The Relationship Red Flags You Should Go To Couples Therapy Over

Navigating a relationship, even in the best of times, can be very challenging. While it may not be for everyone, some relationships may benefit from intervention in the form of couples therapy.

Ramani Durvasula—a clinical psychologist who has appeared with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith on the Red Table Talk show, as well as with Kendall Jenner on Vogue's YouTube channel—told Newsweek: "Trying to fix it on their own may not work. There is a reason [why] therapists exist and things may just worsen if people try to take on big issues on their own," she explained.

A January 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology stated: "Couples therapy is unique in that it requires the therapist to work with and build a therapeutic alliance with both members of the couple together."

Research on couples therapy has shown that therapy outcomes are "increasingly positive" when both members of the couple "perceive the alliance as strong," the study said.

Wife berating grieving husband
Upset wife yells at husband mourning the loss of a loved one. Members of Reddit's r/TrueOffMyChest forum were outraged after one man revealed why he needs to hide feelings of grief from his wife. Liubomyr Vorona/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Signs That a Couple Should Try Therapy

Durvasula said: "Couples therapy is not just for when things are going wrong." Sometimes, there may just be a general need for "a tuneup around communication."

This may also be the case when a major life transition occurs, such as having a new child, moving homes, when one of the partners gets a new job or there is a death or other loss in the family, she said.

A distressed couple may display some of the following symptoms, according to Durvasula:

Below are some signs that a couple should try therapy, Chivonna Childs, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told Newsweek:

  • There is some distance in the relationship - i.e. not feeling as close as you used to be or falling out of love with one another
  • A lack of intimacy or sex
  • One or both partners feels dismissed and feel unheard or unseen in the relationship.
  • One or both partners are struggling with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety etc
  • Any type of abuse (mental, emotional or physical), this can also include substance abuse
  • There are financial stressors in the relationship, such as differences in how money is viewed and spent
  • The division of labor around the home seems unfair
  • Constant arguing over small matters as well as significant ones that remain unresolved
  • Problems of the past are continually brought up by one or both partners
  • There is unforgiveness and resentment or issues with anger
A couple arguing over finances.
A stock image of a woman and man arguing over a finances, with the woman holding a credit card in her hand in front of a laptop computer. Financial stressors can be a sign that a couple needs therapy. iStock/Getty Images Plus

The Benefits and Challenges of Couples Therapy

Durvasula said it can be "very painful" if there has been a betrayal or breach of trust in the relationship.

The therapy sessions may "bring patterns to the forefront that are painful to acknowledge or hear about" and it may potentially result in one or both partners recognizing that the relationship may not work in the long term, and it "becomes a place to end the relationship."

Mental health issues in one or both people in the relationship will also impact the therapy. "If a person in the relationship is narcissistic or has a high conflict personality style, it may simply not work and they may commandeer the therapy as another space of abuse," Durvasula said.

Childs from the Cleveland Clinic said taking on couples therapy "does not mean there won't be problems," but they can be managed better in the future with the right tools. The couple will learn effective coping skills to manage upcoming issues.

Durvasula agreed, stating that couples who stick with therapy can benefit from learning better communication, having a safe space to share difficult feelings or thoughts, and grow as a couple by learning things about your partner that you didn't know.

The therapy session can help you reflect on why you are in a relationship at all, create more clarity on roles within the relationship and teach you how to take care of the relationship, Durvasula said.

Below are some other benefits of trying couples therapy, as outlined by Childs:

  • There is an objective third party without judgment. The therapist is not there to take sides but to assist the couple in building a better relationship
  • It provides a safe space to address issues that are difficult to address on their own
  • There is increased and improved communication, which helps to minimize misunderstanding and allows each partner to feel they are heard
  • It builds a new foundation upon which to strengthen the relationship as a team effort
  • It improves intimacy and closeness with your partner on an emotional and physical level
  • It improves relationships with others, such as co-workers, family, and friends. Good habits have a ripple effect
A couple at a therapy session.
A stock image of a couple seated next to each other at a therapist's office. iStock/Getty Images Plus

What if One Partner Refuses To Do Couples Therapy?

If one partner is refusing to do therapy, "you may be sunk," Durvasula said. "I am not a fan of ultimatums, but it may be how a person gets a partner into therapy." However, you aren't likely to see that much growth "if it feels manipulative," she added.

"If a person truly refuses and can't be convinced, then the other person has to decide whether that is acceptable to them or not and make decisions accordingly," Durvasula said.

Childs said couples therapy becomes "impossible" when one partner does not want to do it. "Try to explain the reason couples therapy is important. If they are still against it, engage in individual therapy to address issues on your own."

She added that getting individual therapy alongside couples therapy can work well too. "I always suggest my couples have individual therapy in tandem with couples therapy so that each has a safe space to discuss how they are feeling.

"There is growth that happens in individual therapy that can positively impact the relationship and encourage the other partner to participate. It can also encourage the other partner to seek individual therapy as well," she said.

Have you noticed any red flags that made you end a relationship? Let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.

A couple holding hands during therapy session.
A stock image of a couple holding hands during a therapy session. iStock/Getty Images Plus