Fixing a broken marriage requires an honest and complete effort from both partners. Yet it is not uncommon for one partner to not pull their weight. We see it all the time in our Rye, New York office. A couple starts coming to marriage counseling together, only for one of them to drop out in short order. In a worst-case scenario, one spouse never participates in counseling at all.
When that happens, we are almost always asked whether or not individual counseling is still appropriate. Should the spouse willing to work on the marriage go to counseling alone, even though the other spouse refuses to take part? Perhaps. It depends on the circumstances. But before you assume, the reasons may not be what you think.
Individual Counseling and Marriage Problems
We do not want you to get the impression that individual counseling will help you solve your marriage problems. It may, but it may not. According to a 2014 study cited by Psychology Today contributor David Woodsfellow, PhD, there is no evidence to prove individual counseling helps solve marriage problems.
This is not to say that individual counseling will absolutely not help. Rather, it is to say that there is insufficient evidence for us to assume it will. The fact that a husband or wife has to seek individual counseling suggests that their marriage is already in serious trouble. Fixing it will not be possible without the other person’s participation, whether that means turning to couple’s counseling or some other means.
So then, why participate in individual counseling? Because it can help the willing spouse cope with a troubled marriage. It can help that person get prepared for the possibility that the marriage will eventually end in divorce.
How It Can Help
Individual counseling can help people struggling in their marriages by giving them a means of talking things out. This can be immediately helpful if it results in the client no longer feeling so alone. Beyond that, individual counseling can:
- help the individual develop more realistic expectations moving forward
- help the individual formulate a strategy for coping with either a positive or negative outcome
- give the individual an outlet for pent-up emotions and unresolved thoughts
- help the individual see the current situation more clearly and objectively.
There is a lot to be said for sitting down and talking things out with an objective third party. Marriage counseling offers a different perspective completely detached from the emotionally charged circumstances that tend to define marriage problems. Counseling is essentially a safe space to talk about things.
How It Can Hurt
Integrity requires us to disclose the fact that individual counseling can hurt as much as it helps people dealing with marriage problems. First and foremost, individual counseling can further cement feelings of isolation and loneliness. It can make a person feel like all hope is completely lost.
Individual counseling for marriage problems could also hurt by:
- encouraging a person to try to fix his or her marriage solo
- cause the other spouse to feel left out of the decision-making process
- cause either spouse to feel betrayed
- cement the idea that the two partners are incapable of fixing their marriage.
Individual counseling is helpful in addressing individual problems. It may or may not be helpful in resolving marriage problems. Should you be experiencing marriage problems with a spouse unwilling to try marriage counseling, individual counseling may be an option. But let us talk about it before you go down that particular road. Let us make sure it will help you rather than hurt you.