I sure like the New York Times. It teaches me stuff, every day, especially when the reporters are exploring my favorite topic: Happy couples, of course!
What did I learn by reading the March 2, 2012 article by Elizabeth Weil "Does Couples Therapy Work?" Well, first was less learning than it was affirming; I was absolutely right when I decided 20+ years ago to take a Ph.D. track in graduate school (becoming a researcher/professor) instead of the clinical track (becoming a therapist). I've always said and forever believe: "No way I'm skilled, smart nor brilliant enough to do therapy! Not even close!" Yes, that deserved two exclamation points. And I continue to say and believe with great exclamation: AMEN for those who can and do! I admire and shout you out every day. Read the entire Weil article (link here) and you'll know what I mean about their talents and necessary skill set (ninja like, indeed).
But the ah-ha moment in the article was a simple statistic. While I had heard it before, it continues to widens my eyes each time I see it again, captured in the following excerpt from Weil's article (p. 2 of 3 in the online version):
Still, the entire field of couples therapy suffers from a systemic problem. Couples often resist seeking help until they have been distressed for a long time. Brian D. Doss, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami, says the average couple is unhappy for six years before seeking couples counseling — at which point relationship problems are very difficult to fix. Thomas Bradbury, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, compares a troubled couple to a man with a broken leg. Seek help straight away and you’ll heal up just fine. Hobble around injured for months or years, and a full recovery becomes nearly impossible, as by that time, Professor Bradbury says, the therapist has to attend not only to the psychological equivalent of the broken bone “but also to the swelling and bruising, the sore hip and foot, and the infection that ensued.”
SIX YEARS. Does that shock anyone else?
So, my not-so-surprising and not-always-simple (I know, right?) advice for being a happy couple if you're not feeling like one often lately: Get help! Now. And keep looking if you don't find a therapist or counselor you like in your first hunt. Just like apples, there are a whole lot of varieties out there. Seeking third-party support is a sign of your incredible strength, not weakness. You'd get a cast, splint, x-ray ... CT scan, antibiotic, surgery ... suture, Rx, remedy ... for whatever pains you daily, right? Take care of your relationship with the same diligence and you'll feel great, or at least significantly better.
True story: I recently said to my happy husband: "Let's go see a marriage therapist so we can be an even happier couple!"
He looked at me like I had just just suggested cutting off the dog's leg. "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING WOMAN? We are as happy as it gets, mama bear!" (my nickname lately. I know - ewww). I reminded him about the apple a day. You know ... prevention .. proactive ... choices ... and then even cited some research.