Many people come to couples counseling looking for a neutral third party. Many people leave couples counseling when they think the therapist is more on one person’s “side” than another. I am on the side of your relationship. The relationship is the client, not you or your partner. I think the very concept of “sides” is flawed as it relates to couples counseling. Most people who come to couples counseling have some concept of wanting to gain their therapists approval or to show that their partner is “wrong.” Unfortunately, this is the wrong mindset. I don’t recommend anyone do couples therapy if they aren’t able to try at least to find things they need to work on personally and to make that the focus.
There is only one side for those who want the relationship to work. It is not a competition. It is not about trying to gain your therapist’s favor or show why your partner is so bad. It usually makes sense to work on the most pressing issues first. These issues may involve one person being more responsible than the other. For example, affairs, addiction, and abuse are typically the fault of the perpetrator. It makes sense to focus on issues like this at the start, and it may be more uncomfortable for one person than the other. While I may take sides, there is zero judgment. We are just working together to solve problems.
There is also the matter of discernment counseling, where one person is leaning out of the relationship, and the other wants to work hard to make it succeed. Focusing on the leaning-out partner at first makes sense because it only takes one person to end a relationship. If the leaning-out partner decides they want to work on the relationship, then the focus shifts more equally on each member and the couple as a whole.
When people say they want someone neutral to referee, they usually mean they want someone who will see things their way. While there are always attempts to let each person tell their perspective, it is not the therapist’s job to make sure each person gets exactly equal time. If you are worried about neutrality, then you probably have the wrong mindset for couples counseling. The focus should be on helping your relationship or at least helping you achieve clarity as far as what you want to do with your relationship.
It is difficult to change someone else, so your focus in couples therapy should be on changing yourself. Couples therapy doesn’t work when you see your partner as having all the issues (except in extreme circumstances). Part of couples therapy may involve teaching you to put your ego and competitiveness aside.
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