Couples Therapy without the Couple
I have been engaged for almost three years and my fiance was working on a long project that just wrapped up. Since he had delayed the wedding (our our relationship suffered during the project) I wanted to see if he was still committed. (Apparently, he was planning a surprise wedding that I didn’t know about.) I eventually gave him a deadline five months away (which turned out to be the same day as the surprise wedding) to decide whether or not he still wanted to be married. He started going to therapy, which seemed great and helpful. Initially it was individual and a group therapy where they play acted their experiences. Then, we started doing couples therapy for several weeks. We would do assignments from the therapist at home each night for 30 minutes – 1 hour and record them. The therapist listened to all assignments (3 questions about negative things in the relationships, 1 positive) and then met weekly to discuss the assignments only with him. I had wanted to attend these meetings, but that was ignored until a few days ago when I was explicitly told I could not go to that day’s session but could go to another session. In that session she told my partner that our communication would never be “awesome” she also told him that I would never be happy with him. He broke up with me later that day due to a “revelation” he had in therapy. He said that through therapy he had learned that we had a lot of issues he wasn’t aware of before.
His therapist has never spoken a word to me, so I am wondering why I was excluded from couples therapy and his therapist made a judgment about my future feelings (without ever talking to me) that seems to have ended the relationship. I am a nice person (there is no abuse or anything) so I’m wondering what happened. Was this unethical (doing couples therapy without the couple and speaking for one member of the couple that has been excluded)? He is also attracted to his therapist and she seems to like to have an ongoing stable of clients who dramatically play act their relationships and hang out with each other and refer their friends to their group (some of whom are involved in their relationships but are not their partners), which also seems unusual. (From the USA)
A: First, thanks for having faith in a therapist by writing us here. There are so many things that seem off here that I wouldn’t blame you for distrusting the process. Please know I admire your willingness to take part by asking your question.
It sounds to me like there are a few things that happened that put you into a bad position to begin with. It your fiancé went to the same therapist for individual and group — then you joined in with the same therapist for couples — this typically isn’t good. If this is the case, this is not the usual way couple’s therapy begins because the relationship your fiancé has with the therapist creates a type of bias. If the therapeutic relationship involved individual and group prior to couple’s, then the deck is stacked against you before you go through the door. You don’t start on equal footing, there is a built-up relationship from individual and group, and there isn’t sufficient equality with the therapist going in. There are some unusual circumstances where this isn’t the case, but none of those conditions (like inpatient recovery) are present.
The second thing is your fiancé’s willingness to let you go. If the revelation didn’t involve informing you, bringing you in with a neutral therapist, and it was all acted upon without your presence, then he may have been using the therapy as a way to separate — not come closer to you. Of course, my comments are based on assumptions, but the whole process sounds off and this is my best guess as to what’s happened.
Finally, going forward I would ask that the two of you see another couple’s counselor who specializes in and is trained in couples counseling that neither of you know. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has qualified people you can find in your area or choose someone from the find help tab at the top of this page.
Use this session to talk about what happened, and what the plan is the two of you need to have going forward. If there is any hope in reviving the relationship it has to be with a neutral therapist. If you need to end the engagement, using the therapist would be the healthiest way to do it.
Tomasulo, D. (2017). Couples Therapy without the Couple. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2017/07/15/couples-therapy-without-the-couple/