When people enter therapy in order to deal with a particular problem, such as depression or anxiety, the focus of therapy is typically on the individual symptoms and abatement or management of those symptoms.
If the treatment is short term and goals are met then the result on a relationship could be extremely positive. If treatment is longer term and issues of self-esteem are beginning to be addressed (which is often a focus of therapy) then the treatment can actually take a toll on a relationship.
Whenever you upset the status quo of a relationship, for better or worse, you increase the stressors, at least initially. People fall into ruts and their dysfunction becomes symbiotic. A needy or dependent mate will typically join with a more controlling partner and while the dysfunction is evident, their needs, in the short term, are both being met. Empower the dependent individual and you upset the balance. The controlling partner, who may have a deep need to be needed, in essence loses his or her familiar role.
Of course this doesn’t mean that individual therapy is not a worthy endeavor if you are in a relationship. On the contrary, if both partners grow emotionally the union benefits. The problem arises when only one partner embarks on this personal journey.
This is a reality that I like to make all of my clients aware of at the outset of treatment. If, during the course of therapy, the changes the individual makes upsets the dynamic in the relationship I want my client to be aware of why this may be happening and to be able to manage the new system. Learning new ways to communicate with their mate can be helpful along with following up with couple’s therapy to assist both partners in their adjustment to the new status quo.