What Is EMDR Good For?

What Is EMDR Good For?

Whether you’re struggling with anxiety related to past trauma or are finding yourself easily triggered and quick to anger, sometimes you need more than traditional therapy. That’s where EMDR therapy comes in. But what is EMDR good for and what does it actually do?

EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is based on the idea that negative experiences can get “stuck” in the brain, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

EMDR therapy aims to not just talk about and reframe negative experiences, but actually re-process these experiences in the brain. Through reprocessing, the experiences can be integrated in a less triggering way, reducing symptoms and improving well-being.

So what is EMDR good for, specifically? Research has shown it is effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions, from PTSD, anxiety, and depression to addiction, phobias, and OCD.

Keep reading to learn more about how EMDR works and discover if an EMDR therapist is right for you.

How Does EMDR Work?

EMDR is a research-backed therapy proven to be effective for those who have experienced trauma and other negative experiences. Trauma changes the brain and body in real ways. EMDR therapy can support the brain in healing from trauma.

During a traumatic event – or even negative events that may not seem traumatic at the time – our brain processes and stores memories incorrectly. This can make past memories feel emotionally charged even years later. 

These memories can trigger intense symptoms and even lead to mental health conditions. Sometimes traumatic events that you don’t consciously remember can also cause these kinds of symptoms.

EMDR therapy helps the brain re-process and re-organized traumatic experiences so that they lose their emotional charge. EMDR mirrors the brain’s natural healing process by using bilateral stimulation. 

During an EMDR session, your therapist will guide you through a series of eye movements and other physical processes, such as physically tapping your legs or shoulders with your hands or listening to left and right audio tones through headphones.

These steps help the brain re-process painful memories of trauma and move them to a less emotional part of the brain.

9 Conditions EMDR Is Good For

EMDR was originally developed for patients dealing with trauma and is still used for trauma treatments today. But it can also improve symptoms for patients struggling with a wide variety of mental health conditions.

EMDR for Trauma

For people with past trauma, EMDR therapy focuses first on identifying the traumatic memories at the root of symptoms. While some patients may be clearly aware of the experiences causing issues, others may not.

One of the unique aspects of EMDR therapy is the fact that it can help people process traumatic memories without having to talk about the event in detail. This can be especially helpful for people who may be hesitant or unable to discuss the trauma.

EMDR therapy can help treat a variety of trauma-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex trauma, and anxiety disorders.

A woman struggles to heal from trauma

EMDR for Attachment Trauma

EMDR therapy can also help treat attachment trauma. Attachment trauma is a type of trauma that results from disruptions in early attachment relationships, such as neglect or abuse from a primary caregiver. The resulting attachment patterns can impact an individual’s ability to form healthy relationships and lead to symptoms like anxiety, depression, and difficulty regulating emotions. 

EMDR therapy can help people with attachment trauma process and integrate their early attachment experiences, improving emotional regulation, developing healthier attachment patterns, and even changing their attachment styles.


PTSD can occur in individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, war, sexual or physical assault, or a serious accident. Symptoms can include intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event, avoidance of triggers related to the trauma, hyperarousal, and negative changes in mood or thoughts. 

PTSD is one of the most common mental health disorders treated with EMDR therapy. Over time, EMDR patients may find that their response to the traumatic memory becomes less intense, and they are better able to manage their emotions and thoughts related to the event.

Research has shown that EMDR therapy is a highly effective treatment for PTSD. In a meta-analysis of studies comparing EMDR therapy to other treatments for PTSD, EMDR therapy was found to be more effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD than other treatments. 

EMDR for Anxiety

EMDR therapy has also been shown to be a promising treatment for anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias.

EMDR therapy can help individuals with anxiety disorders identify and process underlying traumatic memories or negative beliefs that may be contributing to their anxiety symptoms and can help reduce symptoms caused by these triggers.

During EMDR therapy for anxiety, the therapist will work with the individual to identify specific triggers or thoughts. The individual will then be asked to focus on those triggers while engaging in bilateral stimulation techniques, so it can be processed in a more adaptive way.

A woman having a panic attack

EMDR for Panic Attacks

EMDR therapy is a promising treatment for panic attacks. Panic attacks are a type of anxiety disorder that can cause sudden and intense feelings of fear or discomfort, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, and trembling. 

Panic attacks can be triggered by various factors, including traumatic experiences, negative beliefs, and phobias. Sometimes, panic attacks are not caused by any obvious trigger and the attacks themselves may be processed as traumatic events. This may cause frequent panic attacks and develop into panic disorder.

EMDR for panic attacks can help sufferers identify what may be triggering these episodes and help break the cycle of panic and anxiety.

