Why It Can Be Beneficial to Go to Couples Counseling... Alone
Wouldn’t it be great if we could wave a magic wand and make others go to therapy when they really needed it? Unfortunately, it is just not realistic to expect that. You really can’t force someone to do something that they do not want or are not yet ready to do.
Many of the individuals I see in my counseling practice would actually prefer to be in couples counseling. It is not uncommon for one partner to be ready and interested in the counseling process, while the other is not. Maybe your partner simply doesn’t believe in therapy, is scared by what may come out of the process or just can’t prioritize counseling above other demands. And yet, there is a lot that can be accomplished in couples counseling when only one person in the relationship is ready to show up. I call this: going to couples counseling alone.
Couples counseling (even without your partner) can help you clarify your relationship goals, priorities and personal limits. A lot of times couples know they are frustrated and can easily point out what is not working, but have a more difficult time defining what they actually want from their relationship. A skilled counselor can help you organize your thoughts around a relationship to help you visualize what kind of relationship you want to have. Otherwise, it is hard to work towards something when you don’t even know what that something is.
Couples counseling can help you build concrete skills to improve your relationship. Those who are familiar with the Butterfly Effect know that often a very small change can make a huge difference in the long-term. Learning communication skills, different ways of looking at a problem and how to ask for what you want in a relationship will have a tremendous impact on your partner even when they are not involved in the counseling process. For anyone participating in therapy, you will learn the greatest changes are not made in the therapy office, but in your real life outside of those walls.
Couples counseling can help you understand yourself and your relationship history better. We all come to our relationships with certain assumptions and expectations. These are based on past experiences, relationship role models and cultural beliefs. Conflict can arise when we expect our partners to operate on our same assumptions and expectations, when in reality we all have completely different lived experiences. Understanding our own personal history with relationships can help us set more realistic expectations for our partners and open our eyes to different perspectives in a current relationship.
Couples counseling will help you learn what is and what is not within your control. Do you ever get stuck nagging your partner to make a change, hearing yourself saying the same things over and over again, but nothing changes? It may be time to start practicing more acceptance-based techniques to recognize what is out of your control. Accepting what you cannot change does not mean you have to approve of it, but acceptance will help you confront reality as it is.
Going to couples counseling alone will help you learn ways to cope with relationship stress. If you find you have unmet needs in your relationship, counseling can help you look for other ways to get those basic needs met. Where else in your life can you feel fulfilled, appreciated and successful? Building competence in other areas of your life can give you the internal resources necessary to be more effective in confronting problems in your relationship.
In the end, couples counseling offers no guarantees for relationship success. Some couples, whether they know it or not, actually come to couples counseling to break up. Others take the opportunity to make changes that will make their relationship more satisfying and sustainable over the long-term. By starting the couples counseling process alone, you will start clarifying what is possible in your relationship.
It is possible your partner will be inspired by your progress in counseling and feel motivated to join in. It is possible you will bring changes to the relationship that will positively impact the both of you. It is also possible your partner will not be ready to make any changes along with you, and as disappointing as that may be, it can be clarifying as well. A couples counselor can help you do the very best you can in your relationship, and really what else could you hope to do?
Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW #64284 is a Bay Area psychotherapist who specializes in burnout prevention. She is an expert practitioner of Dialectical Behavior Therapy — a counseling style that combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other change-based skills with mindfulness and other acceptance-based strategies. Find out more: www.annacedar.com .
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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz.