This is a guest blog post on the theme of enhancing relationships, to celebrate the launch of Keely Kolmes’s upcoming monthly Relationship Skills Workshop. The first workshop will meet on Saturday, April 11th. The second one, just for singles, is May 16th. You can sign up here for newsletter updates. Those who receive the newsletter will get bonus videos and tips!
Fading friendship: When to seek relationship counseling or assistance
Couples and partners often wait until communication, emotional connection, and kindness have completely dissolved before finding their way to a therapist. In fact, according to Dr. John Gottman, a pre-eminent marital researcher and psychologist, couples wait — on average — six years before seeking counseling to help resolve their relationship problems. While relationship therapy can still be helpful after years of relationship distress, seeking therapy as early as possible is one of the most proactive and positive decisions one can make to heal their partnership. (As a primary benefit of seeking counseling earlier, you may enjoy a longer-lasting, fulfilling, and more pleasurable partnership; as a secondary benefit, you will be helping your checkbook, as fewer sessions will be needed.)
The intention of this blog post is to provide three concrete recommendations for when your relationship would benefit from seeking assistance before communication, connection, and kindness are jeopardized. While people in relationships seek counseling for several reasons, such as conflict management, sexual distress/incompatibility, or difficulty resolving finances, this article focuses upon when the friendship and companionship aspects of romantic partnership become weakened. These are three common (and unhealthy) occurrences that can develop within relationships and may serve as indicators of when your partnership may benefit from counseling, a wake-up call, or extensive time for reflection and conversation.
1. You listen and respond to your respected co-worker with more attention and appreciation than your partner(s).
Imagine this: your co-worker sends you an email suggesting a brilliant, new sales strategy to be explored at your afternoon meeting; you immediately reply expressing your gratitude and enthusiasm for your co-worker’s recommendation and integrate this new sales strategy into the afternoon meeting. Now consider this: your partner sends you a text about possible weekend plans; after initially becoming annoyed that your partner has interrupted your work day, you neglect to respond to the text as you are busy with meetings throughout the day.
If you begin to notice a repeated pattern where you offer more kindness and responsiveness to your co-worker than to your partner(s), this may be indicative of challenges within your relationship that may benefit from being addressed in relationship counseling. There may be several reasons for failing to respond to the hypothetical text message, including stress at work, frequent or excessive text messages from your partner, forgetfulness, or resentment towards your partner for scheduling your weekend. However, failure to attend to the needs of your partner(s) over a prolonged period of time can lead to emotional distancing, distress, conflict or increased arguments, or looking to others for connection.
2. You find yourself confiding in friends more than with your partner(s).
When you first met your partner(s), you probably spent hours talking about everything – from the embarrassing moments you experienced in high school to the frustrations you have with your boss. Currently, who is the primary person in your life that you turn towards for emotional support, guidance, and nurturing?
If you find that you seek the solace of a friend or a family member more frequently that your romantic partner(s), or if the amount that you used to confide in your partner(s) has been reduced substantially, this may be an indication of turmoil within your relationship; specifically, the decline of your emotional connection and friendship.
While it is wonderful to have friends and family outside of your romantic relationship to provide you with nurturing and support, your relationship may suffer if you no longer experience safety and comfort in sharing vulnerabilities with your partner.
3. You stop noticing the beauty, humor, intelligence, and kindness that initially drew you to your partner(s).
Do you look at your partner and predominantly see flaws? Perhaps you are irritated by how she chews her food, how he fails to take out the trash (despite it overflowing), or how they contribute to conversations with friends. Do you find yourself looking at your friends’ partners and wondering what life would be like if you had a different partner? Have you stopped laughing at the jokes your partner makes, even though they used to make you giggle? This may be a symptom of trouble between you and your partner(s).
Unfortunately, relationships can begin to unravel by having negative patterns of communication become enacted. This can occur due to several reasons, including resentment towards how you have been treated by your partner, psychological difficulties, stress, or simply by failing to attend to your partner’s emotional and sexual needs.
The patterns mentioned above may not indicate imminent doom or destruction of your relationship. However, they may suggest that it is time for you to take action in order to strengthen and re-align the friendship within your romantic partnership(s).
A struggling relationship does not always consist of screaming matches, sleeping in separate beds, or secret extramarital affairs. Often, emotional distancing and feelings of isolation become one of the first symptoms of a struggling relationship. This distancing slowly deteriorates the original friendship that holds a strong relationship together. By acknowledging these signs and symptoms as soon as possible, you have a much better chance at healing the emotional connection with your partner(s), strengthening your foundational friendship, and enhancing your loving partnership.
DR. BETH GADOMSKI is a Bay Area-based psychologist with a private practice located in San Francisco’s Financial District. After several years providing counseling at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, Dr. Gadomski currently provides therapy to individuals, couples, and partners in her downtown office. Her areas of specialty include depression/anxiety, grief/loss, couple/partners’ therapy, identity integration/development, alternative sexualities, and eating disorders. Dr. Gadomski is an Associate of Dr. Keely Kolmes and has a page on this site; you can find out more about Dr. Gadomski through her own website, www.integrativecounseling.com.