Can You Do Your Best Couples Therapy Solo?
You don't need me to tell you that relationships are hard. You’ve heard the time worn (and not necessarily accurate) statistic that “50% of marriages end in divorce” and the relentless companion cliches: “can’t live with him, can’t live without him”, “She’s gonna drive me to drink”....Let’s face it, the whole genre of traditional country/western music couldn’t exist without this kind of belief system propping it up.
When Relationships Change
When committed romance collides with regular life things are guaranteed to change and we are soon to encounter complications. Ambivalence emerges where once resided only passion. Annoyance presses in where once stood only kindly patience. Eye rolls more often replace endless placid gazes.
Contemplating Couples Therapy
So what does this mean and what do you do?.....Probably, the first thing you will be inclined to do is to talk to a trusted friend and confidant. “Hey man,.....here’s the deal…..what do you think I should do?” You are probably aware of what the conventional wisdom you are likely to hear in response. …..”Maybe you guys should go talk to someone.” It certainly sounds reasonable and in fact, I agree with it completely, but only when taken literally and when we allow the emphasis to rest on the word “maybe” Couple’s therapy can be effective and profoundly meaningful in pursuit of specific goals….but not all of them and not all of the most important ones.
When Couples Therapy is Indicated
When there are clearly identifiable and realistically addressed issues, AND when there are two at least predominantly willing and motivated participants, Couples therapy is indicated. Such issues include:
- Enhancing communication styles and patterns especially around hot topic issues like, sex, money, family, friends, ex-lovers, etc…
- Improving and deepening intimacy including sexual, emotional, intellectual, respect and personal acknowledgement and recognition.
- Clearly identifying toxic conditions and behaviors which serve no useful role and are purely destructive and seeking to intervene before the relationship is permanently eroded. Examples include but certainly not limited to problem drinking/drug use, irresponsible use of money, abusive or hurtful language, untreated depression or other mental illness, physical violence, disdain, stonewalling or silent treatment etc.
When Individual Therapy is More Effective
But there are many times in which YOU working on your own and with a good individual psychotherapist can lead to better and more effective outcomes. Almost always, the happier and more stable you are within yourself, the better your most important relationships will be regardless of what they do or do not do.
Idealized Relationships Provoke Relationship Failure
Typically, we are deeply unaware of the tremendous burden of expectations we place on our primary romantic partner. This subconscious and skewed thinking can really “mess with your head”. When left unexamined, it begins to make perfect sense and soon emerges a mental construct of an idealized relationship that is destined to fail.
Magical Thinking About Your Relationship Can Cause Anxiety or Depression
I know both from multiple studies and from painful personal experience that we very well can create unverbalized and unexplored belief systems about our partner and relationship that can color our whole world. If we were to take time to give words to these beliefs (which we seldom do without working on it alone or with someone) Some of these amorphous and unsound beliefs, when sharpened up with language may sound like this:
- “You are supposed to make me happy and I feel like shit. What’s wrong with you?!”
- “Sometimes I just get in a bad mood, I should have the right to do that!”
- “I’ve been dealing with my crazy parents my whole life, now it's your turn to get used to it”
- “Giving affection is just not my style…..deal with it!”
- “You don’t care about me as much as you should”
- “You’re jamming me…...quit jamming me!” (Thanks Tom Petty)
All of these feelings are painful and can directly contribute to depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior, etc. The thing with depression and anxiety are that they are deeply personal and primarily need to be addressed that way. No one, not even your most trusted and beloved has as6 deep a connection with and as strong a capacity to make change in your life…..as YOU.
To Make Change Out There, Make Change In Here
Going inward is hard work and not particularly admired or celebrated in our culture. We don’t associate “getting it done”, “making it happen”, or “hitting the ground running” with deep, patient and quiet introspection. But the good news is that the payoff can be huge and much more abiding than some of the short lived wins we get from acting out and asserting ourselves in the outside world. More good news is that the capacity to do this introspection well is hardwired in us. Good therapy is often mostly about clearing aside debris so that the already existing path to health (INCLUDING better relationships) can emerge and show itself clearly. Your own healthy relationship with you will almost always do more good for your relationship with your lover than any changes you can wrestle out of them through pleading, berating...or...even….. couples therapy.