Susan’s marital distress reached a tipping point, leading her to see a marital therapist. Her chief complaint was that her husband refuses to change, blames her for all the family problems, doesn’t hold a steady job and rarely takes responsibility for his behavior. He is constantly late to family events, forms unhealthy alliances with their children and responds to confrontation with anger and entitlement. The problem is he won’t come to therapy.
While I prefer to see both spouses for couple therapy, couple work with one person is possible and effective. In practice, not all spouses are available or motivated to attend sessions. Couple therapy, however, is not constricted to both partners attending, but rather involves a systems mindset applied to the work conducted with the person present.
The work involves helping the person observe his or her role in the couple process and changing unhealthy patterns by changing the client’s step in the couple dance. And nothing like an affair, lying or abuse can be on-going.
Ever since Adam first blamed Eve and Sarai accused Abram of being the cause of her suffering (Gen 16:5), people continue to stubbornly avoid personal responsibility in the context of relationships. Our natural bent is to blame others rather than “take the beam out of our own eye”. Couple therapy with one person helps people take personal responsibility, focus on their own hearts and mind, and control the one thing they can control—their own reactions to others.
Ultimately, God holds each of us accountable for our part in our interpersonal relationships. He does not excuse us based on the unhealthy reactions of others. Thus, this type of therapy, which focuses on your reactions to unhealthy patterns fits beautifully with a biblical frame of personal accountability and responsibility.
So if your partner refuses to go to couple therapy, you go. Work on your behavior, conflict management and relationships skills and see what a difference this type of focus makes in the relationship. You can’t change another person but you can change you. And when you change you, the relationship does change. However, you need to find a therapist who understands the systems approach to couple work, and not a therapist who only deals with individuals.
More marital help, I Married You, Not Your Family by Dr. Linda Mintle (click on the link at the right More Books By Dr. Mintle)