Couple Dating

When is it a good time to seek counseling?

Noemi J. Mullins

Prospective clients and their friends and families often ask me whether a little trouble in their relationship needs professional help. Or if they are able to and should solve their problems themselves.

I often ask them the following question: Do you ignore small fires in a home and only call 911 when it is burning to the ground?

We should be quick to call the fire department.

We must also go one step further. We must also learn crucial relationship skills and improve our emotional intelligence to protect our relationships, just like we do for our family’s fire safety.

Although my answer may seem selfish, I am a couple counselor and I can assure you that it is not.


These are red flags that your union is headed into trouble.

  1. Constant Criticism. One of you or both of your partners are constantly critiquing the other. Criticism is not just a complaint. It’s personal and it is disrespectful.
  2. Inconsiderate is the Norm. When you interact with one another, eye-rolls and sarcasm are common. Your partner is your enemy or your friend.
  3. You are on the Defensive. Neither of you is likely to accept your partner’s point of view or offer an apology.
  4. Your partner is emotionally or physically distant. To avoid conflict or deep conversations, you have withdrawn. The argument stops. Your relationship is now sexless and you don’t get to spend as much time together. You are losing touch with each other and feeling lonely is slowly creeping in. This is known as “drift” and is a common precursor for divorce.
  5. Imagine Escape. Your partner or you may start to wonder “What if?” about better pastures. What if we lived apart. What if I could live with so-and-so instead? What if I didn’t marry him or her?
  6. Negative Thoughts override the Positive. A relationship experiences “overriding negativity,” which means that one or both of them see the negative side to problems or each other. Do you give more weight to the negatives than the positives in your relationship? If so, your negativity bias may have become confirmation bias. Your partner’s negative thoughts and exchanges “prove” your negative beliefs.
  7. The 3 A’s. There is adultery, addiction, and abuse in the relationship. These are the couples that need the most help. These couples are facing serious issues that could cause harm to their partners and families. A skilled couple therapist is needed to help you heal and recover from your traumas.

You are not the only one in an abusive relationship. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233, or TTY 1-800-787-3224. The website is also available.


Do couples need counseling if they have to deal with the above issues? Yes.

Couples should seek counseling before these problems arise. Research shows that couples who seek counseling early in life have the best chance to survive and thrive during difficult times.

We go through an in-depth intake process when I meet with a couple. We review the history of both the couple and the individual partners. Most often, we can pinpoint the time when problems began. These issues often occur during a transition or change in someone’s life.

These are the transitions:

  • Getting engaged
  • Re-marrying and blending families
  • Being a parent
  • Raising teenagers
  • Caring for eldering parents
  • Moving
  • Changes in jobs or financial circumstances
  • Coping with Death
  • How to deal with a health issue
  • Becoming empty-nesters

When they experience any of these life-altering events, I recommend that friends and family seek out private counseling or attend a reputable couple workshop. It is their benefit.

It is important to seek help as soon as possible, even if the relationship is happy and fulfilling.

Even the most strong marriages can be overwhelmed by life’s transitions. Our minds are preoccupied by stress. Stress can disrupt the rituals of our connection, like bedtime or date nights. We become more angry and are often emotionally overwhelmed.


The Gottman Institute’s science-based couples therapy approach is trusted by thousands of couples therapists around the world. These studies reveal the “masters and the “disasters of relationships.

Data were derived from more than 3500 couples, and span 45+ years. Relationship experts were able for the first time to scientifically quantify what couples do to create stable happy marriages, and what behavior will result in divorce.

Masters & Disasters

The “masters” of relationships didn’t always do it all. They were able to fix problems, build intimacy, and create meaning throughout their lives, even in the toughest times.

Partners who didn’t learn to communicate or manage conflict effectively were called “disasters”. Researchers discovered that they neglected to nurture their friendship, which is essential for trust, cooperation, gratitude, problem-solving and intimacy.

The main difference was that masters had to learn a variety of skills and behaviors in order to maintain their relationships.

They were unaware of fire hazards, which led to uncontrollable, fiery blazes.

This is why I tell you to “Learn and Master Relationship Skills” even if the relationship is happy and healthy.

Be aware of the warning signs to help you and your family stay safe. Avoid irreversible damage. Couples shouldn’t wait until they are in desperate situations before seeking professional help.

What happens when issues are prolonged?

According to Dr. John Gottman (founder of The Gottman Institute), unhappy couples typically wait six years before seeking counseling. Six years of constant conflict, resentment and criticism, contempt, contempt, defensiveness or drift, as well as negative bias, is considered six years. It could even be six years of the three A’s.

It is regrettable, as timing is everything.

Motivation is a key factor in the effectiveness of marriage counseling and couples. If past hurts and problems have been lingering for too long, motivation can be low. The quality of their interactions is gone. Rebuilding the house will require time, effort, and a lot of motivation.


Marriage is still a dangerous business. World Population Review statistics show that 50% of marriages end in divorce. There is a 60% chance that your marriage will end in divorce if you are between 20- 25 years of age. A second marriage has a 60% chance of divorcing, while a third marriage has a 73% chance.

These statistics prove that it is a great time to seek professional guidance in order to learn and re-learn the skills and behaviors necessary for happiness in a relationship.

Where to Get Help

Many resources are available to help you in your relationship. Any of the following options may be a good choice depending on your situation and stage in your relationship:

  1. Find a qualified therapist who is trained in couples therapy. Couples therapists have the experience and education to diagnose and treat couples. If you need medical attention for your knee joints, an orthopedic knee specialist would be the best choice. This is also true for couples counseling. Gottman Method-certified therapists have been trained in The Gottman Method. Gottman counselors can combine other approaches to create the best treatment plan.
  2. Couples Retreat or Workshop. Take part in a couple workshop, especially The Art and Science of Love. This workshop reveals four decades worth of Gottman research about relationships. There is no other couples retreat or workshop that draws on this amount of data like The Art and Science of Love. This workshop is open to couples from all walks of life, including those who are newlyweds and retirees. It also caters to people dealing with trauma, as well as those looking for a romantic getaway. For couples looking to improve their relationships with each other, the Gottman couples workshop is the place to go.
  3. DIY. Get information from top couples researchers for a do it yourself approach. For those looking to improve their marriages, the Gottman Institute offers a wealth of resources. The Marriage Minute and the Gottman Relations Blog are just a few of the online resources. Gottman Connect is another. I recommend Dr. Gottman’s books, including ” The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work”.
  4. Encourage happy couples. Get support from stable marriages. Couples who are feeling stressed or get into a negative feedback loop often isolate themselves. Friends and family can be trusted to provide guidance on how to communicate, handle conflict, and court. You can emulate the best qualities in their relationships. Do not discuss personal matters with family members or friends. Also, don’t ask for advice. People who don’t have the expertise in counseling and relationships can give you advice that is more harmful than beneficial. They may be biased and may not understand the complexities of your relationship.


Never wait. It is not the solution to wait and hope for better.

Do not ignore warning signs. Do not allow hotpots grow, or they will destroy your love. Learn and master foundational skills to protect and strengthen your home.

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