Online, Professional Quality Relationship / Health / Spiritual Healing and Transformation
May 23, 2016

When Should Couples Seek Counseling for Conflict

In this article, Dr. Timothy Ryan, Ph.D, reveals The Hidden aspects behind couples conflict and When They Should Seek Therapy.  He also the common questions among couples, “When should we seek therapy?  ”Dr. Timothy Ryan, Ph.D, Answers: Why Don’t Couples Get Help Before It’s Too Late and When Should Couples Seek Therapy?

Even couples that have put in the time and effort to invest in their relationship may find themselves with increasing stress and relationship challenges.. Today more than ever before, couples are struggling to cope with numerous stressors, anxiety, depression creating numerous turmoils compounded by the upheavals in society today.  There is the global threat of terrorism, increasing personal family debts and fears of economic down turns  pushing relationships families to the breaking point.   The increasing uncertainty and compounding stressors  are all happening at once with an all time high today.

Two-thirds of all medical office visits are due to stress related symptoms (American Academy of Family Physicians).  Forty three percent of all  adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. (The Stress Solution: An Action Plan to Manage the Stress in Your Life, Lyle H. Miller, Ph.D. and Alma Dell Smith, Ph.D. ). Fifty-eight percent of Americans believe that one cant have good physical health without good mental health.

Stress affects every aspect of our life including our relationships.

Couples who don’t take care of themselves and their relationship can easily burnout and loose the resilience and resourcefulness to maintain their health and relationship well being.  Couples who get increasing pressures at home or work often find themselves unable to make decisions and to resolve issues facing them.

Relationships seem to be the first line of defense suffering the most, in times of crisis and stress.  Men and women who have secure relationship bonds are much more resilient in coping with stess.  (Sue Johnson “Hold Me Tight).  Economic stress especially takes a hugh toll on couples and in many cases lead to divorce because of increasing overwhelme and worry about paying bills and cut back on taking time to nurture themselves and their relationship.

After initially being deep in love, adoring each other, and easily finding ways to have fun being together, couples who become bogged down in stress with increasing tension can lose perspective on what attracted them to their partner and with increasing resentment blame themselves and their partner for their increasing unhappiness.

Studies show that increased stress and anxiety reduces the ability to cope with even small issues.  Studies also high levels of hostility have been found to predict heart disease more often than high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, or obesity.  (Health Psychology, November (2002).    Couples who don’t know how to deal with stress and /or have poor communication skills also compound their problems adding frustrations with their partners who don’t have the skill to listen or understand and validate their feelings which creates additional problems.  These couples usually  resign themselves to burry their issues  and deny their problems, hoping that time will solve them, which it never does.


No one is at their best under stress.  The first sign of trouble in relationships is Initial quirks may turn into repeated triggers for arguments and nit picking at each other.  Over time, couples become disconnected and more isolated from each other and spend less and less quality time together.  When they do communicate it results in repeated arguments recycling judgements and resentments with more criticisms.  masking  empathy for one another and feeling comforted with their partner almost impossible.  There also may be a cycle of repeated arguments masking child-hood wounds and fears which also compound their ability to be there for each other.

John Gottman in his Couples Research of the Masters and the Disasters found that the average couple took 6 or 7 years to take action after the first sign of trouble.  It’s with It’s common to put off facing things that are painful for us.

We tell ourselves that we will do something about it when the kids get older or when I get out of debt, when I’m stronger or perhaps when the kids are grown etc. Relationships often unconsciously reinforce one another to settle for getting by rather than learning how to take the relationship to the next level.

Often time’s repeated conflict is due to overwhelming stress and the cry of an unconscious wound that the couple do not understand. They know something is wrong but are confused by their repeated arguments projecting blame on their partner rather than facing core issues.

When couples don’t understand or get help with increasing stress and they don’t become aware of their denied and repressed underlying wounds, they tend to project their wounds on their partners.  They  blame the relationship and become increasing hostile and negative toward each other to the point  they condeming all aspects of the relationship and hate themselves for being in the relationship.

There is also the problem of self-fulfilling prophesy and “perception makes projection” in that the partner who we saw as so beautiful in the beginning and we so appreciated tends to fade away and be replaced with enemy images where the partner is seen as a villain.

At this point it is very difficult to receive any kindness from our partner because it goes against our image of them and we would rather be right.

