A relationship is a partnership. If you feel that couples therapy may help strengthen your partnership, repair it, or help it weather problems easier, you need to recognize that it is most effective when both parts of the couple attend therapy. You may feel that your significant other is the cause of all the relationship’s troubles and that it is unnecessary for you to attend therapy, but these therapists explain how you could be contributing to the problems and how they may be affecting you:
Amy Winchester, MA, LPC: While it may be true that your partner needs to work through some of his or her own issues that contribute to dynamics in the relationship, if there are problems between the two of you then you both are contributing. It takes two to tango. Two people in a relationship are always more deeply entwined than most can imagine. The subtle ways in which we act and react in a relationship are often rooted in our basic needs for belonging, love, freedom, and respect. Following these roots down to their beginnings and any wounds we have experienced along the way is necessary if we want to untangle habitual patterns and dynamics that seem to never change.
Consider the following:
- How you react to your partner directly affects your relationship. If you denigrate your partner, are mean, sarcastic, impatient, or even passively aggressive, you must know that this will impact your relationship in many ways. Nobody is perfect, of course, but if this happens consistently, and especially without repair, your relationship will suffer.
- It’s important to become aware of your feelings and needs, and to learn to communicate these to your partner in a way that is effective, and which doesn’t create more distance between the two of you.
- Your refusal to take part in the process of examining your relationship with your partner sends a clear message that your belief in autonomy is more important than your belief in cooperation. If this is true for you, then it may help to clarify your intentions in being in a relationship, either with this person or at all right now.
If you think your partner struggles with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, a personality concern, or anything similar, they need help AND you both need to look at what is happening in your relationship that could be contributing to the experience they’re having. After all, relationships can be crucibles for healing, and you can be an integral part of that process not only for your partner, but for yourself as well.
Anne Brennan Malec, PsyD, LMFT: It seems that at some point in time couples therapy acquired a bad rap. Attending couples therapy should not be seen as a type of punishment, because in reality it is meant to fortify and help partners repair and sustain their connection.
If you feel that the problems in your relationship are mostly your partner’s fault, why not try to help him or her solve these problems? If your partner had problems in other areas of her/his life, will you at least make a good-faith effort to determine if there is something you can do to help?
From my perspective as a clinical psychologist and marriage and family therapist, if one partner in a couple is dealing with a problem, their partner is affected too. If your partner is depressed, stressed, physically ill, emotionally unstable, or unhappy, there is no way that a partner is not influenced by the outcomes of these negative experiences. Whenever I hear a client share that their partner does not want to go to couples therapy, I am concerned about the long-term potential of the marriage.
From my experience, if one spouse believes that the couple needs to go to counseling this should be seen as a warning shot, red flag, or loud beeping noise! It is a relationship emergency when one partner asks the other to go to therapy because it means that one spouse does not believe the couple has the skills, willingness, or patience to respectfully discuss and resolve their issues on their own. If one spouse wants couples therapy, it can mean that she or he needs a safe space where difficult thoughts and feelings can be shared. Resisting or dismissing your spouse’s request for counseling is very shortsighted and potentially dangerous for the future of your relationship.
Andrew Mendonsa, PsyD: In a relationship, both parties contribute to the success and trouble. Even though on the surface it may seem like only one person contributes to the problem, the reality is both people have contributed to where the relationship currently stands.
By going to therapy together, each person can explore their own contributions and assess where they would like to go in the future. Therapy together allows for each person to be transparent, which allows for the opposite person to assess future potential and dedication. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the relationship is in a state that it cannot be fixed. Therefore, by going to therapy together, the relationship continues to grow and become stronger. Refocusing on what matters most occurs quicker when both parties are engaged in treatment.
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