EMDR for Depression

Depression is commonly treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, other forms of talk therapy, and sometimes medication. But in recent years, using EMDR for depression has become more common.

EMDR therapy can be a particularly useful tool when depression is associated with past traumatic experiences. The process of EMDR can help people struggling with depression to identify and process memories, beliefs, or experiences that may be contributing to their symptoms.

In a study of people with depression and a history of trauma, those who received EMDR therapy showed significant improvements in their symptoms compared to those who did not do EMDR.

A woman sits on the ground while struggling with depression

EMDR for Phobias

Much like EMDR can help with anxiety and panic, it can also be helpful for people struggling with specific phobias or fears. Phobias can cause significant distress and interfere with daily life. And while some phobias may not have any obvious root cause, many stem from past trauma.

During EMDR for phobias, a therapist helps the patient identify the specific trigger causing the fear. The bilateral stimulation techniques used in EMDR sessions will be performed while the patient focuses on this trigger.

Research has shown that EMDR therapy can be effective in treating phobias. In a study of individuals with specific phobias, such as fear of flying or fear of spiders, those who received EMDR therapy showed significant improvements in phobia symptoms compared to those who did other forms of therapy or treatment.

EMDR for Addiction

In addition to trauma, anxiety and depression, EMDR can also help with treatment for addiction. This is particularly helpful when addiction is associated with past traumatic experiences.

EMDR therapy can help individuals struggling with addiction identify the underlying trauma that may be contributing to their substance abuse, helping them reprocess these experiences or memories.

With the help of an EMDR therapist, an individual struggling with an addiction can respond less emotionally to their triggers, giving them more capacity to seek other addiction treatments and focus on their recovery.

A woman picks her fingers


EMDR can also help individuals living with OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. OCD is characterized by intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors performed to alleviate anxiety and distress. 

EMDR for OCD can help patients identify the specific obsessions and compulsions causing their distress, and work to identify any past trauma or negative beliefs that may be contributing to their symptoms.

Research has shown that EMDR therapy can improve OCD symptoms, reducing repetitive behaviors and intrusive thoughts.

Ready to Work with an EMDR Therapist?

If you’re struggling with past trauma or are experiencing other mental health symptoms that are impacting your daily life, you don’t need to face it alone. Even if you’ve tried therapy in the past and didn’t see a reduction in symptoms, working with an experienced EMDR therapist could help.

EMDR therapy can help you actually re-process negative experiences, thoughts, and beliefs. For many patients, EMDR is not just a temporary fix – it offers lasting relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about EMDR therapy and looking for an online EMDR therapist, contact Couples Learn today. Our trauma-informed EMDR therapists are ready to help you live with fewer symptoms.

Co-Regulating for Couples: Techniques for Emotional Regulation and Stress Relief

Co-Regulating for Couples: Techniques for Emotional Regulation and Stress Relief

Even the best relationships are bound to have some high-stress moments. Whether you’re facing a big life change, dealing with financial strain or simply struggling with conflict, dealing with relationship stress is just part of being in a long-term partnership. Thankfully, co-regulating for couples can help.

Co-regulation is a process where two individuals in a relationship can help each other regulate their emotions and more effectively manage stress. Co-regulation strategies can be used by one partner to help the other reduce stress. Or, they can be used to help a couple step back from a conflict, calm down and begin to repair.

Keep reading to learn more about what co-regulation is and to discover techniques couples can use to practice emotional regulation and stress relief together.

What is Co-regulating for Couples?

Before diving into co-regulation techniques for couples, it is essential to understand what emotional regulation actually is. Self-regulation is a process of managing one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in response to external and internal stimuli. It’s critical for maintaining mental and emotional well-being and for dealing with personal or relationship stress.

Some examples of emotional regulation include:

  1. Mindfulness Meditation
  2. Deep Breathing Exercises
  3. Exercise
  4. Yoga

Co-regulation, on the other hand, is a process where two people work together to manage their emotions. In order to coregulate successfully, each individual needs to be aware of their own emotions and be able to communicate them with their partner.

Ways to Use Emotional Regulation in Relationships

Whether you’re dealing with stress about your relationship or simply in a partnership where one individual is dealing with their own stress (about work, money, family or friends, there are many different ways you can help reduce stress for your partner or work together on co-regulating for couples.

One of the most basic ways to coregulate as a couple is by building strong communication skills to ensure you and your partner are able to understand each other’s feelings and points of view.

