5 Reasons to Treat Couples Therapy Like Sunscreen and Go Before There’s a Burn

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People pick up a lot of habits, use a lot of products, and do a ton of activities in the name of prevention and healthy upkeep. Take brushing your teeth, applying sunscreen, and exercising, to name a few. And while couples therapy is a bit stigmatized as a last resort for mending an ailing relationship, experts believe its long overdo for a rebrand as a preventative measure to use before things get messy.

In this vein, clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD and author of Joy from Fear, says seeing a pro while things are great is just as important as going to see a doctor for a regular checkup. “Much like [how] we go to the doctor’s office for a preventative exam or to the mechanic for an oil change to protect the engine, psychotherapy can be used to keep a relationship free of toxic problems,” she says.

“Psychotherapy can go a long way toward preventing problems by creating a safe, reassuring forum for addressing challenging life issues." —clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD

It also allows duos to be proactive about navigating the not-so-romantic parts of being in a relationship, like managing money and healing from childhood traumas. “Psychotherapy can go a long way toward preventing problems by creating a safe, reassuring forum for addressing challenging life issues. I’ve worked with many couples who waited far too long to address their issues; by the time they come to me, a great deal of toxicity is at work," says Dr. Manly. "The couples who come to me preemptively tend to thrive in the most wonderful, loving ways.”

Not convinced? Check out the following expert-sanctioned reasons to seek couples therapy while everything is still totally peachy.

1. Navigate future issues so. much. more. easily.

Things going well for your relationship at any given moment doesn’t ensure nothing will turn sour in the future. That's one reason therapy is great for happy couples: It can ease the escalation of problems down the line. “Psychotherapy can help couples discover and embrace the necessary tools for building and maintaining positive, healthy romantic partnerships,” says Dr. Manly.

2. Get that sexual satisfaction and emotional intimacy

“Sexual satisfaction is of paramount importance in the long-term maintenance of a romantic relationship. Sadly, many people don’t feel comfortable bringing up the topic of sex, especially with their sex partners," says NYC-based relationship therapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD. A therapist can be the neutral and supportive third party you and your partner need in order to put things out in the open.

And as great as a Netflix and chill session might well be, bingeing on the behavior too hard can compromise the quality of emotional intimacy, which is also a critical aspect of a healthy relationship. “As a relationship deepens, it’s particularly important to continue to move into greater intimacy—which involves the safe, respectful sharing of one’s deepest fears, longings, and challenges,” says Dr. Manly. “This often arises with one or both partners expressing sentiments such as these: ‘I feel as if you don’t really care about me or understand me.’ ‘I feel as if our relationship is—or has become—superficial.’ ‘I want to be able to trust you with all of who I am—and to know that you accept and understand me.’”

3. Communicate like nobody's business

Communication is the foundation for any relationship—including a romantic one. And even when things look good from the outside, there may be some underlying issues that need a little maintenance under the hood. “Although a relationship might appear fine and healthy on many levels, couples often have insufficient or unhealthy communication skills that lead to unresolved disagreements, passive-aggressive behaviors, and other forms of toxic behaviors that might not seem to be disruptive,” says Dr. Manly. “A therapist will attend to body language, communication style, and other cues. Thus, even when a couple is having [a] mild disagreement, a trained therapist will be able to detect the communication patterns that are not ideal and offer insights for healthy shifts.”

4. Weather changes like a total pro

Change is an inevitable aspect of life, but when you can anticipate a shift is coming that will augment the dynamic of the relationship or the lives of the people in the relationship, therapy can help couples maintain the upper hand against any stressors headed their way. “By sharing their specific concerns in advance, they can develop contingency plans for how to handle what’s to come,” says Dr. Steinberg.

5. Highlight problematic behaviors—then extinguish them

Many might not even realize that they are bringing toxic behaviors, like deep-seated vices or baggage from prior relationships, to the table. And when you're not aware of a particular action being problematic, it's oh-so easy to regard as normal. “Although partners might not be aware of such issues—and may even think their relationship is ‘perfect’—they often surface during times of stress and challenge,” says Dr. Manly. “Psychotherapy can give attention to these [problems] by focusing on resolving issues that might later affect other [problems], such as parenting, intimacy, etc.”

Need some help finding an inclusive therapist? This guide can help. Plus here's what you can expect from a first session in therapy.

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