Your other half just informed you that they have decided to see a psychologist.
What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with us?
This is often our first reaction when we find ourselves in a situation where our partner is attending therapy. It is one of the scariest things, because we feel out of control.
However, rest assured that as in the dark as you feel, you are likely to reap the benefits.
There is often a misconception about attending psychotherapy. Many times people wonder if they should attend psychotherapy and if it would work for them. It is also often thought that it is only for people with severe mental health problems.
But...psychotherapy is for everyone.
Whether you are in fact one of these people with severe mental health difficulties, or if you are dealing with life changes. It can be a very healthy thing to be in therapy, for both yourself and your relationship.
The scariest part of having a partner in therapy is feeling like your partner is sharing the depths of their soul, and perhaps even yours, with a complete stranger. However, take comfort in knowing that this is a stranger who has been trained intensively, and is completely qualified to handle anything the human condition may reel their way. They are trained to read the depths of human behaviour and to help effect the most amazing changes and understanding you could ever have imagined in a person.
You know that annoying thing your partner does when they dismiss your emotions? You know how they always shut down when they should really be opening up to you? You know that irritation you feel when you have to ask your partner to let their family know about your mutual agreement to spend Christmas alone and they STILL avoid the conversation? Those deep hurts that affect the way they react to you?
These are all things that may change in the course of therapy, along with numerous other behaviours and actions which may have lost their usefulness as life progressed. At the end of the day, your partner has made an incredibly brave choice to embark on a therapeutic journey. They have identified some aspect of their being which is not fulfilling, healthy, beneficial or helpful, and have been responsible enough to take a massive leap of faith and see a specialist in order to change things.
This is something to be celebrated.
Yes, it is scary to think of a complete stranger learning the inns and outs of your life... but it is also brave. Knowing that your partner is in the capable hands of someone who has their mental health and best interests at heart and that they are working on becoming a better version of themselves for your mutual benefit. That is the true beauty of having a partner who is attending psychotherapy.
Be warned though, if you are perhaps not willing to make certain necessary changes yourself, the therapeutic process could turn into a grueling one. Especially if your partner fully embraces the changes they are required to make. Let the therapeutic journey be a team effort, even if you are not the one directly attending therapy.
What can I do to support my partner who is attending therapy?
Do not judge. It is a difficult and brave decision to decide to take control of one’s psychological state. Acknowledge this in your partner.
Trust the process. Psychotherapy is a process of change. It is not realistic to expect a sudden change in your partner’s entire being. Wounds need to be cleaned before they can heal. Trust the process.
Be supportive. Opening and cleaning wounds is a messy business. Whether it be a bloody visible wound, or a wound so deep in the heart that nobody can see.
Be tolerant. Your partner might go through periods where their emotions might be very overwhelming and they might need some space to process these and not completely be themselves.
Instead of fighting against their choice to see a specialist, why not find a therapist of your own... the mutual benefits are invaluable.
Nandhi du Plooy
Psych Central Menlyn