Should I Start Relationship Therapy or Individual Therapy First?

You’ve noticed an increase in the arguments lately. Or maybe you’ve struggled to find time for intimacy when you’re both “in the mood”. You’ve been looking into sex and relationship therapy, but you’ve also started to realize you might need individual therapy as well. How do you know where to begin?

Individual therapy and couples therapy can be used to improve different aspects of your life. Individual therapy can help you understand and address your own personal challenges, while relationship therapy can help you improve your communication and connection with your partner. When combined, individual and relationship therapy can be a powerful tool for improving both your personal and relational well-being. Each type of therapy can offer its own benefits.

Increased self-awareness

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who has low self-esteem? Maybe it’s because they didn’t feel supported enough growing up or because they struggled with bullying in school. It’s not uncommon for a person with low confidence to create challenges in a relationship because they don’t always communicate honestly and openly. According to Erol & Orth, good self-esteem and relationship satisfaction are linked through research. Self-esteem affects how we think about ourselves, but it also affects our ability to accept love and how we treat others, especially in intimate relationships. And a person with poor self-esteem needs to be aware they have this challenge to overcome it.

Individual therapy can help you expand your understanding of your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This deepened self-awareness can be instrumental in improving your relationships, as you begin to identify and address your own contributions to conflict and disconnection with your partner.

Individual therapy can help you build self-assurance so you can show up more confidently in your life and in your relationship. This confidence can help you feel more comfortable speaking up and being a more authentic version of yourself for your partner.

Improved communication

Have you ever watched a single episode of The Office? Dwight Schrute is a great example of someone in need of better communication skills. He is often curt, overly blunt, and far too direct when conveying… well any message to his coworkers. This plays heavily into the fact that none of his coworkers respond favorably to any request he makes, even when he is simply conveying a requirement from “the home office”. Communication is one of the most important factors in any successful relationship. But it is also a challenge when we are stressed or activated.

Individual therapy can help you learn how to express your needs and feelings confidently, and how to listen to and understand your partner. Relationship therapy can also provide a safe and supportive space for couples to practice these skills and learn to communicate more effectively as a team.

Stronger conflict resolution skills

Conflict is a normal part of any relationship. But when healthy resolutions are a challenge for partners, it can lead to resentment and disconnection. Consider nearly any reality television show and you’ll call to mind a lot of conflict with very unhealthy ways of managing conflict. But what if you and your partner need help developing these skills and don’t want to vote one another off the island?

Both individual and relationship therapy can help couples develop better conflict-resolution skills. In individual therapy, you can learn to identify and manage your own triggers, and how to communicate your needs and feelings in a way that is more likely to be heard and understood. In relationship therapy, couples can learn how to work together to resolve conflict in a productive and meaningful way.

Increased intimacy and connection

One of the ultimate goals of relationship therapy is to help couples feel more connected and intimate with one another. When couples feel safe and connected, they are more likely to be open and vulnerable, which can lead to deeper intimacy and satisfaction in the relationship. I grew up on weekend sitcoms that made me believe in a relationship that was completely connected like Harriette and Carl from Family Matters or Mike and Carol on The Brady Bunch. Developing relationships like that may require some support from therapy.
Individual therapy can also play a role in this process, by helping couples heal from past wounds or trauma and develop greater self-confidence. Relationship therapy can also help couples explore new and meaningful ways to rekindle or increase connection and intimacy.

Increased well-being

Improving your relationships can have a positive impact on your overall well-being. When your relationship is satisfying and healthy, you are more likely to feel happy and fulfilled in general. I’ve certainly known people over the years who tell me the secret to their happiness is being single, but I’ve also known people who seem genuinely content with life and it seems linked to the supportive and positive relationship they are in.

Individual and relationship therapy can help you achieve this goal by providing you with the tools and support you need to build stronger and more satisfying relationships.

Participating in individual and relationship therapy at the same time may be a good option for you if:
  • You are struggling with personal challenges that are impacting your relationship, such as anxiety, a physical health change, or low self-esteem.
  • You are experiencing conflict in your relationship that you are unable to resolve on your own.
  • You are committed to working on yourself and your relationship.
Focusing on individual therapy first may be a good option for you if:
  • You are looking for support in addressing trauma. While your past trauma may be playing a role in your current relationship challenges, it’s important to spend dedicated time expressing and healing from these events in a one-on-one therapeutic environment.
  • You feel the relationship challenges you are facing are a pattern you’ve seen in your past relationships, whether they were romantic or otherwise. This may indicate the need to address individual issues rather than the relationship with your partner.
Next Steps

Whether you’ve found clarity on where to start, or you’re still unsure which type of therapy you should begin with, you’ll find answers at Hey Emma. A consultation with one of our skilled therapists can help you decide the best path to take. Our team is trained and skilled in working with individuals and couples alike, with various unique approaches to meet your individual needs.

References

Erol, R. Y., Orth, U. (2014) Development of self-esteem and relationship satisfaction in couples: Two longitudinal studies. Developmental Psychology 50(9), 2291–2303. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037370