A couple embraces while working on co-regulating for couples

Communication for Emotional Regulation

Some of the best ways to start reducing stress in your relationship or help reduce a partner’s stress is by using these pillars of strong communication:

  1. Validate Each Other’s Emotions – Validating your partner’s emotions involves acknowledging and accepting their feelings – even if you don’t understand or agree. This is often easier said than done. Especially when your partner is dealing with stress, it can be tempting to simply try to make that stress or bad feeling go away. But too often those attempts feel dismissive to the other person and can actually add stress and make conflict worse.
  1. Use “I” Statements – Using “I” statements instead of “you” statements can promote effective communication and reduce defensiveness. If you’re dealing with relationship stress or trying to relate to your partner’s stress, make sure to focus on how you feel or felt instead of trying to put those emotions onto them.
  1. Take a Time-Out – A time-out is pretty much always a good idea! Taking a time-out during an argument or other stressful experience can help regulate emotions and prevent further escalation. It allows both partners to calm down and return to the conversation when they are in a better state of mind.
  1. Practice Active Listening – Active listening involves focusing fully on what another person is saying and trying to understand their perspective. It promotes effective communication and can help reduce stress. Whether you’re in an argument or simply listening to your partner describe a stressful situation at work or with family or friends, it’s important to give your partner your full attention.
  1. Use Your Love Languages – Everyone has a love language – a way that they most feel love and appreciation. Understanding your partner’s love language and showing you care by embracing that love language is one of the simplest ways to reduce your partner’s stress. If you’re not sure what your or your partner’s love language is, take this quiz.

Stress Relief Activities for Couples

Sometimes even the best communication with a partner can only get you so far. If you’re finding that you, your partner or both of need some additional support in relieving support, try one of these stress relief activities for couples:

  1. Take Deep Breaths – This is one of the simplest strategies for co-regulating for couples. Simply sit together, hold hands, and take deep breaths in unison. Focus on your own breath and on your partner’s breath. This is a great strategy for self-regulation but can actually be even more powerful when you try it with a partner.
  1. Try Meditation – Meditating is another powerful tool for emotional regulation. Meditation can also assist couples working on co-regulating, helping both partners step back from their current stressor, calm their nervous systems and think more clearly about the issue at hand. Try a guided meditation for couples or simply put on some calming music, sit or lay down together, hold hands, close your eyes and breathe deeply.
  1. Exercise Together – Exercising together can be a fun and healthy way to reduce stress and bond with each other. Exercising produces feel-good endorphins, which not only help reduce stress but can also help you feel closer to your partner.
  1. Take a Relaxing Bath – Taking a bath together can promote relaxation and enhance intimacy. It’s a great way to unwind at the end of a long day or reconnect after a period of stress or conflict. If you don’t want to take a bath together, just getting a bath ready for your partner to enjoy alone can go a long way toward helping them feel less stressed.
  1. Try a New Activity Together – Trying something new together, like cooking, baking, painting or woodworking, is a fun and therapeutic activity that promotes relaxation and reduces stress. Plus, going out of your comfort zone together can help boost closeness and help you feel more connected to your partner.
  1. Spend Time in Nature – Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to reduce stress, regulate your emotions and calm your nervous system. And when it comes to co-regulating for couples, spending more time outdoors is one of the easiest things to do. Go for a walk around the block, have an outdoor dinner or even just lay on the grass to meditate together. Turn your time in nature into a fun adventure and you’ll reduce stress while boosting your connection.
A couple uses a Gottman Method stress-reducing conversation to work on co-regulation for couples

Gottman Stress-Reducing Conversation: Another Form of Co-regulating for Couples

When all the stress-relieving activities and standard communication strategies aren’t enough to reduce stress in your relationship, a Gottman stress-reducing conversation could help. 

The Gottman Institute is a research-based organization founded by Drs. John and Julie Gottman focused on helping couples build strong and healthy relationships. Gottman Method marriage counseling is based on decades of research about what makes a healthy relationship work and what causes other relationships to fail. This type of couples counseling uses many different techniques to help couples better communicate, including the stress-reducing conversation.

You can use the Gottman stress-reducing conversation exercise during a relationship conflict or just to show your partner you are really listening when they share their own personal stress. Here’s how:

