What’s a Normal Couple?: Finding What Works for You

A couple will get to the point where they have tried everything—their friends’ therapist’s suggestions, the latest book, whatever they found on google—and are feeling desperate. That’s when they come to my office. (Might I take a moment to suggest it really is helpful in relationships to come in sooner? It doesn’t necessarily mean you have problems if you come to counseling; it means you want to avoid problems.)

So what do I see in any given week? Sometimes one person begins angry and the other is remorseful; often they’ve switched by the end of the session. One person is “the one who wants counseling,” while the other came because they want to make sure they try “everything.” You might think it’s usually the woman who initiates counseling, but here in the mountains we share. The most common reason to come into couple’s counseling? Communication. The most popular book couples have already read? The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I’ve seen it save marriages—“Everything changed when he started touching my shoulder and holding my hand in public”—and also become fuel for the fire—“If you just did the laundry I would feel loved!” Who statistically has more affairs around the country? In the past, men; currently women are catching up. Domestic violence patterns are shifting in this direction as well.

Couples consistently worry about what’s “normal” and come in with lots of questions. How often do couple’s talk? What do they talk about? How often do they have sex? Are they satisfied? Do other people like their mother-in-laws? What does it mean if the dining room is used as an office, not as a gathering spot for dinner? Is anyone really happy in their marriage? Do people really get over past hurts? Really terrible hurts? Does everyone who comes to couple’s counseling break up? What’s best for my kids? Can I fall back in love?

We talk about what might be considered normal (considering age, children, length of relationship, health, and a host of other variables), but in the end I have one simple formula: if overall both people are satisfied with the relationship we’ve found a happy medium. Take time this week to notice the overall arc of your relationships and see if it’s time to make some adjustments.