule, and basically not having to really consider anyone else, in their day to day life.  And even while dating, that was a separate compartment of their life that didn't impact their daily functioning at home.

Once a couple make the decision to live together, there's lots to think about, things that neither person probably thought much about before.  You have to think about waking and work schedules, whether one person's a morning person and the other a night owl, levels of cleanliness, and who's responsible for what chores around the house.  Your communication has to change, such as discussing with your partner, if you'd like to have a friend over, or if you'd like to go out with friends or visit family.

This is the point where some decisions and agreements need to be made together, in order to maintain harmony in the relationship.  So, as you begin to make this transition, set aside some time up front, to have some conversations about all the areas that might be impacted by this change, and what the expectations are around them.  Of course, you won't think of everything, but when other issues come up, discuss and plan for them immediately.  The key is to set the stage for the change, up front.

Living Together to Marriage
This transition isn't something that will happen for everyone.  Not all couples choose to formalize their relationship in this manner.  But for those who do, there are a few additional items to consider.  

First, you'll have to discuss the budget of the wedding itself.  This will determine the size, venue, food, etc.  Money is one of the topics that couples fight about the most.  And if often stars with the wedding.  So, I recommend, even before the question is popped, that perhaps the two of you discuss your hopes for your wedding, particulary around cost.  The reason I suggest talking about it before getting engaged, is because once you take that step, it's easy to get clouded by the romance of it all and you can no longer have a rational discussion.

Along those same lines of money, you'll want to have conversations and agreement around how you will manage your money.  Will you have a joint account or separate?  Or both?  How will large financial decisions be made and/or by whom?  If the woman makes more money than the man, there should be some conversation about that, as well.  Some men may feel threatened or emasculated by that, which could cause a wedge in the marriage, unless it is addressed early on.

Next, you'll need to talk about whether or not either of the people in the relationship will be legally changing their last name and any feelings or hestiation aroun that.  Even if both parties decided that one person will be taking the other person's last name, I recommend havin a discussion about it anyway, because it's important to understand each person's underlying feelings, values, and expecations around the name change.
You may also want to talk about logistical things like who's going to be on who's medical insurance, etc.

Marriage to Parenting
Hopefully before you got married, or at least sometime before you have children, you've had some discussion around children.  To start with, it's a good idea to even know if you're both on the same page about having children and why.

If you've both agreed you want to have children, then the next hurdle to discuss is parenting.  It is important to have this conversation before having children, as well, so that there aren't fights around it, once the children are born.  It's important, as children grow up, that they observe their parents as a united team, not two individuals to play against each other.  That only serves to create division within the family.  So, it's important for couples to talk about the parenting practices of their families of origin - what practices they want to continue and what practices they want to avoid.  And then come together to bring those values into aligment with each other.

And, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the strain on a relationship if you learn that you're unable to have children or if a child dies unexpectedly.  This is definitely a time in which a couple could benefit from counseling.  It's these types of tragedies that put relationships to the test.

Parenting to Budding Adulthood
With this, I am speaking of that phase in which teens are gaining more independence, driving, working, and doing more things on their own.  They are transitioning from dependence to independence.  While this is something that most parents look forward to, it is also the beginning of the bittersweet years.

Some of the challenges of this stage is deciding what the appropriate boundaries are, for your children and putting those in place.  You many find that you're constantly second guesing yourself.  And you may find that rules you thought needed to be in place, can be loosened.  But again, it's important for both parents to be on the same page.

Budding Adulthood to Empty Nest
Empty Nest is happening later and later for families these days, but inevitably, your children will leave your home and settle down on their own.

For many people this is an extremely hard period of time, because the last 18+ years have been primarily devoted to the care of your children and often revolved around their activities and sports.  For many families, one parents takes one child to sports practice or a game, and the other parent takes the other child to practice or a game.  Families are often running a million miles and hour and every moment is filled.

When the "children" finally leave home, many parents find that they don't really even recognize or know their spouse anymore, because so much focus has been on the children over the years.  This is especially hard because sometimes, once of the partners doesn't like who they've become or who their spouse has become.

So there's often a crossroad - does the couple work to rebuild the marriage?  Do they put the time and effort back into each other?  OR, do they decide that they no longer fit together, and choose to separate.  And for those that want to work it out, there is frequently a lot to overcome.  It's like getting to know each other all over again.  You'd think this would be simple since you've done it before AND you've lived together the whole time, but each person is a different version of themselves at this point, so it truly is almost like getting to know a new person.

Empty Nest to Elder Caregivers
One of the final stages in a long term or marriage relationship is the transition from rebuilding as a couple, to having to make difficult decisions about your own parents.  They're now aging and made need more time and attention.  

Again, communication is vital throughout this process, as one person may need to start spending more time with their aging parent, so they don't get lonely, or to help them get around.  Some agreements and arrangements about time, money, energy, and division of chores may be necessary.

And then many couples have to face the possibility of having to make a joint decision about having one of their parents move in with them.  This can definitely take a toll on the marriage.  And this is why again communication is important.  Don't wait until a decision is needed quickly, to have some of these conversations.  These are the types of things that need to be dicussed while everyone is calm and level-headed, not under pressure of having to make a decision right away.

There are certainly many other smaller life transitions throughout a relationship, but these are some of the major transition points that couples experience.  These areas can be hard to navigate alone and a couple can greatly benefit from having a third party help mediate or facilitate some of these conversations and to help them talk and work through th various issues that arise.

I specialize in couples counseling and I'm here for you every step of the way.
If any of these transition points describe you and you'd like to schedule a free consultation, just click here.

Next week, I'll discuss When Things Aren't Working.

If you'd like to see previous blog posts on Fair Fighting Rules in Marriage, Couples Communication, Self-Esteem, or Anxiety, please click here.

If you'd like more direct and personal help with improving communication in your relationship, or you're already to the resentment stage, please visit my website and schedule a free 15 minute consultation - www.brittaniedmillslmft.com.

I provide online couples counseling throughout California and Florida.


Website - www.brittaniedmilslmft.com

Email - bdmills@brittaniedmillslmft.com

Phone - (925) 335-6122


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