You’ve been dating a pretty great person for a few months, but there’s just one problem — when you aren’t snuggling and getting along, you’re pushing each other’s buttons, resulting in some big flare-ups. This person has many wonderful qualities and you can see a future with them, so you don’t want to break up — but the relationship will be untenable in the long term if these conflicts continue. So when is it too early to suggest couples therapy?
“I’m a firm believer that it’s never too early for couples therapy,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of, Date Smart:Transform Your Relationships and Love Fearlessly, tells Lifehacker. “Even couples who are getting along well can benefit from dedicated time with a psychotherapist who can help partners evolve more fully as individuals and as a team. As well, for couples who are beginning to notice issues, it’s important to seek therapy right away. Avoiding problems or pretending they’ll go away is never a wise strategy; problems only ten to fester and worsen over time.”
While you might think going to couples therapy is a sign that you’re not meant to be together, especially if you’ve recently started dating, it can also be an opportunity to improve your relational skills and further cement your bond. Here are other reasons why it’s never too early to start going to couples therapy.
You can learn to create healthy patterns
Couples therapy isn’t just an opportunity to learn more about your partner — it’s also about learning more about yourself, and growing as an individual. The insights you receive from therapy will benefit you whether or not you stay with your current partner.
“Although many people think that it’s a waste of time to go to couples therapy during the dating phase, the therapeutic process can help partners create healthy habits that will last — even if the relationship doesn’t progress,” Manly says. “And if the relationship does move into a long-term commitment, the partners will have created a strong foundation of trust, healthy communication, and intimate connection.”
You will improve your communication skills
If you’re not great at communicating your needs and wants in a calm and respectful way without triggering your partner, you’re not alone, says Hannah Guy, a licensed clinical social worker. “The majority of people don’t enter into a relationship where both parties are great at communicating with one another. Each person comes in with their own experiences and trauma, which impacts the way they engage with the other person.”
For instance, if you have been cheated on in the past, it’s normal for you to be triggered when your new partner doesn’t text back right away. In this case, says Guy, couples therapy could be helpful sooner rather than later as “you build a foundation early on” for improved communication.
You will learn about your shared (and divergent) goals
According to Manly, attending couples therapy during the dating phase can be incredibly helpful in allowing partners to see where they are aligned and where they are not. “For example, if one partner’s top values are work, external success, and money, this may become highly apparent as a major red flag to the partner who values love and connection more than anything,” she says.
Parenthood and other future goals are bound to come up in therapy, which will give you helpful information to help make the best decision for yourself and the relationship.
“Let’s just say you and your partner both want children but in couples therapy, you talk more about how you want to raise your children,” Guy says. “Through this, you might learn that the way you want to raise your children is completely different from your partner’s, which could be a make or break.”
You will confront one another’s weak spots
There are many times, too, says Manly, when partners have issues that they don’t see, or don’t want to see.
“Finances are one of the biggest challenges for couples. Money issues are one of the top three reasons to fight, and this issue often leads to divorce,” she says. “Unfortunately, rather than seeking therapy to create alignment in this area, one or both partners often end up being dishonest in the realm of finances in order to avoid conflict. Avoiding the issue only tends to create unhealthy patterns and resentment in the long term.”
Sex is also another major contributor to angst and conflict in relationships, she says, and rather than ignoring the issue, getting upset, or heading toward infidelity, seeking therapy can help partners uncover the underlying issues. “A skilled couples therapist can help partners find the balance and equity that is key for relationship harmony.”
You will understand each other on a deeper level
If this isn’t your first relationship, chances are you bear some scars from past conflicts and heartbreak. BUt going to couples therapy during the dating stage “can help heal often-unresolved trauma or angst from former relationships,” Manly says. “If lurking issues aren’t resolved, they’ll ultimately haunt the relationship in the long run.”
“You could be dating someone who has [experienced] domestic violence; going to couples therapy early on could help you learn how to support them and how they can better communicate their needs/wants with you,” Guy agrees. “People also seek out couples counseling to improve communication and to work through a problem that they’re having a hard time figuring out.”
If anything, Guy adds, couples therapy is “going to shine a light on everyone’s vulnerabilities. Letting someone see you at your most vulnerable creates a deeper level of connection that can truly benefit your relationship.”