A One Sided Problem?
When there are problems in a marriage, spouses can have very different ideas about the best course for tackling them. So it’s not surprising that while one person might feel that marriage counseling is a viable solution, the other might not buy into it or be suspicious.
While it takes two people to make a marriage work, it doesn’t necessarily take two people sitting on a therapist’s couch to have a positive influence on the relationship. In fact, in many ways individual therapy can provide a safe, comfortable space for a person to do some good thinking about their responsibilities in the marriage and how they can communicate better with their partner.
Thinking about working on your marriage in individual therapy?
Here are a few suggestions to get the most out of it.
1. Keep your focus on you. Sometimes people bring their spouse to therapy and want to spend the hour focusing on what the other is doing wrong, hoping that their partner can finally hear the complaints and changes. But even if it’s just you in the room, you still might be tempted to spend the time talking about how you wish your spouse were different.
If you really want the marriage to change, then the best way you can spend your time in the consulting room is to examine your own thoughts, reactions, and behaviors in the marriage and outside the marriage. No matter the number of people in the room, therapy isn’t about blaming someone else or feeling guilty yourself. It’s about learning to be open, honest, and equal in the relationship.
2. Listen to your spouse’s concerns. When only one person goes to counseling, his or her partner can have irrational fears about the experience. They might fear their husband or wife is saying negative things about them and biasing the therapist or that the therapist will encourage them to leave the marriage. Or they simply might be uncomfortable with the idea that their spouse is sharing personal information with a stranger, even if it is a confidential relationship.
Even if the fears seem irrational, you should listen to your spouse’s concerns. Assure them that you have committed to therapy because you want to work on yourself, and working on yourself can benefit the marriage. If he or she can understand they are not sole the topic of conversation with the therapist, it’s possible that he or she might warm up to the idea of coming with you in the future.
3. Consider other important relationships. The way we manage conflict, anxiety, and stress in a marriage doesn’t appear out of nowhere. For better or worse, we react the way we do to problems or crises because we’ve had them modeled to us in our families and in other relationships.
Sometimes going back to examining your own nuclear family in therapy can help you be more objective about your role in your marriage without making you feel guilty. Or perhaps examining stressors in other arenas like work can give insight into how you take the anxiety and direct it towards your spouse. A marriage doesn’t exist in a bubble, and thinking about how you relate to other people can help you set goals for being a thoughtful, responsible spouse.
4. Remember that individual change benefits everyone. When one person in a marriage is examining how they can improve themselves, both partners benefit. Your spouse is unlikely to change overnight, but if they can sense that you are focused on working on you, there is less pressure on them.
So often in marriages both parties are focused on how the other one can change. And the emotional reactivity in the relationship becomes so volatile that no one can do any good thinking. When individuals feel less pressure, they are more likely to be able to hear you when you communicate your own needs and wants without becoming defensive or reactive.
We all know that we can’t change other people, but when our emotions take over, we forget this reality. When you can shine the light back on you, you free up you and your husband or wife to be the best version of themselves.
Taking responsibility for self is a muscle that has to be flexed regularly to benefit our lives and our relationships. Therapy can be an excellent place to practice keeping the focus on how we change ourselves, whether it’s one spouse or both in the room.
A relationship counselor can work with you to help you understand each other better. Sometimes it takes the insight of a professional in order to see things differently, and begin to work toward a healthy relationship. Please give the counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County a call today at 949-430-7389 to schedule your appointment.