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Individual Therapy or Couples Therapy: Where Should I Start?

man with navy sweater sitting next to woman in green turtleneck on couch. they are speaking to a couples counselor.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

This classic breakup line may seem like a cliché but it does reinforce the idea that the breakdown of relationships is caused by one person. It ignores the fact that relationships are collaborative efforts.

So when a relationship is on the brink of collapse, what does a person do? Seek individual therapy to work on their own struggles? Or do they bring in their partner for couples therapy to hash out differences and express concerns together?

In all honesty, both forms of therapy are beneficial to strengthening and maintaining a relationship – especially when integrated into a complete relationship-saving plan.

How Individual Therapy Can Help Your Relationship

Identity Loss and Confusion

Everyone changes because of the relationships they are in but sometimes these changes happen in a negative way. You may be worried that you are becoming someone else in order to appease your partner.

Individual therapy can help you address these changes and explore how you feel about them. It may be that you need to learn how to set boundaries or have your voice heard.

Being able to do this without your partner present helps alleviate the pressure of worrying about how they may feel or react to your concerns.

Past Trauma

Trauma can either be obvious or subtle depending on what you have experienced but both forms are equally powerful and can affect your relationship.

These experiences can be easily triggered when you are in a relationship, even if the relationship is healthy. In individual therapy, your therapist can focus on your past trauma in an environment that is safe and intimate.

Big Life Transitions

Life events such as getting married or having a baby are huge transitions, especially if they happen very quickly. 

The resulting stress can put a strain on the relationship. Seeking the support of a therapist through individual therapy can help you come to terms with these changes and strategize how to accommodate them in your life.

Gaining Clarity of a Situation Before Taking It To Your Partner

Most of the time, people are nervous to bring issues to their partners. They may feel that their perspective is unwarranted or they may be fearful of how their partner will react.

By discussing these issues in individual therapy, you can gain clarity of the situation and organize your thoughts so you can present them to your partner in a caring and constructive way.

How Couples Therapy Can Benefit Your Relationship

Improve Emotional Openness

Even the best relationships can fall apart if the couple cannot fully express themselves emotionally. Both partners need to be able to express their emotions as well as be receptive to their partner’s feelings.

When emotional openness is achieved in a relationship, emotional needs can be properly met. A therapist can help mediate emotional expression between partners in couples therapy.

Identify and Address Differences

Relationships involve a fascinating dynamic of similarities and differences. However, sometimes those differences can negatively impact the health of the relationship.

In couples therapy, you and your partner can learn how to accept each other’s differences by identifying deal-breakers and non-negotiables as well as clarifying beliefs and ideals as well as emotional and physical needs.

Help Partners Know Each Other

So many times in couples therapy I hear a patient say, “I feel like I don’t know him/her anymore.”

Just as I mentioned above, we often change when we are in relationships. While this can be difficult to accept in ourselves, it can be equally challenging to accept in our partners.

Couples therapy can help you identify your partner’s ideals as well as their quirks to get to know them better and address any deep-rooted issues you may have.

Address Future Issues

Being able to predict your partner’s reactions is important in preventing issues from occurring.

Couples therapy can help you solve conflicts before they even start by focusing on communication, comfort, and openness between you and your partner.

Integrating Individual Therapy Sessions Into Couples Therapy

Even though individual therapy and couples therapy can benefit your relationship in their own particular ways, you can also use these forms of these therapies integratively.

Before choosing one therapy over another, it’s important to get out of the “you need to work on yourself first” in order to save your relationship mindset. This creates an environment of blame and shifting that blame onto one person in the relationship, whether it’s you or your partner, is not helpful.

Individual therapy should be sought out to gain clarity and express honest feelings about your relationship to see why the relationship is struggling. It’s not about “fixing” you to save the relationship.

Alternatively, it’s also not helpful to assume that having your partner present during therapy sessions will impede your healing. There are issues and struggles brought into relationships that are bigger than the relationship itself.

Think about all of the situations I mentioned above where individual therapy would be beneficial: past trauma, identity loss, transitions, and gaining clarity. I recommend individual therapy for these challenges because it offers you the opportunity to express your feelings freely and without fear of judgment.

But does the healing of the relationship happen there? No. While it’s important to address these barriers individually, they must be explored in the context of the relationship as well.

Being able to explore how these struggles impact your relationship with your partner can help them gain more insight into what is really going on.

That’s why integrating individual therapy with couples therapy is the most effective way to maintain a healthy relationship.

Where Do I Start?

Each couple I’ve worked with is unique and requires flexible and individualized treatment plans.

It’s hard to say definitively that you should start with individual therapy or couples therapy – the starting point depends on you and your situation.

So why don’t we have a chat? Get in touch with me today to start your journey to healing your relationship!

 

By July 15, 2021 November 30th, 2021 Blog, Psychology & Relationships