How to Have a Gottman Stress-Reducing Conversation

  1. Set Aside Time – Don’t try to have this conversation over dinner, with the TV on or with the kids around. Set aside 20-30 minutes to really focus on the conversation. Find a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be interrupted.
  1. Take Turns – Take turns being the speaker and the listener. The speaker shares their thoughts and feelings while the listener listens without interruption or judgment. This is especially important (and challenging) if you’re using this conversation to help manage emotions during a conflict.
  1. Use the Speaker-Listener Technique – The speaker-listener technique involves speaking in a clear and concise manner while the listener reflects back what they heard. Repeat back to your partner what you heard them say. This allows each individual to know their partner is listening, but also gives each of you a chance to clarify if your partner misunderstands your point of view.
  1. Use Softened Start-Up – Start the conversation with a “softened start-up” by expressing your feelings without blaming or criticizing your partner. For example, “I feel frustrated when I don’t get help with the housework” instead of “You never help with the housework.” A conversation is bound to go a lot better when it starts from a place of feelings rather than accusations.
  1. Focus on Feelings – Keep that focus on feelings throughout the conversation, rather than just discussing the situation at hand. Remember, no matter what conflict led to this conversation, there’s a good chance the actual stress in your relationship goes much deeper than an argument about dirty dishes or lack of intimacy.
  1. Validate and Empathize – Validate your partner’s feelings and try to empathize with their perspective. This can help reduce defensiveness and promote understanding. And remember: you don’t have to agree in order to empathize. You can feel differently from your partner and still seek to see their point of view.
  1. Express Affection – One of the best ways to reduce stress and work on co-regulating for couples is by simply continuing to show love and affection even in times of conflict. This can absolutely be easier said than done (after all, you might not feel up for holding hands if you’re feeling hurt or unappreciated by your partner). But even something as simple as sitting close enough to touch, putting a head on a shoulder or giving your partner a smile can maintain closeness and connection during a stress-reducing conversation.
A couple holds hands after working on coregulating for couples

What If You Struggle with Co-regulating for Couples?

If you’ve read this far, you might be feeling one of two ways. Option one – you might be feeling empowered and ready to tackle your next moment of relationship stress. Or option two – you may be feeling like none of these activities or techniques would actually work when one or both partners are in the throes of stress and anxiety.

So what can you do if co-regulating for couples just doesn’t come naturally?

One of the best approaches is to focus on your own self-regulating strategies. Many adults were never taught how to regulate their own emotions, let alone coregulate with a partner. Build these skills individually by working on meditation, breathing techniques and anything else that helps you reduce stress. 

Practice in less emotional situations, such as a stressful work challenge or when making a difficult decision. As your skills improve it will become easier to manage relationship stress and work on co-regulating for couples.

Another great strategy is to seek professional help. If you and your partner don’t deal with stress well together, then talking with a couples therapist could be a great step toward building those skills. 

If you’re ready to improve your relationship, regulate emotions in a relationship and have a stronger partnership, contact Couples Learn today to learn how we can support you. 

From Gottman Method couples therapists to emotionally-focused couples therapists and beyond, Couples Learn has the expertise and experience to help strengthen your relationship.

Will Couples Therapy Make My Relationship Worse?

Will Couples Therapy Make My Relationship Worse?

If you’ve been struggling with constant fighting, lack of intimacy or other relationship issues, you may be considering couples therapy – and you probably have a lot of questions. Can couples therapy save a relationship? Is marriage counseling a good idea? Can couples therapy make things worse?

This last question – about couples therapy making things worse – is a really common concern. At Couples Learn, we hear this fear from patients and potential patients all the time. And it’s really not surprising.

Facing your relationship issues head-on is a really vulnerable thing, especially if you’ve been keeping things bottled up until now. The idea of opening old wounds or bringing up past hurts can feel completely overwhelming. It may feel like talking openly about your issues will only hurt your relationship more.

But can therapy make things worse? Let’s explore this further.

When to Go to Couples Therapy

Before we dive into whether or not couples therapy can make relationship issues worse, it’s important to understand who couples therapy can help.

The short answer is…everyone. Seriously! Think of a therapist for your relationship like a mechanic for your car. 

If you wait until your car breaks down on the side of the road, it’s going to be a lot more difficult (and expensive!) to fix your problems. But if you bring your car in for regular tune-ups and see a mechanic the moment your check-engine light comes on, you’re going to have a much easier time saving your vehicle from further damage.

Do healthy couples go to couples therapy?

Yes, even healthy couples can benefit from couples therapy! In fact, it is often the couples who seek therapy proactively or early on in their relationship challenges that see the most success.

Choosing to work with a professional proactively before a big life change like having kids or moving across the country is a great way to make a healthy relationship even better.

A couples smiles and sits on the couch talking and holding hands

What are some signs you need couples therapy?

Every relationship is different, so it’s not always easy to know if couples therapy is right for you. But chances are if you’re reading a blog post about couples therapy effectiveness, then meeting with a therapist is a good idea.

Some of the most common signs you and your partner could benefit from couples therapy include:

  • You’re navigating a new phase in life (i.e. a move, marriage, kids, new job, etc)
  • You have more negative experiences than positive ones
  • You are constantly bickering and arguing
  • You avoid talking about your issues
  • You keep having the same argument again and again
  • You feel more like roommates instead of lovers
  • You’ve experienced infidelity (or one of you has considered it)

Even if you’re experiencing some of these issues, making the decision to go to couples therapy isn’t always an easy one. One partner may be all for it while the other partner doesn’t want to go. 

