As the name would suggest, couples therapy is intended for couples. But sometimes, only one partner is willing to go.
“The resistant partner may fear being vulnerable, think that therapy won’t be helpful or be uncomfortable talking about their problems,” said Kristin Zeising, a San Diego-based psychologist. “Regardless of the reasons, I’d say it’s still helpful if the other partner comes in for support.”
Below, Zeising and other therapists share six reasons why it’s a step in the right direction to go to marriage therapy, even if you’re going alone.
1. You can share your concerns without having to censor yourself.
Going to therapy alone for at least the first few sessions allows you to address your marital problems head on, without having to mince words, said Debra Campbell, a psychologist and couple’s therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
“Seeing a partner privately gives the therapist a chance to better understand where the person is struggling most in the relationship, without them censoring themselves to protect the other,” she told HuffPost. “The therapist can pinpoint how to help the spouse interpret misunderstandings and identify where they’re most at odds.”
2. One person can affect positive change.
Think of a happy family like a well-oiled machine, said Becky Whetstone, a marriage and family therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each family member represents a vital part of the machine: While some family machines function well, some run hot and cold and defectively, usually because the parents are at odds.
To fix the machine, all it takes is one partner who’s willing to do some fine-tuning, she said.
“Marriage therapists know that if we can get one partner to change their actions and behavior in a more positive and functional way, it will affect the rest of the family machine positively at the same time,” she said. “At the very least, the move will shake up the family, forcing them to change a bit.”
3. You can go over how you’ll approach thorny issues with your spouse.
If you are going solo, use therapy as a forum to discuss marriage or personal problems you’re not quite ready to broach with your S.O, Zeising said.
“You may not know how to effectively communicate your problems or you may be concerned that it will hurt your partners feelings if you’re too blunt,” she said. “A therapist can give you honest feedback and help you find the most effective and authentic way to communicate your feelings and concerns to your partner.”
4. You get a better understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.
Even if you’re alone, a therapist can give you the tools to be a better communicator and insights into what a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship looks like, Whetstone said.
“At home, this may mean that you no longer put up with things you used to or start doing things you wouldn’t have agreed to do before,” she said. “You might change, learn to set boundaries or be more engaged in the marriage.”
It’s outside of therapy, when you’re back at home with your S.O. “where the rubber meets the pavement,” Whetsone said. “If your partner is responsive to what you’ve learned, the marriage can be saved.”
5. When your partner sees positive change, he or she may be more willing to go with you.
If you use therapy as an opportunity to dig and reflect on your own behaviors and patterns (rather than simply vent about your S.O.), the insights you share with your spouse might just convince them to go, Zeising said.
“When you’re in therapy alone, you can really look at the issues that you bring to the relationship,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to heal old wounds so that you can show up as a more engaged and loving spouse. And if your partner sees you make changes, they may be more willing to go with you.”
6. It’s worth going alone for your own peace of mind.
The best possible outcome to going to couples therapy alone is having your spouse acknowledge the positive change and tag along. But even if they remain resistant to going ― and you end up splitting up ― you’ll at least have the peace of mind of knowing you tried, Whetstone said.
“Whether the relationship survives or not, the person who went to therapy alone will know they did all they could to improve and save the marriage,” she said. “That peace of mind is essential on a personal level and for the family and friends who will also be affected by the decision to divorce.”