According to couples researcher and marriage therapist John Gottman, couples usually struggle with an issue for an average of six years before seeking help. Gottman also discovered that how a couple brings up an issue in the first three minutes of a conflict conversation predicts with 90% accuracy— not only how the conversation will end, but predicts the dynamic over the course of the next 6 years.
Six years of fighting and arguing, or if you are conflict averse, avoiding and distancing yourself from your partner, can have a corrosive effect on your relationship. You might not even last 6 years. It’s not hard to see how unresolved tension and conflict can foster feelings of resentment or a sense of hopelessness and despair that leaks into other areas of your marriage.
I see it a lot in my practice. Couples come to me in fumes. They’ve been simmering with the same problems for years and there is no more good will in the bank. I’ve been there myself. Waiting too long to get help.
I also find that some clients have a negative bias towards marriage therapy, even if they’ve gotten over the soft stigma of individual therapy. The association is couples therapy is the last stop before divorce. Or it’s only necessary when there’s been a discovery of an affair or a porn addiction.
For those of us that are avoidant or conflict-averse, we tend tolerate uncomfortable situations until they hit a boiling point, instead of being more proactive about changing a situation. And that’s largely due to a lack of awareness around how our avoidant disposition can cause bigger problems down the pike, even if we think we’re keeping the peace in the moment.
If we get a serious health diagnosis, chances are, we’ll make some radical shifts in lifestyle. Fear after all is the great driver of human behavior. But when it comes to our relationship health, it’s much harder to grasp and quantify— and therefore ultimately treat. However what the research also shows—is that the satisfaction we derive from our closest relationships is not only predictive of greater individual longevity, stronger immunity, and overall wellbeing, but it’s intimately tied to our sense of happiness and integral to the day to day quality of our lives.
There’s tremendous value in seeking out short term, solution focused tools when you hit smaller bumps in the road or when you’re about to move into a big transition: having a baby, have a second baby, changing jobs, moving, remodeling, parenting challenges, low libido, health issues, desire discrepancy, managing the mental load, or navigating money. Couples counseling can be curative and preventative. If we can learn how to reverse the way we are engaging in conflict and take responsibility for our behavioral dynamics, we don’t necessarily have to struggle or suffer for long, protracted periods of time.