And even if both partners are on board, it’s normal to feel nervous about couples therapy making things worse.

Can Therapy Make Things Worse?

You’re not alone if you’ve wondered about couples therapy effectiveness. Can couples therapy save a relationship? Will couples therapy help? We get these questions all the time.

Perhaps one spouse is not very receptive to therapy. Maybe you’re concerned that certain topics may not be received very well or could lead to more conflict. 

Some couples worry that the only thing holding their relationship together is the fact that they are not talking about the bigger issues in their relationship. Other couples worry that therapy might lead them to break up instead of staying together.

But can therapy make things worse? Our team of couples therapists had a very simple answer to this question: no. Couples therapy will not make your relationship worse. This does not, however, mean that couples therapy won’t be hard.

Does couples therapy get worse before it gets better?

It is very common to feel like your relationship is getting worse when you first start therapy. For many couples, therapy is the first time they are truly talking openly about their issues. For others, diving into the ways that their childhood has impacted their adult relationships can be incredibly painful and eye-opening.

These experiences can initially exacerbate or bring more attention to the conflict in your relationship. You may find yourself actually discussing your issues more often. Or you might start to see everyday issues from a different perspective.

All of these experiences can make it feel like therapy is making things worse. But shining a light on your relationship problems is actually the only way to truly work through them. 

A couple sits in a couples therapy session wondering if couples therapy will make their relationship worse

What percentage of couples stay together after therapy?

It’s important to understand that not all relationships can be saved by therapy. But this doesn’t mean that couples therapy made them worse. 

The fact is, open communication is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. The process of couples therapy will help you get clarity on your relationship. 

If you both want to be together, therapy can help you get closer than ever before. While therapy isn’t guaranteed to help, it can be very effective. In fact, an analysis of emotionally-focused couples therapy (EFT) has found that 90% of couples significantly improve their relationship and 70-70% of couples no longer fit criteria for “relationship distress” after treatment.

The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, on the other hand, more than 75% of patients receiving marriage or couples counseling report an improvement in the couple relationship after therapy.

If you decide you don’t want to be together, therapy can help you get clarity around why the relationship isn’t working and find closure around the break-up.

Couples therapy is definitely vulnerable and scary at times but couples always feel better from having talked openly when the dust settles.

Couples Therapy Methods to Consider

If you’ve decided to move past the fear of couples therapy making things worse and try going to couples therapy with your partner, then you have a lot of options to consider.

Some of the most common types of couples therapy include:

Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy (EFT)

EFT is a short-term approach to couples therapy that typically lasts 15-20 sessions. It is an attached-focused couples therapy method and aims to help couples communicate and experience each other in healthier, more satisfying ways.

Imago Relationship Therapy

Imago Therapy is designed to help couples go from having an unconscious relationship to a conscious one. It is based on the idea that our unconscious mind is driven to heal childhood trauma through our romantic relationships, and that many conflicts with partners happen because of this drive.

Gottman Method

Gottman Method Couples Therapy is a general therapy that can help just about any type of couple. Couples who try Gottman method marriage counseling will start by learning how healthy couples communicate and treat each other. Then, they learn how to communicate more effectively with their partners through using specific communication techniques. 

A couple sits outside talking and laughing

What happens if your partner doesn’t want to go to couples therapy?

It is very common for couples to disagree about whether or not to try couples therapy. One partner may be desperate to attend therapy, while another is worried about therapy making things worse or just doesn’t believe that therapy will help.

If you’re in this situation, there are a couple of ways to handle it. 

You could start by seeing if your partner is willing to compromise. Ask if they will attend just one therapy session or a few therapy sessions to give it a try. If they don’t want to continue after those sessions, then you’ll accept it. Many times, taking that first step is the hardest part, so your partner may be happy to continue after those first few sessions.

Of course, you can’t force someone to go to therapy. So if your partner is unwilling to budge and not open to compromise, then it may be time to seek therapy on your own. Individual therapy for relationship issues can be very effective. While it’s not the same as couples therapy, individual therapy can help you shift the way you approach the challenges in your relationship and help you gain clarity about the future of your relationship.

And finally, if your partner refuses to engage in couples therapy and you’re still having challenges, it may be a sign that it’s time to leave the relationship.

Ready to Learn More About Couples Therapy?

If you’re ready to move past your fears about couples therapy making things worse in your relationship, then it’s time to reach out to a couples therapist.

While there are likely local couples therapy practices near you, online couples therapy is also an option. With online couples therapy, you can do therapy from the comfort of your own home or wherever you are.
Contact Couples Learn today to learn more about our online couples therapy services and book a free consult.

