The Short Version: Couples therapy can feel intimidating, but it’s proof that you and your partner are committed to the relationship. Counselor William Schroeder talked to us about how couples therapy can help couples reconnect, listen more closely, and forge a more intimate relationship. 

Life is full of distractions. Work stressors, home duties, financial surprises, and chaotic schedules are just some of the things that spouses and long-term partners juggle. Add children and family to the mix, and not a lot of time is left for much else.

Staying present in a busy life is difficult. Giving important relationships the time and attention they deserve is difficult, too. If we want life-giving, supportive relationships, we have to make the time for them.

Relationship maintenance is important for long-term couples who want to stay connected. Unfortunately, we aren’t always taught the tools and habits we need to properly maintain healthy, supportive, and authentic connections.

Couples counseling is a powerful tool for couples to do maintenance, attend to conflicts, and explore new ways to deepen their intimacy. 

Professional counselor William Schroeder talked to us about why couples go to therapy, different kinds of therapeutic approaches, and how counseling can be a transformative tool for couples, whether they’ve been together for three years or three decades.

William practices at Just Mind Counseling in Austin, Texas. He has more than 20 years of experience and is trained in Gottman, Interpersonal Neurobiology, and EMDR.

“Life can get busy,” William said. “Couples come in a present in a wide spectrum of ways. Part of the magic of meeting with a great couples therapist is they will know the right questions to ask, and really understand the answers.”

How Long-Term Couples Can Keep the Spark Alive

Common struggles for long-term couples include communication issues, managing routines, and balancing time together. Big life changes such as starting a family, switching careers, or relocating adds stress to a relationship.

Stress makes it difficult to communicate effectively, or sometimes at all. Couples often have little time to attend to their relationship in the same way they did before kids, busy jobs, and packed schedules.

Communication is crucial for couples who want to face and tackle challenges together. It can be a tricky cycle when the challenges make it difficult to communicate.

William said finding time for connection and communication is essential. “The reality is hard,”  he said. “My advice would be to not stop dating each other. Life can get busy. For example, let’s say we have a couple who runs a business together.”

finding time for connection
Between kids, work, and community, finding time for connection can be a challenge for busy couples.

William said this couple’s lives are work: “They’re married, but they’re always talking about the business, about work, and their relationship suffers. Because they’re never connecting with each other.”

The same thing happens to couples with children. The way you communicate with your spouse is important. So is what you communicate about. If nearly every conversation you have with your partner revolves around children, work, or money, the other aspects of your relationship can suffer.

“Other times, we’ll see parents whose children have moved out, and then they realize they don’t know the person in the room with them, the person they raised children with,” William said. “They dated, they had children, and for 18 years weren’t focusing on each other.”

Dating throughout a long-term partnership gives couples a reason to enjoy a nice dinner or sneak away to a movie. More importantly, it gives them dedicated time to spend with each other and talk about each other—similar to how a date looked at the start of their relationship.

Revisiting boundaries regularly is a healthy step for couples looking to stay connected. Problems can arise when couples assume what the other person may need or want, and boundaries can become misconstrued.

“It’s a process for couples to look at the boundaries in place, both for the relationship, but also for work and other life factors,” William said. “It’s up to couples to really look at the bad habits they might be fostering, accidentally or not.”

Addressing Avoidant Attachment & Conflict Resolution

When needs aren’t being met, couples can easily become frustrated with each other. “One of the most important parts of healing a disconnect is identifying the behaviors we do when we feel distant from our partner,” William said.

Addressing feelings of distance in a timely and appropriate manner helps prevent the disconnect from deepening. William said couples should reflect on what they do and how they think when they feel distant from each other.

“All of us have these different things that we do when we feel distant, and we do it for a reason,” William said. “Maybe it’s just zone out on the phone or read a book. Part of it is looking at what we’re doing and seeing if it’s serving the goal of addressing that distance or frustration.”

Couples handle stressors such as feelings of distance and frustration differently. William said some couples struggle because they feel like they’re always fighting, while others struggle because they can’t navigate difficult conversations.

conflict resolution
Therapists help couples learn to engage healthily in sensitive conflicts.

“Certainly, anybody thinks of the standard couples therapy couple and may imagine a couple who fights all the time and has explosive arguments,” William said. “But oftentimes the equally tragic thing can be avoiding that.”

Conflict, especially with an intimate partner, can feel intimidating, frightening, or even impossible for some people. Avoiding conflict only deepens the problems couples are trying so hard to get away from.

“Both are unhappy, and they don’t talk to each other about it because they’re afraid of the damage that might cause,” William said. “If they’re not careful, a little bit of water leaking into a relationship can cause rot. They don’t know how to deal with conflict and it can wreck a relationship.”

William said avoidance can be born out of disconnect. Couples may feel like they aren’t connecting with each other about the things that are important to them, and the challenging areas feel too overwhelming to broach. 

Couples struggling with avoidance often see the effects of avoidance in other areas of life. “There is often so much that’s been avoided, and these boundaries are poor and people can have a hard time setting them,” William said. “It’s something that creeps up everywhere, and it gets messy.”

Helping avoidant individuals and couples begins with creating a safe space. When people avoid conflict, they often do so for a reason. Perhaps conflict in the past has been an uncomfortable, scary, or even unsafe endeavor. 

William said he helps avoidant clients invest in the process of understanding and addressing their attachment and conflict style while creating the safety they need to express themselves and their challenges.

Finding Balance and Connection in Busy Lives

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a psychotherapeutic approach that’s designed to help people recover from trauma and other distressing experiences. William is trained in EMDR and said it can be a helpful tool for some people experiencing avoidance.

“Part of treating the avoidant couples is decoding why they’re avoidant,” he explained. “Being an EMDR-trained therapist, you’ll build a treatment plan and try to get to those things. There’s a reason they’ve been avoidant.”

Avoidance could stem from experiences and relationships with childhood caregivers. William said a multitude of experiences can lead someone to overfunction and be unable to adequately express their feelings, needs, and desires, especially when they aren’t being met or heard.

“EMDR is a really wonderful tool to kind of clear out the reactions and responses to distressing events,” William said. “If somebody is in these avoidance cycles, EMDR can really help find the right targets of this avoidance and deal with them.”

couples counseling
William encouraged couples to seek counseling before their situation is dire.

Couples therapy can be a transformative experience for couples who are struggling to communicate, connect, and nurture their intimacy. But it’s also a helpful tool for couples who aren’t at that junction yet and want to be proactive about keeping their connection strong.

It’s not uncommon for couples to suffer a disconnect until they no longer can. William suggested couples approach counseling as a tool that’s available to them at all points in their relationship, not just when the connection is suffering.

“It’s important to try and do proactive work,” William said. “I often say couples counseling should be looked at like going to the dentist. It’s a good idea to not wait for the cavities, and just go ahead and get those proactive cleanings.”