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Relationship Therapy for One

Updated: May 7

It’s not uncommon for an individual to come to therapy feeling frustrated, upset and saddened by their relationship. My first question might be, “Have you considered couple’s therapy?” Frequently, the client will say that they would love couples therapy, but their partner isn’t receptive. Their partner might not perceive the situation as dire, have skepticism about therapy, or have had a negative experience with therapy in the past. There can be a multitude of reasons why one’s partner may hesitate to engage in therapy, and this is perfectly understandable.

If this resonates with you, don’t lose hope on improving your relationship. Although it would be great to have your partner participate, there is a lot you can accomplish independently to enhance your relationship. And who knows - as your partner sees the big changes you make; they may be willing to give therapy a try.

Engaging in relationship counseling solo may sound crazy but let’s start with remembering that each relationship is a two-party system. You might think of it like a teeter-totter. As one side goes up, the other goes down; but by holding your legs just right and balancing your weight, you can achieve equilibrium. This doesn't imply manipulating or coercing your partner. Rather, as you evolve, your partner naturally evolves alongside you. In relationships we continuously influence and impact each other, for better or worse. Plus, you get the added benefit of lots of personal growth.

In therapy, even without your partner in the room you can delve into how your behavior affects the one you love. For instance, you might feel angry whenever your partner comes home late. Or you might feel extremely anxious if your partner needs a time-out during an argument. By unraveling these dynamics you might learn that your partner's actions are triggering your past traumas. You may learn that your reactions are more about the past and how you felt as a child, than about the present. By understanding your triggers as they play out in your relationship you can share these insights with your partner and devise solutions that will meet both of your needs.

This type of therapy goes by many different names. It is sometimes called:

  • Individual Relationship Therapy (“IRT”),

  • Individual Marital Therapy (“IMT”),

  • Individual Relationship Counseling (“IRC”) or

  • Individual Therapy for Couple’s Problems (“ITCP”)

But no matter what the name, the concept remains the same. You as the change agent, can

collaborate with your therapist to examine your role in the relationship dynamics.

In relationship therapy for one, the focus isn’t on venting grievances or assigning blame to your partner; instead, it involves understanding how you and your partner influence and provoke each other. You will explore your family-of-origin and the patterns you learned while growing up, as so often our current behaviors are echoing those from the past. You will be broadening your perspective and begin to notice how you and your partner complement and challenge each other. Your therapist will guide you in appreciating both the strengths and difficulties in your relationship while learning how to support each other. You will learn about your attachment styles and how this impacts your relationship, fostering a compassionate view of yourself and your partner.

In individual relationship therapy you will acquire new skills to apply outside the sessions. These skills might encompass effective listening, communication skills, relinquishing defensiveness, and overcoming stonewalling, all while nurturing mutual growth and healing old wounds.

Although the thought of starting fresh with someone new may cross your mind amidst the

relationship turmoil, it's essential to recognize that choosing a partner who challenges us often provides opportunities for personal growth. Frequently, we're drawn to partners who share similar emotional scars, and by navigating these challenges together, we can begin to heal past wounds from childhood and prior relationships. Plus, by healing these past wounds we can avoid repeating the same patterns in new relationships.

So, even if your partner is hesitant to give couple’s therapy a try, do it on your own, for you! You will become better at relationships, and no one can take that away from you!

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