An Expert Guide to Taking a Break In a Relationship

An Expert Guide to Taking a Break In a Relationship

Hitting a rough patch in your relationship is…well…rough. You might be fighting all the time. You might be pointing fingers and placing blame over conflicts big and small. Maybe you and your partner have different values or maybe one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t. Either way, you’re starting to think about taking a break in a relationship.

If this sounds like you, then you’re not alone. We work with many couples who have had moments like this. They’ve wondered if they should stick it out or break up. They’ve questioned whether they were ready to take the next step in their relationship.

Having these challenges are, for many couples, just part of their journey. And taking a break in a relationship can be exactly what they need to move forward together (or apart). If you’re considering a break from your partner, this post is for you.

Couples Learn founder and therapist Dr. Sarah Schewitz recently shared her insight into relationship breaks with Cosmopolitan magazine. Now, we’re breaking this subject down even further.

Keep reading to learn more about how to know if you should take a break in a relationship and how to make it work if you do.

Reasons to Take a Break In a Relationship

Thinking about a break with your partner can feel really scary and overwhelming – especially if you’ve been together for a long time or have built a family together. But taking a break really can be beneficial.

If you have been fighting a lot, a break can help you get some space from the ups and downs of conflict. This can help you reflect more accurately on the pros and cons of the relationship and look at the problem from a less emotional place.

For some (especially those with an avoidant attachment style), getting some space from your partner can help you feel more regulated and reconnect to the loving feelings you have for your partner. In other words, absence really can make the heart grow fonder.

Taking a break can also help you see firsthand what life would be like if you and your partner split up. You may see just how much you miss your partner, or you may see that you are better off without them. Either way, taking a break in a relationship gives you the space to figure that out.

Is it Healthy to Take a Break In a Relationship?

Taking a break can be one of the healthiest things you could do for your relationship. Especially if you are fighting all the time or struggling with codependency, it might actually be healthier to figure out the future of your relationship while you are apart.

Taking a break can give both partners space to work on themselves and heal their past traumas in individual therapy without getting reactivated and triggered all the time.

Breaks become unhealthy when they are done out of anger or as punishment. Stonewalling, or icing your partner out, is a very unhealthy behavior in relationships and is not the same thing as taking a break.

A couple sits outside talking about taking a break in a relationship

Is Taking a Break the Same As Breaking Up?

Taking a break is also not the same thing as breaking up. While some couples who decide to take a break do eventually break up permanently, it does not have to end that way.

It all depends on how the couple – and the individuals involved – approach the situation. With clear expectations and communication, a break can be exactly what it sounds like: a break.

How to Take a Break In a Relationship

If you’re considering taking a break in a relationship, there’s a lot to think about. Keep reading for our best advice on how to go about starting a temporary break.

When to Take a Break In a Relationship

When to take a break is a very personal decision. You might want to wait until a time when you and your partner will have the time and space to seek therapy, focus on self-care and make the most of your time apart.

If your lives are very intertwined, you might also need to look ahead to vacations, weddings and other events planned far in advance. While you certainly do not need to plan a relationship break around life events, it’s worth taking these items into consideration if your relationship hasn’t reached a state of crisis..

How to Ask for a Break In a Relationship

If you’re considering taking a break in a relationship then it’s likely your partner at least has some idea that things aren’t exactly going well. But no matter how much you and your partner have discussed your issues as a couple, going on a break requires a clear and direct conversation.

It might be painful or awkward, but a break must start with a clear line of communication if you have any chance of coming back together at the end.

Communicate with your partner why you want to take a break and what you hope a break will do for your relationship. Be kind, but be honest. And be honest with yourself, too. Ask yourself if you truly want to take a temporary break, or if you’re just trying to soften the blow of an actual break-up.

How to Set Rules for Taking a Break In a Relationship

One of the most important things to discuss when taking a break in a relationship is your ground rules for the time apart. 

This is another time when open and honest communication is key. If you want the chance to get back together at the end of the break, you need to figure out in advance what you both are comfortable with (and what you are not) and have clear boundaries.

Some questions to answer to help you create those boundaries include:

  1. What is the purpose of this break? What are we hoping to discover about ourselves or the relationship by taking a break?
  2. How long will the break be?
  3. How often will we communicate during the break, if at all?
  4. Are we allowed to date other people during this break? If so, what are the boundaries around this? (e.g. just chatting on apps, going out on actual dates, boundaries around physical touch on dates, will you tell each other, etc.)

Once you and your partner agree on boundaries, prepare to stick to them and communicate honestly about these boundaries during and after your break.

