If you are married and hoping to fix your relationship through individual therapy, STOP! If your marriage is in crisis, the RELATIONSHIP needs to be in therapy. In fact, individual therapy can make things much worse. You wouldn’t call an electrician to fix your toilet, so why work in individual therapy to fix a marriage. There are 3 ways that individual therapy can cause problems with a marriage:
1. You Are Building an Emotional Connection With Your Therapist Instead of Your Spouse
When you discuss intimate details of your life, you start to build a connection with the listener. Especially when that listener is VERY good at empathy (which most therapists are specifically trained in). You are also using up your emotional bandwidth with your therapist, which can often deplete you by the time you are ready to connect with your partner. If you did this with any other stranger, you might be accused of having an emotional affair. It’s interesting that our society has accepted this kind of interaction when sanctioned under the title “psychotherapy.” Instead of using your time to connect with a doctor, turn to your spouse and connect with them.
2. Therapists Generally Empathize and Side With Their Clients, Not The Marriage
Because your therapist wants to empathize with you and build rapport, they are less likely to challenge your perspective. This means that complaints about your relationship often get reinforced by the therapist. When you say, “I can’t believe they had an affair AGAIN!” the therapist will most likely build you up and degrade the cheating spouse. A good marriage counselor understands that affairs happen within the dynamic of a relationship and are generally not only one person’s fault. You might be aware of the saying, “there are three sides to every story: your’s, mine, and the truth.”
3. You Will Get Better at Communicating With Your Spouse ONLY When You Practice
Neuroscience shows us that the brain primarily learns through repetition. As you practice a skill over and over, the pathways in your brain get stronger so that you improve in that skillset. That means the only way to improve your connection with your spouse is to practice connecting with them. The most important way to do this is through communication. If you can improve your communication with your spouse, then almost every other aspect of the relationship can be repaired and enhanced. Conversely, if you practice communicating with a therapist, you will get really good at speaking with a therapist.
To be clear, there are some great ways to use individual therapy. If you are married and want to see an individual therapist, here are 3 things to keep in mind:
1. Avoid Discussing the Marriage
Just don’t talk about it in therapy. It’s okay to briefly discuss your marital situation, but the more you complain or try to dissect the marriage individually, the more likely you are to create problems. Use yourself as the focus. It is called “individual” therapy after all.
2. Focus on Skill Building
Relaxation skills, meditation, working through phobias, bio and neurofeedback, or hypnosis are all great ways to use individual therapy. The purpose of individual therapy is to become the healthiest and most resilient individual you can be; just like how marriage therapy is designed to enhance the resiliency and connection in your marriage. Learning skills to become a stronger individual can help you be a better partner when approached in the proper manner.
3. Work on Self-Awareness
This one is a little more complicated. While individual therapy can be helpful to understand the reasons for your behaviors or thoughts, it is important to then share these insights with your partner. If you only discuss deeper aspects of yourself with a therapist, then you might be moving towards an emotional affair. Use your therapist as a jumping off point for deeper conversations with your spouse.
To be honest, most of the skills and processes you learn in individual therapy can often be even more helpful to go through as a couple. If you feel shy or unsure of yourself, then an individual therapist can help you work those feelings. Just make sure that at the end of the day you have a stronger and more intimate connection with your spouse than your therapist. If you need help figuring out if marriage therapy can help you or if individual therapy is hurting you, schedule a free phone consultation with me to discuss your situation.