How to Tell If Starting Individual Therapy Will Help Your Relationship

When a couple experiences recurring disputes, major life changes like getting married or having a kid, intimacy or sex problems, or feelings of emotional estrangement, they frequently discuss beginning couple’s counseling.

But when might beginning individual therapy be more beneficial than beginning couple’s therapy?

Individual treatment is preferable to couples therapy in the following three circumstances:

1. Confusion or loss of identity

You’re unsure of how much giving in feels good to you or concerned about losing important aspects of who you are. Because of the relationships we have, we all undergo transformation. however, are the changes you’re making empowering and expansive? Or do you occasionally worry that you’re bending over backwards to accommodate others? Many of us deal with trying to please others or having a strong desire to be liked by others, especially by our relationships.

You can learn how to set boundaries with others, make sure your voice is heard, and explore how you feel about the changes that are taking place or being discussed in individual therapy. It’s important to have a place where you can express yourself honestly and openly without worrying about how your spouse would feel or respond (as you might in a couple’s setting). Even that 2% of you that wishes your partner would just push it.

2. Old, familiar feelings

You are observing that some of the issues your partner is having are not entirely new. Similar to how we experienced conflict with our families as children, we frequently have disagreements with our partners. Perhaps we heard our parents yelling at each other, and despite our vows to ourselves that we would never do that, here we are, screaming too. Perhaps we experienced a similar lack of understanding from our parents when we were young and now, with our spouse, we feel misunderstood and abandoned. When you notice these old, ingrained feelings coming back, it can be unsettling and cause you to feel insecure about your connection.

Individual therapy can assist you in recognizing and processing the similarities and differences between your relationship and your family of origin. No matter how similar or dissimilar your partner may be to your parents, it can teach you how to develop new dynamics in your relationship. One of the most important aspects of individual therapy is learning how to better understand your triggers or raw spots (we all have them!) and how to treat yourself with compassion when those buttons are pushed. This process will help you in all of your relationships, including romantic, familial, platonic, and professional ones.

3. Previous trauma

Some types of trauma are more evident than others; for example, you may have experienced a sexual assault or grew up witnessing violence. Other types of trauma are more subtle, but they can still have just as strong an impact. For example, you may have been “spanked” or yelled at frequently as a child, had a parent who was a functioning alcoholic, gone through a sudden or ambiguous (mostly unrecognized) loss, received less attention because other family members were in need, or come from a culture where trauma has been a part of history for generations. These events are physically present in our bodies, are frequently discovered in couple’s therapy, and can be reactivated in relationships—even the healthiest ones.

They should be valued, though, in a setting where your therapist can focus solely on your experience (without having to take into account or incorporate that of your spouse). In order to develop the kind of safety, closeness, and trust with your therapist that result from undivided attention to you and your courageous vulnerability, individual treatment is required.

There are two areas where individual therapy or a mix of individual and couple’s therapy might be most beneficial:

1. Discord between family members

You recently got married, got engaged, or got pregnant… when all of a sudden, the relationships you have with your parents, siblings, parents-in-law, and siblings-in-law have changed in an unanticipated way. During significant transformations, there can occasionally be a seismic reaction and conflict results. While it’s necessary to focus on communication and boundary-setting with your spouse during this time (which is an excellent objective for couple’s work), it’s also crucial to discover your own understanding and meaning of what is happening before you start problem-solving with your partner.

When the fire becomes hot, it can be tempting to switch to Let’s Fix It mode. Before taking action, individual counseling can help you become rooted in your own experience, comprehension, and needs. When you feel the urge to exert more control over a certain scenario, what is the underlying fear that is emerging for you? What could possibly help you to calm that fear? How can you best convince your partner to work as a team with you so that you may share these experiences rather than feeling alone or at odds with one another? Before tackling the seriousness of problem resolution in couple’s work, these are fantastic questions to explore in the encouraging setting of your individual therapy.

2. Two significant changes occur quickly.

The typical interval between getting married and having a child in the United States is three years. Whether you decide to wait 3 or 5 years before getting pregnant, have a child before getting engaged or married, or do both around the same time, these changes bring about a lot of change in a relatively short amount of time. According to studies, getting married is one of the ten most stressful life events. One of the most trying times in a marriage, according to research, is when a couple becomes new parents.

Starting individual counseling is a great approach to support yourself and gain insight into how these changes are having (or will be having) an impact on you and your relationships. What does it mean for you to marry or have children? Father or mother? What aspects of you will support you the most as you adjust to your new roles? What aspects of you do you fear will prevent you from becoming the kind of partner or parent you desire? While individual treatment is beneficial in learning about your changing needs and wants as you mature during these significant transitions, couple therapy is helpful in planning around methods to structure your new family unit in a practical way that feels good to you both.

Only when both persons are dedicated to their own individual therapy may certain couple’s therapists work with couples. They are aware that pair therapy frequently fails (or takes a long time to succeed) because one or both individuals need to concentrate on developing a deeper understanding of themselves and their family histories. Try individual therapy first (or concurrently with couple’s therapy) if the storm is too thick to see through during couple’s therapy.

If you do decide to begin individual and couple’s treatment concurrently, congrats on making a significant investment in your well-being and your interpersonal abilities. If you’re attempting to decide whether individual therapy or couple therapy will be your initial step, keep in mind that in order to improve your connection to another person and get the most out of couple therapy, you must first uncover and sort out your own feelings and beliefs.