The greatest need for couples to deal with stress is to maintain their secure bond with each other.  Sue Johnson has found that couples who have the skills to maintain a secure bond are able to maintain greater resilience,  trust, and health and wellness.  Without a secure bond, couples become more entangled in  negative reactive behavior patterns  of exploding and shutting down spiraling doward in negativity, resentment creating increasing stress and less resilience.   The couple braces and walls off their emotions to protect themselves from being hurt again.

Partners who maintain negative reactions and judgemental stories about themselves and their partner ie. “I can’t ever please him/her” or “I’m not important,”  “My needs don’t matter and he/she doesn’t care” , will continue to reinforce enemy images, attack thoughts  and shields to protect themselves intensifying the spiral downward into numerous dysfunctional reactive behaviors which only dead lock them into despair. These “pain bodies” become energized into self-fulling prophesies further dooming the relationship.

Sue Johnson, Ph.D. and The Gottman, Institute. concludes after twenty years of research that couples who engage in Condemnation, Criticism, Stone Walling and Contempt are much more likely to divorce and experience an increase in health problems.

Rather than authentically connecting and sharing feelings and needs, couples usually resort to suicidal default reactions including: Criticism, Contempt, Verbal Blame, Blame and well as Stone Walling/shut down, Avoiding distancing, Stonewalling which  further doom the relationship.

If the couples fall into an unconscious reactive pattern, they become more and more disconnected, distressed and continue the downward spiral.

Recognizing the dysfunctional dance and taking responsibility for our part is the first step into healing and building trust in the relationship.  Naming our feelings (hurt, angry, lonely scared etc.) and  connecting them to needs (to be safe, to trust, to be secure and loved) is the second step to healing projections and setting a course back to intimacy (into me see) and establishing a secure bond.  Once trust is developed the couple can safely look at each of their  own wounds from the past and open a door more to intimacy which results in seeing their partner more accurately (not as a Saint or Villain but someone doing the best they can).


Even when the most obvious answer to their problems is therapy, partners wait too long and resign themselves to a stuck passionless and empty relationship patterns.

In fact, only a fraction of couples in trouble ever speak with a therapist. An estimated one-quarter of divorcing couples report actively seeking professional help to improve their relationship (Albrecht, Bahr, & Goodman, 1983; C. A. Johnson et al., 2001),  —and those who do seek help typically wait about six years after problems develop before they look for marital assistance.(Notarius & Buongiorno, 1992, as cited in Gottman & Gottman, 1999)” (Doss, Simpson, & Christensen, 2004, p. 608).

During these challenging times, couples also seem to isolate instead of getting support from a skilled counselor who can help them navigate trough their conflict and help them gain skills to manage their stress from participating in couples therapy.

Another problem says Dr. Ryan, Ph.D, is that one or both partners are afraid they will be blamed for the problems in their relationship. Partners may worry that their significant other and their therapist will “gang up” on them.

Dr. Ryan goes on to state that if clients get help working with a trusted professional they can learn successful way to recover and maintain a secure bond and learn how to work together to prevent stress over load.  In Couples Therapy, the therapist teaches concrete skills the couple can use right away to learn how to create a safe sanctuary to resolve their issues.  Building a safe zone where everyone is equal and everyone’s needs matter helps the couple deal with their problems in a broader context creates a space to become vulnerable and achieve greater intimacy.

With the advent of the internet  some couples have found that  resources are available and just acknowledging they have a problem and doing research can be helpful.

The Internet and self-help books are able to give partners a lot of helpful information. But when taking in so much information at once, a person may feel overwhelmed. Furthermore, this information is highly generalized and is oftentimes not specific enough to truly help their situation. It is frequently difficult to identify the exact problem in a relationship, which makes identifying the most helpful resource even more challenging.

There is often an unrealistic depiction of how “good” relationships look on TV or in movies, which makes them difficult to learn from. Plus, television relationships typically set the standard to an unreachably high bar, making people in good relationships feel inadequate. Additionally, relationship experts on television often speak in generalized terms, making it difficult to get the specific information needed to improve the relationship.

When self-help books, the Internet, and television are not helping, couples may turn to family and friends. These people could be very helpful for partners, because family and friends know each person very well. But unfortunately, they may not want to get involved. If they do, they may take sides, which can often magnify conflicts within the relationship.


