You wouldn’t get your car fixed at the hardware store, would you?
That’s what you’re doing when you decide in individual therapy to end your marriage.
The guys at the counter at the hardware store are super helpful when you want to choose a paint color or need just the right LED bulb. Mention your car trouble, and they can probably offer advice. “Sounds like a bad brake caliper,” they may suggest when you mention a clunking sound. They can even recommend a local garage you can trust.
The one thing they won’t do is look at your car. If you want an expert to look under the hood, check the computer, order the right replacement parts, and know how to install them, you need to go to a mechanic.
The same goes for working on your marriage.
You can talk about your marriage in individual therapy. Your individual therapist can help you clarify your thoughts and feelings, see connections to your childhood relationships, and grow more open and assertive.
She or he will offer empathy: “You sound lonely.” Or “It doesn’t sound as though you two are connecting.” That doesn’t mean your individual therapist is advising you to leave the marriage, which would, in most cases, be unethical.
Usually an individual therapist will recommend couples therapy. Couples or relationship therapists understand that the relationship is the patient. We’ve seen partners lose hope, then struggle and reconnect. Unless there is habitual infidelity, abuse, or addiction a partner isn’t willing to work on, our goal is to help both partners recognize the painful patterns they create and to learn new, fulfilling ways to relate to each other.
We focus on listening carefully and understanding both partners. But we don’t just analyze your marriage. We roll up our sleeves and help you work on it. We offer tools and coaching that help you manage conflict, nurture intimacy, and create the relationship you want.
We’re like the mechanic who looks under the hood, finds out which parts to order, and knows how to install them. We can even help you keep your engine humming for years to come. (If we can’t accomplish that together, you’ll know that you gave it your best shot. Who takes their car to the junkyard before going to a mechanic?)
And no matter how caring and insightful your individual therapist, she or he just can’t do that by talking to you alone. So when she recommends couples therapy, you owe it to yourself to follow her advice.