3 Ways Individual Counseling Can Help Your Marriage

3 Ways Individual Counseling Can Help Your Marriage

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,



Why Being Kinder to Yourself Matters

Why Being Kinder to Yourself Matters

 Women often come to see me In my Bedford counselling office for help with improving self-esteem.  They tell me that they are so tired of feeling like failures and the sense that they will never measure up.  Often, they tell me that they have struggled with self-esteem for as long as they can remember. In fact,  if you google the term ‘women self-esteem counselling’ you’ll come up with nearly 72 million results.  This leads me to believe that the women I work with are not alone in this struggle. 

As women, we are often quick to criticize ourselves or beat ourselves up for our perceived failings.  We’ll talk to ourselves in ways that we never would to others.  We get accustomed to using our inner critic as some warped form of motivation.  And for a while it might work… until it doesn’t and you crumble under the crushing weight of feeling like you are never good enough and will never be able to get it right. 

This experience of feeling like we are not enough is a common human experience.  So common in fact, that it has led to countless books, blog posts and articles having been written in recent years about self esteem and how to improve it.  Self-Esteem has become a buzz word.

Kristin Neff, an author, professor and social researcher, has studied self-compassion and self-esteem and she notes that “the pursuit of high self-esteem has become a virtual religion, but research indicates this has serious downsides. Our culture has become so competitive we need to feel special and above average to just feel okay about ourselves (being called “average” is an insult)… And then, once you’ve gotten high self-esteem, how do you keep it? It’s an emotional roller-coaster ride: our sense of self-worth bounces around like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our latest success or failure.”

And so it is not that as women we should settle for low self-esteem, but rather that we want our own ability to be kind to ourselves not to be dependent on our performance or being better than someone else.  We want to have the capacity to treat ourselves with kindness when life feels difficult or things are not coming together the way we hoped.  The alternative to the pursuit of improved self-esteem is self-compassion.  

While self-esteem causes us to stack our performance up against others around us and to appraise how we measure up compared to others, self-compassion is really the acceptance of who we are and what we are going through without being judgemental or harsh towards ourselves, knowing that life on this earth is full of hard stuff.

I love the metaphor that Russ Harris uses in his book ACT Made Simple (p. 203) “Suppose you are going through a really hard time in your life.  There are all sorts of problems and difficulties, and just about everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong.  Now as you’re going through this, what kind of friend would you like by your side?  

“Would you like the sort of friend who says ‘Ah, shut up.  Stop your whinging and whining.  I don’t want to hear about it.  What do you have to complain about…Suck it up and get on with it.'”

“Or would you like the sort of friend who says, ‘This is really rough.  What you are going through right now, anyone would be struggling.  I want you to know I am here for you.  I’ve got your back.  We’re in this together.  I’m with you ever step of the way.'”

I know which friend I’m picking.  You?

Neff has found that increased self-compassion carries all the benefits of self-esteem (happiness, less depression, etc.) but without any of the down sides (not sustainable and can lead to narcissistic qualities).   Social Researcher Brene Brown notes that self-compassion helps increase our likelihood of being more vulnerable and able to connect with others.  Here are some interesting clips of Kristen and Brene talking together about self -esteem and self-compassion 

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably curious about how you can begin to develop greater self-compassion.  

If you’re looking to do this work on your own, here are some resources that I encourage you to check out. 

1. Brene Brown has an amazing documentary on Netflix 

2. Kristen Neff’s book on Self-Compassion

3. Kristen Neff & Christopher Germer’s Workbook on Self-Compassion

3. Russ Harris’s book Called the Reality Slap which focus on self-compassion amidst grief and loss

Often as people are working to step out of their old ways of doing things, it is helpful for them to work 1:1 with a therapist who can really help them to apply new perspectives and new learning to their situation so that growth and transformation can occur.  

If after checking out this blog post you realize you’d like to talk to someone  how to use self-compassion to  change how you feel about yourself, let’s connect.  You can book a free 15 minute consultation call  online at or call Stephanie at (902) 702-7722 to book an appointment. 

I look forward to hearing from you.





Find out more about how we can work together. 

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