Prioritize my life-fixing, please.
August 9, 2006 9:54 AM   Subscribe

What should I start first: personal or couples counselling? Or does it matter?

My girlfriend and I are going through a pretty shitty time, both individually and together. We're fighting way too much, and even when we're not, things are tense and awkward and far from ideal.

We've struggled with communications issues throughout our four-year relationship, but we don't feel that it's a deal-breaker issue: a good professional should be able to help us figure out how to get back to dealing with each other and with our problems like grown-ups. Once I've got my schedule for the upcoming semester hammered out, we're going to make an appointment with a relationship counsellor—for free, even, thanks to my girlfriend's employer.

Thing is, I could really use some one-on-one time with a therapist, too. That same benefits package will get me (as a domestic partner) individual therapy, and I'm confident that I'll finally be able to lick a lot of my long-standing issues. Looking forward to it, even.

Does it matter which comes first? Should I sort out my own shit before trying to improve things with my girlfriend, or should I get my proverbial house in order before I start attacking my inner demons? Would working on them simultaneously be beneficial or detrimental? Am I just overthinking a non-issue?
posted by Zozo to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say start with the couples stuff first and during that time the therapist may alert you to things that you need to work on personally.
posted by k8t at 9:55 AM on August 9, 2006

Working on them in tandem has worked well for me. I've realized that many of the problems in the relationship stem from my personal issues. Do every other week with the same counselor-go one week with your partner, the next week by yourself.
posted by rglass at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2006

Why not start both at once?

It'll be good to be in both at the same time, so that you can work through certain personal issues on your own time and then apply what you've learned about yourself during your couples sessions.

Otherwise I might advise the personal sessions first, maybe only by a week or two, to get you comfy with therapy and to give you a little insight. But really, it's not going to be a problem either way.

Good luck!
posted by brina at 10:01 AM on August 9, 2006

Best answer: Ooh. Must advise against rglass's suggestion that you do every other week with the same counselor. You want a different counselor for the partner issues: someone who is completely neutral for both of you.

Your therapist is supposed to be on your side, to stick with you whether your relationship works or not. Your couples therapist is supposed to be in the center. If she knows all about your personal feelings but little about your girlfriend's, she won't be neutral at all.
posted by brina at 10:03 AM on August 9, 2006

Best answer: Separate therapists in any order or combination you feel most comfortable with as long as you aren't using the order or combination you choose to avoid confronting issues you'd rather put off.
posted by OmieWise at 10:11 AM on August 9, 2006

kudos, Zozo, for both wanting to stick it out, and asking a good question about how to fix things.

I haven't a ton of worthwhile advise to contribute, except to be totally sure this is what your GF wants as well.

forcing someone into therapy against their wishes might simply cause more stress and communications issues in the end. be certain it's what you both want.

the reason I say this is merely due to personal experience. my x dragged me pretty much kicking and screaming to couples counselling. not to say our situation was similar, and it might have helped me in the end had I been willing to cooperate.

my main problem was that I have some serious trust issues stemming from bad experiences with a child psychologist, and generally negative experiences with the breed since then... so all forcing me into therapy did was alienate me enough to provide the impetus I needed to ultimately split. this doesn't represent everyone's experience, naturally, just sayin.

I'd say go by yourself first, since you indicate you have stuff to work thru - sounds like you probably already know what that is. then see if your GF is willing to join in.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:15 AM on August 9, 2006

Response by poster: lonefrontranger, one of the things I cut from the still-overlong question is that we did in fact make the decision to do the relationship counselling together. Like you, she's also against the idea of seeing somebody one-on-one, but ironically she's 100% on board with the idea of us going together.

Everybody else: excellent advice so far; thank you.
posted by Zozo at 10:21 AM on August 9, 2006

I'd say both at once and I completely second Brina's advice about it being a different person. Keep in mind that you may not like whatever therapist you start out with, so even if you attempted to start the personal first and then couples, but then you took a month or two while you tried to find a good personal one (if the first few don't work out), you'd end up starting at the same time anyway.

On preview, maybe you could consider starting the couples and explain to the therapist that you are thinking about personal and get his/her feedback. Getting his/her not-as-biased opinion might help change her mind. He/she also might tell you that you don't need it.
posted by ml98tu at 10:28 AM on August 9, 2006

she's also against the idea of seeing somebody one-on-one, but ironically she's 100% on board with the idea of us going together.

Based on past experience, that's not irony, that's "she thinks that the problems are mostly you".

But I could be wrong.

If she's at least willing to do couples, start there, do your own thing, and maybe it will become apparent to her that she has things to work out in private as well.

Or maybe she doesn't. :-}
posted by baylink at 11:42 AM on August 9, 2006

baylink's explanation is one, another is that a LOT of people are threatened by the idea of seeking counseling and they may have the nerve to do it with someone else but not individually.

There's also the fact that a lot of people are just hostile to someone else suggesting they see someone. It's a hard message to convey to someone (maybe impossible) without it coming across as a judgment. She may not be adverse to seeing someone personally as much as she is having it suggested to her that she should see someone....
posted by phearlez at 1:11 PM on August 9, 2006

Response by poster: baylink, no offense, but you're way, way off the mark. phearlez's first paragraph is pretty much it.

OmieWise is very wise. Eponysterical?
posted by Zozo at 1:37 PM on August 9, 2006

I'm willing to be. :-)
posted by baylink at 4:21 PM on August 9, 2006

I dunno about eponysterical, but Omiewise is a therapist, so he's au fait with this sort of issue, I'd think.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:01 AM on August 10, 2006

Zozo writes "OmieWise is very wise. Eponysterical?"

I don't know about wise, but it probably is kind of eponysterical because the name comes from a traditional murder ballad in which a man kills his pregnant girlfriend rather than marry her. (Although of course I wasn't thinking about that at the time of answering.)

Oh, listen to my story, I'll tell you no lies,
How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise.


"Go with me, little Omie, and away we will go.
We'll go and get married and no one will know."


"Little Omie, little Omie, I'll tell you my mind.
My mind is to drown you and leave you behind."
posted by OmieWise at 7:59 AM on August 10, 2006

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