We go to the doctor when we have severe pains, fevers or other physical symptoms. We take vitamins, have routine checkups, exercise and adapt our diets to prevent physical illnesses. As we commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month at The Family Institute, we’re talking to our expert clinicians about the connections between physical and mental health, as well as what can be done to prevent more serious mental illnesses.
Today’s insights relate specifically to couples, and come from Jaime Henry-Juravic, LMFT, a staff therapist at The Family Institute’s couples services. We asked Jaime a couple of questions about how we can tend to our relationships the way we tend to our physical health.
What are some symptoms that might clue an individual or couple in that she should seek mental health treatment to help with marriage issues?
- Feelings of disconnection from the other that are not remedied by spending quality time together or participating in activities that once cultivated a sense of connection
- Persistent thoughts or impulses to engage in a physically or emotionally intimate relationship outside of the primary relationship
- Increasing or repeated conflict that you have not been able to resolve on your own, despite repeated attempts.
- Significant life transitions that are contributing to increased stress in the relationship. These can include the birth of a child, the transition of a child out of the house, a change in location, a career change, or an ongoing physical illness in one or both members of the couple.
- Dissatisfaction with sexual intimacy or the presence of sexual dysfunction
What are some preventative measures an individual or couple can take to avoid larger conflict, mental health or marital problems?
- Continue to prioritize each other and the relationship throughout the entirety of the relationship. Avoid the trap of “checking the relationship box”.
- When spending quality time together, focus on quality. Experiment with keeping technology out of the equation during your time together. Phones and computers can often serve as a barrier to intimacy and quality time.
- Have dinner (or another meal) together as often as possible. Be intentional about engaging in conversation with each other, rather than zoning out in front of the TV or your phone. *Note: Zoning out is sometimes necessary. Just be aware of how often that occurs when you are spending time with your partner.
- Experience new things together
- Incorporate playfulness into the relationship. This can be in a sexual or non sexual way
- If you are parents, be intentional about maintaining the “couple sphere” of the relationship in addition to the “parent sphere”. Imagine these as separate spheres, with areas of overlap. Each sphere has unique responsibilities and needs in order for it to thrive.
- If you are feeling disconnected or unfulfilled, say something. These feelings will not simply disappear if you ignore them. And if you are struggling with how to communicate these feelings effectively to your partner, or are feeling invalidated when you do communicate them, reach out to a professional (such as a couples therapist) for help. That’s what we’re here for!