A couple lays in bed after a fight and considering taking a break in a relationship

What to Do During a Break in a Relationship

Even couples who feel strongly about taking a break in a relationship often find the break itself very challenging. After all, you probably spend a lot of time with your partner. Knowing what to do instead can be difficult.

The best way to spend your time apart is to focus on yourself and figuring out what you want from your relationship and your future. 

Take lots of time for self-care or to reconnect with the friends or hobbies that may have taken a backseat to your relationship. Make sure to also think about your plans for the future, particularly if differing values or goals were part of the catalyst for your break.

Consider getting individual therapy, too. A therapist can help you work through relationship issues, heal past traumas that might be affecting your relationship and improve your communication skills. A therapist can also help you explore what you want for your future and help you decide whether getting back together with your partner is part of that vision.

How to Get Back Together After a Break

Before you start exploring how to end your break and get back together, it’s important that you and your partner are both confident you want to get back together.

If you’re both on the same page, then honest communication will once again be your best tool. Discuss the issues that lead you to the break in the first place and come up with a plan for how you’ll manage those challenges going forward.

If you were disagreeing about marriage, kids or other major life plans, discuss those too. Make sure you’re able to come to an agreement that works for both of you before you decide to get back together.

Remember to stick to the boundaries set around your break as well. If you agreed before the break that you would not be discussing what you did with your time, then don’t discuss it. Respect the boundary set and aim to rebuild trust with your partner.

A couple is sad while sitting outside and talking about taking a break in a relationship

Are Successful Relationships After Break Up Possible?

Yes, they are absolutely possible!  But they do require understanding, patience, communication and trust.

Many relationships have withstood breaks. A break can help both partners reflect on the importance of the relationship in their life and can lead to a reinvigorated commitment to the relationship.

While not every relationship will work out, taking a break in a relationship can absolutely improve your partnership.

Things Not to Do After a Break

If you’re hoping that taking a break will lead to getting back together, then it’s important to avoid a few key things.

Most importantly, don’t break your ground rules or go against the boundaries you and your partner agreed upon. Typically you’ll also want to avoid discussing any dates or other romantic encounters either of you experienced while on the break (unless you determined beforehand that you would talk about them).

Additionally, it’s really important not to hold the break against one another, assuming that no boundaries were crossed. If you and your partner decided that you could go on dates with other people while on a break, for example, then it will be key not to use dates against one another during conflict going forward.

Work to rebuild trust with your partner by communicating often and honestly.

Get Support To Come Back Together

If you’re thinking about taking a break in a relationship (or you already have), don’t overlook the value of couples therapy as part of this process.

Whether you need support when coming back together after a break or want help outlining the rules of the break itself, a couples therapist can help you navigate these challenging times for your relationship.
Contact Couples Learn today to get started and learn more about our online couples therapy services.

A couple cuddles together while sitting outside
Living With a Spouse with Mental Illness

Living With a Spouse with Mental Illness

When you get married, you agree to stick by your partner for better or for worse. But as life goes on and marriage evolves, there will be times when keeping this vow feels harder than others. Living with a spouse with mental illness could be one of those times.

Mental illness affects millions of adults every year around the world. In 2019, the World Health Organization found that 970 million people were living with a mental health disorder. But while these issues may be common, it doesn’t mean they’re easy to navigate as a married couple.

Studies have shown that people who suffer from mental illness have a higher divorce rate. A study from 2011 saw that rate increase between 20-80 percent compared to couples without mental health challenges.

If you’re living with a spouse with mental illness – or even just suspect your spouse may need mental health services – this post is for you.

Keep reading to learn more about when to seek help. You’ll also learn how mental health affects relationships, and how to support your partner.

How to Know if Your Partner Is Struggling With Their Mental Health

Mental health and relationships are not always black and white. Is your partner just going through a tough time with their career or adjusting to your growing family? Or, are they clinically depressed? Are they worried about finances or are they struggling with undiagnosed anxiety?

It’s best to encourage your spouse to seek professional help. But there are some signs you can look for when determining if you’re living with a spouse with mental illness.

Common Signs of Mental Illness

Common symptoms of mental health challenges like anxiety and depression include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling tired more than usual
  • Loss of appetite or weight changes
  • Arguing often, being irritable
  • Sad or anxious most of the time
  • Hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Not remembering things
  • Not sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Thoughts of suicide

It’s not difficult to see why these symptoms could affect a relationship. But how experiencing mental illness in relationships has an impact can vary significantly.

A sad woman sits on a bed worrying about having a spouse with mental illness

How Mental Illness Affects a Relationship

When one partner is unwell – and especially if that partner refuses to seek help – it can put a huge strain on the relationship and the higher-functioning partner.

