It sounds silly to talk of one person taking part in couple’s therapy, like a solo game of tennis or a waltz for one. You’re half of a couple, doesn’t that mean you’re “half” when you’re on your own?
It can be easier and perhaps more efficient when both partners agree to see a therapist – easier to uncover what’s working and what isn’t for both of you, more efficient to train both partners in the skills of partnership at the same time.
However, it just may not be possible. If your partner doesn’t recognize a problem with your relationship or doesn’t see the value in professional help, or refuses to participate because he or she fears the therapist will be biased, couple’s therapy for one may be your only option.
That doesn’t mean it’s a bad option. If your relationship is in trouble, any help is a good thing, and some therapists who work with one member of a couple report that it can be surprisingly successful, for a number of reasons:
- The one member in therapy is most likely a woman, since women are more comfortable asking for such intimate help and communicating their own feelings about their relationship. Women are also more likely to easily pick up the new skills suggested by a therapist and take them home to their reluctant partner.
- Couple’s therapy ultimately focuses on the relationship rather than one partner. That’s what makes it more appropriate for relationship issues than traditional psychotherapy, which focuses on the interior life of one person. Couple’s therapy offers practical skills to improve a relationship. If the participating member is able to honestly report on the relationship, a skilled therapist can pretty accurately fill out the picture.
- Even when both partners participate in therapy, each can only work on their own issues – no one can change someone else. So, a solo partner taking part in couple’s therapy can focus on their own issues and make progress.
- As the participating partner finds insight and becomes clearer and less stressed about the relationship, he or she becomes a model of the value of couple’s therapy, which can reassure the non-participating partner.
For the best outcome, take your time when selecting your therapist. Look for someone with training and experience in couple’s therapy, and one who is comfortable working with one partner.
It’s not enough just to show up at couple’s therapy, though. You must come in prepared to work. These will not be complaint sessions; the therapist doesn’t want to hear about how your partner has wronged you in the past. The topic will be the repeating issues that are keeping your relationship in turmoil and what can practically be done to change that dynamic.
In addition, even though your partner won’t come to the therapy sessions, he or she must be willing to also work on changes in the relationship. This doesn’t mean that you will simply come home with a to-do list for your partner. You must internalize the changes, improve your own partnering (offer a foot rub, be honest about a subject you’ve been avoiding, stand up for your own needs) and expect your partner to do the same. If your partner shows any interest, be generous in sharing what you’ve talked about with the therapist, what you’re reading, how you feel you have changed.
As you grow in understanding and confidence, your partner may decide to join in your sessions. Welcome him or her – this is what you hoped for from the beginning. If that never happens, know that your relationship and your own part in it can improve remarkably if you go it alone.