Sexuality and marriage counseling for one? It sounds strange but it’s not. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Couples Therapy for One: To Fix a Marriage, Some Go Alone”, suggested that if one partner is not willing or able to do couples counseling, there is a benefit to the other partner going for “solo marriage counseling”. We echo that finding from our sexuality counseling practice, which focuses on couples with cancer and chronic diseases.
Each partner brings their own behaviors and reactions and hot buttons into the relationship. When you make even small changes in your own behavior based on counseling, it has an effect on both partners. Two examples:
“Harry”, a 48-year-old prostate cancer survivor, suffered from erectile dysfunction – but his marriage had many other dysfunctions as well. Harry focused on who he wanted to be. He improved his voice, started going to the gym, and worked on self-improvement and ways that he would feel happier in areas other than his marriage. Of course, he also learned how to have erection-free sex. The “improved” Harry became more attractive to his wife – and was perceived more positively in his profession. His wife was so delighted with the changes that she sent a note to the counselor: “Thank you for the difference you are making in (Harry’s) life.”
“Tina and Rick” had a rocky marriage and were concerned that it would affect their young son. Rick had recently started an 80-hour-a-week job in another city, and they only saw each other on weekends. Tina began counseling solo. After a few months of counseling, she says that the relationship is still difficult, but there is no more screaming and they talk to each other every day.
So, if you feel that marriage counseling would benefit your relationship, but your partner resists, doing “counseling for one” can still have real benefits for both partners.
About the authors: Barbara and Ralph Alterowitz are sexuality counselors in private practice, certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). They specialize in sexual dysfunction as a result of cancer treatment or chronic disease.