Even happily married couples can hit obstacles along the way. Did you know that individual counselling can be helpful, even when your partner is not interested or able to attend couples therapy.
John Gottman, is an American psychologist, researcher and clinician who has studied divorce and marital stability for more than 40 years. He found that couples are in distressed relationships for more than 6 years before seeking help. That is a long time to struggle.
In my clinical practice, people often tell me that they have waited to come to therapy until their partner was willing or able to seek help. The person who has been waiting, often expresses a mix of relief and frustration when their partner finally agrees to come to counselling. They feel like they have been wrestling with the problems in their relationship all by themselves for a long time.
Many people assume that when their partner is unwilling or unable to come to therapy, that they have to wait tho see a therapist until both people can see one together.
While I there is solid research that shows the effectiveness of couples counselling for resolving relationship problems, if your spouse is unwilling or unable to come, I would encourage you to consider coming to counselling on your own.
Individual counselling can help you learn new skills and strategies to cope in your relationship. And while there is no guarantee that your partner will be responsive to your changes, individual counselling can help you feel like you are coping in the best possible way with the challenges in your relationship.
3 Ways Individual Counselling can Help Your Relationship.
1. Identifying Behavioral Patterns
Most of us are aware of our partner’s behaviours but less focused on our own.
In a struggling relationship, it is not uncommon for the focus to be the other person’s behaviour. But when you can’t seem to get them to change, the problems in your marriage can seem overwhelming and discouraging.
But here’s the truth. I have never met a someone who said their behaviour was transformed because their partner continually pointed out their flaws and shortcomings.
If you are going to help things improve in your relationship, getting clear about your own steps in ‘the dance’ and making sense of why you keep going back to these same old unhelpful behaviours is so important.
Individual Therapy Can Help You Recognize Your Own Negative Patterns
As someone who specializes in marriage and couples therapy, I am trained to help individuals recognize their own negative patterns and how they play out in their relationship.
I can help you get clear about the kind of responses that you would rather give, even when things are strained between the two of you.
Individual therapy can help you learn to slow down your reactions so you can intentionally behave in ways that are more like the kind of partner you want to be.
Individual therapy will help you make better sense of what happens to you emotionally in conflict situations. You can learn to recognize triggers for behaviour that ends up getting you and your partner stuck.
As a result, you will be empowered and able to take a step back during conflicts as they occur, preventing escalation.
As a bonus, a therapist can also point out the strengths and resources they find in your relationship so you can leverage and learn how to nourish them.
2. Change at the Root Level
Once your therapist has helped you identify negative patterns, they can then help you understand why they are happening and assist you in changing them. Most behavioral patterns are formed and ingrained when we are very young – before we become self-aware and before we’ve met our significant others.
Our attachment strategies, how we seek to maintain closeness with others, are formed early in life and have a lot to do with our first relationship with a primary caregiver.
Lesley Becker-Phelps, author of Insecure in Love: How Anxious Attachment Can Make you Feel Jealous, Needy and Worried notes that your current attachment style is probably the same as what was nurtured in your childhood relationships. If you never experienced as sense of security in your relationship, were fearful of being rejected or had a desire for closeness you could never satisfy, you are likely to still struggle with some of these worries.
The ways in which people deal with these ‘attachment insecurities’ are known as attachment styles, which describe how you relate to yourself (how worthy you feel of being loved which can create anxiety) and significant other in a relationship (how much you feel you can rely on others which can create avoidance). The 4 attachment styles; preoccupied, fearful, dismissive and secure, reflect varying characteristic of anxiety/avoidance. You can read more about attachment styles in this awesome book.
Even if you have never experienced a close, connected relationship, you can develop a more secure attachment style known as “earned secure attachment”. While this often happens in adult love relationships, earned secure attachment can also develop in therapy. This happens because of several key events; a strong alliance with your therapist. and learning to become more self-aware and self-compassionate.
Having a more secure attachment style and a sense of compassion for yourself can create a positive difference in your relationship.
3. Coping Strategies
We often reach for unworkable coping strategies. Things like opting out (not doing something or going somewhere), distracting ourselves (hello, Netflix binges!) and numbing ourselves with food, alcohol, drugs, etc. are all effective in the short term to get rid of uncomfortable sensations and emotions.
The problem is that in the long term, overusing these strategies often leads us away from being the kind of person and the kind of partner we want to be.
The emotional pain of being in a struggling relationship can often lead people to get caught in a vicious cycle of overusing these unworkable coping strategies.
This impacts their relationship, leading to further conflict, which leads to more unworkable coping strategies. Individual therapy can help learn new ways to regulate your emotions and find more compassion for yourself, both of which can have an impact on your relationship.
While these things may not directly ‘working on’ your relationship, they can give you the emotional balance you need to do things differently.
If after checking out this blog post you realize that you’d benefit from individual therapy to improve your relationship, let’s chat. I work with women and couples in Halifax/Dartmouth/Sackville and surrounding areas at my Bedford Office.
You can book a free 15 minute consultation online or call Stephanie at (902) 702-7722 to schedule an appointment.
All my best,