Some of the most common ways that a spouse with mental illness may impact your relationship include:

You Carry Your Partner’s Pain

If your partner is open to talking with you about their challenges, you may be asked to listen to the same problems repeatedly. This can make you feel like your partner’s pain is your own and may make you more involved in their problems than you’d like to be.

This can be especially frustrating if your partner discusses their problems with you but refuses to take steps to change or seek professional help.

Balance is Lost

When one person is struggling, the higher-functioning partner is often forced to take on more of the household and childcare duties. The mentally ill partner doesn’t have enough energy, resilience, organization or frustration tolerance to do these things.

Even if you want to support your partner and understand that they need extra help, resentment can build if the household remains unbalanced over time.

Conflicts Are Difficult

Conflict can be challenging for any married couple to navigate, but problems can quickly escalate when you have a spouse with mental illness. 

The higher-functioning partner often has to deal with unreasonable outbursts in conflict because the mentally ill partner is too mentally and emotionally taxed to think clearly or control their emotions. As a result, their capacity for empathy is greatly diminished. 

You Might Feel Hopeless

From carrying the household burden to dealing with emotional outbursts, having a partner with mental illness can leave the higher-functioning partner feeling very lonely, frustrated and hopeless.

You might even wonder if you should leave the relationship but worry about abandoning your partner in a time of need.

A couple snuggles on a couch looking sad

How to Help a Spouse with Mental Illness

If you’re living with a partner with mental health issues, it’s easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do to help. You might also be feeling burnt out, emotionally exhausted and ready to throw in the towel.

But if you want to try supporting your partner – and your marriage – these tips can help.

Encourage them to seek help.

If you have a spouse with mental illness who has not received professional help, or who hasn’t gotten professional help in a long time, encourage them to find a therapist or other mental health professional. While you can be a listening ear and lend vital support, you cannot be their therapist.

Attend therapy with them.

If your partner is hesitant to try therapy on their own, ask if they would be interested in a couples therapy session (if you’re open to it too). Couples therapy can help you navigate how mental illness affects your marriage. Couples therapy can also help open the door to therapy for your partner.

Understand their diagnosis.

Does your spouse has a specific mental health diagnosis? Then take some time to talk with them about it or read up about it online. Understanding their diagnosis can help you better understand what your partner might need from you. It can also help you look at their challenges with a new perspective.

This understanding won’t magically make the effect on your marriage go away. But it might help you feel better about the situation.

Focus on self care.

One of the best ways to help your partner is by helping yourself. When you’re dealing with added conflict, an imbalance in household duties or just the stress of worrying about your partner, self-care is critical.

Make time for yourself and for things that you enjoy. Go out with friends, head to the spa or simply find some quiet time to sit and read a favorite book. Whatever is going to fill your cup and help you destress will be helpful.

Set boundaries with your partner.

Dealing with mental illness in marriage is not easy. And if your partner leans on you for support but doesn’t seek help to make a change, you may need to start setting boundaries. Many partners feel a lot of guilt over boundary setting with a mentally ill spouse, but you have to ensure you are caring for yourself as well as your partner.

Are you feeling burdened by constant discussion of their mental health challenges? Let them know! If they’re texting you at work about a problem, for example, set a boundary that you’d like to have these discussions after you leave the office. 

If you’ve been carrying the bulk of the household responsibilities, set a boundary that you need one night each week (or more) to get out of the house and not be in charge of dinner, bedtime or clean-up.  

Is it OK to walk away from someone with mental illness?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to help your partner, it’s just not enough to save the relationship. If your partner refuses to get help and their mental illness continues to negatively affect your relationship and your own well-being, it is ok to walk away.

Higher-functioning partners often feel extremely guilty for even considering walking away from their mentally ill spouse. It can feel like you’re abandoning them right when they need you most.

But it’s OK to prioritize yourself in a relationship. And if you have children who are being affected by a spouse with mental illness, then you need to consider their well-being too.

A couple holds hands after dealing with one spouse with a mental illness

Can a relationship survive mental illness?

Here’s some good news: while the numbers aren’t exactly rosy when it comes to mental illness and failed relationships, it is totally possible for a relationship to survive mental health challenges.

The key to improving your odds of making it through is seeking professional help. And you can do that either as an individual or as a couple. Supporting a spouse with mental illness is tough. Working with a therapist can make it easier for everyone.

An individual therapist can help your spouse with their specific mental health challenges, or could even give you the support you need while caring for your partner. Working with an online couples therapist can help you address the ways in which mental illness is affecting your marriage. A therapist can also help come up with solutions that support both of you in your relationship.

If you’re looking for help for your relationship, contact Couples Learn today to learn more and book your free consultation. We can help you determine if individual or couples therapy is right for you. We can also talk you through the costs of therapy and any questions you have.