Today more thats ever before, we have powerful state of the Art Couples Therapies and skill training techniques available to help couples break out of dysfunctional behavior patterns and learn way to increased intimacy and success in their relationship.   These therapies include: Non-violent Communication, teaching couples how you identify feelings and needs Imago Relationship Therapy teaching couples to understand and heal childhood wounds and shadow parts. And Emotionally Focused Therapy teaching couples to become authentic and repair attachment issues.

There is even research by John Gray to help couples better understand and deal with their differences due to the differences in brain structure and gender identity.  There is really no excuse for couples not to seek out and gain help with their relationship issues says Dr. Ryan. Dr. Ryan states that research is conclusive that couples who are able to provide nurturing, safe venerable connections and meet each others basic needs are often the ones who have the greatest health, wealth and relationships satisfaction and those who don’t have the greatest tensions leading to mental, emotional and physical break down.

Getting support from a professional counselor can often turn the relationship around and help couples go from disasters to masters. Getting the help of an objective professional is the best way to insure that poor skills are corrected and gain a better understanding of what’s really going on. When couples rely on their friends for get help, they may get agreement but not much help.  There is also the problem of turning your friends against your partner or you after a time because they become tired of hearing complaints.  Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Getting professional support helps couples create a safe place or neutral zone to identify ways for couples to work through their troubles. Additionally, couples who seek help, when first indicators of problems appear are more open and learn how to quickly resolve issues early.  They also gain skills to deal with the bigger life adjustments later in life.

Getting help sooner also helps couples build on what’s working before they get entrench in bad habits and create increasing stress and trauma to their relationship.

A reputable and highly skilled therapist can help couples learn how to be present for each other and gain a neutral perspective.


John Gottman, Ph.D. in his twenty years of research concluded that only couples who could access safe havens could interrupt their reactive behavior patterns and begin the process of building intimacy in their relationship.   Once a couple learns the art of creating a safe place to be accepted, they can explain the common misperceptions and dynamics within relationships. Learning each others Love language and building on new ways to show love can often make the difference between burning out or building up your relationship.

Discovering the differences in brain structure between genders can also be a catalyst for change. Simple things like knowing most men are task oriented and need appreciation for success and woman are relation oriented and need validation for their feelings can make a huge difference in tolerance and acceptance in the relationship.  Committing to regular therapy can also help couples spot harmful patterns, enhance their communication, and improve their understanding of each other.

Dr. Ryan says that problems are never what couples assume they are.  He notes couples are often surprised to discover that they are never upset for the reason they think.  In many cases, these indicators are incredibly subjective based on assumptions and conclusions based on faulty interpretations in childhood.  One person’s unmet need from childhood may be another’s wound; it seems opposites attract on all levels. One needs space one needs closeness.  One is intellectual one is emotional.  One constricts and shuts down when stressed. Another blows up and over exaggerates.  Couples need to understand their triggers and unmet needs so they stop their reactive cycles.

Couples also have trouble understanding the deeper meaning of problems because they have never learned to be truly empathic.  Leaving a toilet seat up might cause inner turmoil for one person, and the other simply views it as nothing of consequence.  However on a deeper level the need to have ease and acceptance and/or freedom of choice or the need be important or and understood and have their needs matter, may be underlying the surface arguments and the real issue that never gets address.

Turning the television on right after getting home from work could be a stress reliever for one partner, while the other feels jilted and ignored.  Few couples are able to look beneath their frustrations to identify the underlying needs.   Couples who have the same repeated argument talking about the surface issues can remain confused and unhappy unless they can communicate on a deeper underlying need basis.  These small acts initially seemingly harmless yet irritating build up and eventually overshadow the entire relationship and if not resolved cause great difficulty and unhappiness within a relationship.  Couples can spend long hours fighting to be understood without ever understanding the deeper needs and gain compassion for each other.

In time, these small indicators could grow into bigger problems. If couples are continually arguing over the same thing, if they cannot talk to each other about things that are important to them, if one person feels uncomfortable when their partner is near, or when they are simply not as happy as they think they should be, couples may benefit greatly from counseling. By not taking positive action, we are then reinforcing the very habits that keep us from having any chance of gaining the relationship we want.

Now is the time to learn how to give and receive the love you want.  As we get older we get more entrenched in our ways and habits.  When we avoid issues and choose not to take action, we are in reality choosing to delay our dreams – maybe for a few years or maybe forever and we are reinforcing the habits that keep us stuck in the first place. Don’t let another day go by reinforcing helplessness and negative habits.  The time to be free is now, before it’s too late.


If you experience continuing loneliness, unresolved frustration despair the , the time to take action is now before you become any more disconnected from your partner.  If you and your partner are not talking and supporting each other because of past upsets you need to get objective support now.  The problems you are not dealing with wont go away since there are underlying wounds affecting your relationship, the time to take action is now.  If you value your relaitonship and your health, the time to take action is now.

During more than 30 years of experience, Dr. Ryan reports that he has seen couples justify all kinds of things to keep the relationship together and maintain their relationship status quo including acting out in affairs.  All of these tragic ways of coping only add to the problems and make it harder to pull out of the relationship dysfunction.

Dr. Timothy Ryan, Ph.D, warns that the longer couples wait to face their problems in an effective way, the more difficult it is to alter behavior, forgive mistakes, and let go of grudges. Ultimately, once a couple identifies and takes rigid position with habitual blaming stances the relationship is doomed to a downward spiral unless there is intervention.   Waiting and reinforcing negative thought and habit patterns also makes it incredibly challenging for partners to rediscover their affection and love for one another.

The other part of delaying is that when we continually procrastinate, we become more and more helpless, we get resigned to our fate maybe forever and we are reinforcing the very habits that keep us from having any chance of gaining the relationship of our dreams

By the time couples seek help, it is common for both partners to be desperate with little energy and resources to deal with the chronic relationship problems.  However even couples who are at the end of their relationship who have given up on a solution have been helped to have a new beginning with couples therapy.

The Gotman research foundation, after twenty years of research, has identified the qualities that make a difference in being masters or disasters in relationships.  The Disasters has the poorest habits of communication blaming, defensiveness, critical, condescending and inability to connect with nurturing or vulnerability in sharing., This finding suggest that couples who wait risk establishing chronically negative thought and behavior patterns which increase health risks and keep the relationship from growing and resolving issues.” This kind of dissatisfaction can accumulate to a point where relationships become Impossible to fix sometimes even with professional help.

By taking action you begin to break out of your conditional ways of stagnation and trading dreams for nightmares. There is also an old Chinese proverb that says: “If I don’t change the direction I am headed, I will end up where I’m going…” When we delay taking positive action, we only dig ourselves deeper in our routs and build increasing resistance to the best self, best relationship and best life we can have.

The other part of delaying taking action through procrastination is that we become more and more resigned to our fate first for a year, or two and then several years and then for forever.

Couples that don’t get counseling who have endured many years of arguments and unhappiness do need more time to undo the damage caused by destructive habits and poor communication skills.

However, Dr. Ryan points out if couples are willing to face their issues and be open to learning new skills that they can not only repair their relationships but also use their conflicts for more meaningful enriched relationships.  He states that conflict can actually bring couples closer together if they understand the meaning behind their conflicts and learn the lesions so they don’t keep repeating them.

Counseling is also beneficial for more than just those who have been together for many years. Teenage couples to newlyweds can all enhance their relationships and even prevent the occurrence of problems that are incredibly difficult to overcome by gaining insight and learning skills for better relationship coping.

By seeking professional help, no matter their age or the length of a relationship, Dr. Timothy Ryan, Ph.D, asserts that couples can discover new ways to not only cope with their partner, but reduce and also enhance personal / relational well-being, health and life itself.

Decide today to get support and do something positive to change your life by getting into couples therapy to begin changing your unhealthy relationship patterns.

In six to twelve sessions you can see your relationship from a whole new context and begin making progress to have the love you want and deserve  and you will discover that Conflict Can Open The Doors To Greater Intimacy.

Call today to Find Perfect Peace and Security by Integrating Your Mind, Body and Spirit and learn skills you can use right away to enhance your personal and relational well-being. 


ABOUT Dr Timothy J Ryan, Ph.D. D.Div.

Dr. Ryan has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Divinity.  He is an intuitive Mind, Body, Spirit Healer and Holistic Marriage Counselor who Holds Fellow Status at the American Psychotherapy Association and Diplomate Status at The American Association for Integrative Medicine and The Pastoral Medical Association as well as others.  He is also Board Certified in META Health and META Healing and practices as an N.L.P. Trainer.  He is a Certified Health and Wellness Counselor offering Matrix Reimprinting  and EFT for stress reduction


Dr. Timothy Ryan WEB SITE





Dr. Timothy Ryan  Marriage Friendly Therapists

Tags: Marriage Counseling, Relationship Healing, Couples Psychotherapy Conflict Resolution